In the lead up to the provincial senior club hurling semi-finals two weeks ago, opinions were divided as to whether it would be Crusheen or Carrigtwohill who would come through to play hot favourites, Ballygunner.
Few outside of Na Piarsaigh gave the Limerick side the nod to win their first game in the provincial championship. Ballygunner had all the makings of holding up their end of the prediction, as halfway through that game, they held a six-point advantage and pushed the lead to seven points in the second half.
From then on it was a different story as Na Piarsaigh, inspired by teenager and current minor Shane Dowling, dictated matters to win by six. Forcing a rethink, many are now tipping the Limerick City outfit to bring home the Munster title on Sunday.
There is much interest in the final as both teams are appearing at this stage of the championship for the first time. The Clare-Limerick rivalry is another reason why the game is attracting so much attention and then, of course, there is the Sean Stack factor, with the former Sixmilebridge and Clare captain in charge of the Limerick outfit. He is very experienced in Munster club hurling and has been at this stage with both Sixmilebridge and Toomevara.
While Crusheen are unlikely to name their final team until closer to match day, it is likely to be unchanged for the third outing in a row. Team captain Gerry O’Grady is struggling to shake off a muscle injury but he is expected to take his place at full-forward.
Tony Meaney and Conor O’Donnell are pressing hard to get into the starting line up but such has been the form of the players in possession that it will be a surprise if there is a change.
Their defence has excelled all season and will, barring an injury, be unchanced. John and Alan Brigdale will flank full-back Cronan Dillon in front of Donal Tuohy, with Ciaran O’Doherty, Cian and Cathal Dillon again making up the half-back line. The foundation for the successes achieved to date has been laid in this sector, which will receive its stiffest examination against the likes of Shane Dowling, Kevin Downes, David Breen and Shane O’Neill.
At the other end of the field, David Forde, Jamie Fitzgibbon and Gearóid O’Donnell have grown in confidence as a half-forward trio and, together with the full-forward line of Paddy Meaney, Gerry O’Grady and Fergus Kennedy, they should trouble the Na Piarsaigh defence. With Pat Vaughan and Joe Meaney at midfield, Crusheen have a well-balanced side that has grown in confidence throughout the season.
Goalkeeper Padraig Kennedy, Alan Dempsey, James O’Brien, Shane Dowling, Shane O’Neill, David Breene and Kevin Downes are just some of the key players in the Limerick champions’ line-up.
Despite the fact that they are appearing in the provincial final for the first time, the Clare champions look to have the greater experience and this should see them bring the provincial title to Clare for the tenth time and the first time since 2000.