RIGHT from the publication of the 2016 fixtures, promotion from Division 1B of the National Hurling League looked likely to be decided on the final day.
This Sunday, March 20, great rivals Clare and Limerick meet in Ennis. With each having won four games, they head for Cusack Park and a winner-take-all promotion showdown.
Both TJ Ryan and Davy Fitzgerald’s men are already guaranteed a place in the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 quarter-finals, but getting into Division 1A is the huge prize.
Clare were relegated from 1A last year while Limerick haven’t been in the top tier since 2010, so both camps know this is as close to a championship style game that one can imagine.
The two neighbours last met in the Allianz Hurling League in the 2012 1B final when Clare won by 0-21 to 1-16.
The two sides have already met this season. One point separated the sides in the final game of the Munster Senior Hurling league. Clare were the victors on the night in a game which both sides entered unbeaten, as they do this weekend also.
The most recent championship meeting between the counties came last May when Limerick won a Munster quarter-final by 1-19 to 2-15 in Thurles.
Limerick have a superior scoring difference to Clare in this season’s league so a draw would be enough for them to secure top spot.
Clare and Limerick will almost certainly be joined in the quarter-finals by Offaly who are on four points, two ahead of Kerry and Wexford, who are also vying for a quarter-final place. Offaly host Kerry while Wexford will be away to Laois, who have lost all four games so far.
In terms of team news, the Limerick side will not be calling on the Na Piarsiagh contingent, who will contest Thursday’s All Ireland Club final. The strength and depth of the current Limerick panel will be on show on Sunday, as TJ Ryan will face several selection headaches ahead of announcing his side.
Nickie Quaid, the Limerick captain, will come back in goals to replace Barry Hennessy, while Richie English might be recalled to the full back line. The next line out, the half backs, might have a more experienced look to it, with O’Brien, Byrnes and Hickey occupying that territory.
James Ryan made a come back off the bench last weekend against Laois, so he could come into midfield to partner Paul Browne.
The six forwards and their respective positions may be the hardest ones to call. Cian Lynch and Declan Hannon were both rested last weekend and should return. John Fitzgibbon’s performance against Laois will almost certainly have secured a starting spot for the Adare man, while Barry Nash’s stock rises with every game.
The match will throw in at 2pm and will be covered live on TG4, Limerick’s Live 95fm and fans who are intending on going to Ennis have been advised to buy their tickets early (from the usual outlets) as a crowd in excess of 10,000 is expected for the winner takes all game.
Possible Limerick team:
Nickie Quaid; Tom Condon, Richie McCarthy, Richie English; Paudie O’Brien, Diarmaid Byrnes, Seamus Hickey; Paul Browne; James Ryan, Gavin O’Mahony, John Fitzgibbon, Cian Lynch; Graeme Mulcahy, Declan Hannon, Barry Nash.