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by Seámus Leonard
With the balance of power apparently shifting in Munster, this semi-final gives both Clare and Limerick a brilliant chance of taking on Tipperary in the final.
During the week Clare manager Mike McNamara highlighted the fact that the Banner had not been involved in a provincial decider since 1999. You have to go back to the previous year to find the last time they lifted the Munster trophy.
Limerick have qualified for finals twice this decade, but defeats by Tipp in 2001 and Waterford last year mean that the Treatymen have been starved of provincial success since 1996.
Clare took the competition by storm this year when they inflicted a nine-point defeat on Waterford, which was a major factor in the departure of Justin McCarthy as Déise boss.
With McNamara now at the helm, they hurled with the same kind of intensity that saw them claim two All-Ireland titles under Ger Loughnane in the 1990s. The game also saw the emergence of players like Conor Plunkett and Mark Flaherty, while Tony Griffin made a huge difference on the '40 on his return to Championship action.
But one win doesn’t mean a whole lot in the context of a hurling of summer and Clare will have to prove to themselves and the rest of the country that the victory down at the Gaelic Grounds – their first win in Munster since 2003 – was the sign of things to come rather than the height of their achievements this year.
They beat Galway in the qualifiers in 2007, but bowed out tamely to Limerick in an All-Ireland quarter-final that the Treatymen won at a canter.
This will be Limerick's first foray into top-class action since they fell to Kilkenny in last year's All-Ireland final. A lot has been made of Limerick's indifferent league performances, but they were poor in the NHL in 2007 and it didn't seem to affect them once the weather improved.
Tipperary's talisman Eoin Kelly has tipped Limerick to win purely on the basis that they are coming in under the radar. Clare were in exactly same position prior to the Waterford game, though there were portents that a big display was in the offing from McNamara’s men.
Limerick, on the other hand, have had rumblings of discontent, though their manager Richie Bennis insists their minds have focused since Clare were confirmed as opponents
The Shannonsiders are without Wayne McNamara because of a shoulder injury picked up at training. The Adare man is an up-and-coming talent and Bennis could really have used his engine at midfield to counteract the influence of Brian O’Connell and Colin Lynch.
Brian Geary has also failed to prove he is back to his best since tearing a cruciate knee ligament in October. That gives Paudie O’Dwyer the chance to make a name for himself, though Limerick would more content if he just managed to contain his man Griffin.
Chances are it will be a blood and thunder affair and Limerick proved last year that they are usually the last men standing in such a scenario.