The Munster and Leinster Hurling Championships are well and truly up and running. The hotly anticipated clash between age old foes, Tipperary and Limerick was the showpiece event of the weekend in Thurles. Laois faced off against Galway, and Antrim did battle with Wexford, both in O’Moore Park.
5. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher – Tipperary
Mr Consistency, Maher was one of Tipperary’s best players in their two-point loss to Limerick. No one is surprised by what he does at this stage, mopping up ball everywhere and he is now Tipp’s most valuable player.
His barnstorming runs resulted in a goal for himself to get Tipp back in the contest in the first period. Maher got on the ball countless times and used it sensibly to set up Tipp’s other forwards, John O’Dwyer and Gearóid Ryan showing well in Thurles also. He never gave up the fight and is proving to be almost unmarkable so far this season.
4. Cathal Barrett/ Richie McCarthy – Tipperary/ Limerick
Defenders often get overlooked when it comes to praise, but these two men deserve it in abundance. Both were first out to the ball and had their respective markers living off of scraps.
Barrett has marked himself out as one of the finds of the season for Tipperary, and backed up a good league campaign with a stellar performance on Sunday.
The inspirational McCarthy has been around a few years and is one of the most underrated players in the Country. He kept Seamus Callanan quiet from open play and was the one driving Limerick on when they found the going tough in Thurles.
3. Shane Dowling – Limerick
Potent free takers have emerged as a must-have already in this year’s Championship, and the still young Na Piarsaigh man emphatically declared himself as an invaluable commodity on Sunday.
The Tipp defence struggled to contain the Limerick forwards and Dowling was on hand to convert every free he took, bar none.
Starting at wing forward, he won his own ball, and rifled home two goals at pivotal moments in the contest, on his way to notching up an incredible 2-09 (1-09f). His near perfect performance was the difference in Thurles and the Shannonsiders progress to a second Munster Final in a row.
Laois put in an outstanding performance against Galway in O’Moore Park and have shown that they are here to stay in the Championship. To call it a scare to Galway would be a disservice to Laois, as they did the very same last season, and should now be considered an established Liam McCarthy side.
Fantastic displays from Stapleton, Fitzpatrick and Tom Delaney at the back set Laois on their way. Three points each from Maher, Dwyer, Foyle, Hyland, and Fitzgerald capped off an excellent day for the forwards, heartbreakingly for them, they would just fall short.
1. James Ryan – Limerick
The midfield battle is always a crucial one and Sunday proved no different. James Ryan conducted the game in the first half and was unfortunate that Limerick hadn’t capitalised on his great industry by the break.
Constantly first to the breaking ball, he had RTE’s Ger Canning sounding like a broken record, as he mentioned the Garryspillane clubman so often.
Ryan, along with Wayne McNamara and Donal O’Grady, were central to establishing the platform for the forwards to work off of and this resulted in Limerick’s game clinching frees being won. His assured display was vital in getting Limerick over the line.
John Ivory, Pundit Arena.