Improving Limerick ready to test favourites Kilkenny’s mettle

But superior strength on the bench could tilt the balance in favour of Brian Cody’s side

Limerick will require top-notch displays from the likes of Paul Browne, here scoring a goal against Wexford, if they are to prevail on Sunday. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Limerick will require top-notch displays from the likes of Paul Browne, here scoring a goal against Wexford, if they are to prevail on Sunday. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Fri, Aug 8, 2014, 12:00

Last week I wrote about interpreting the pre-match signs in an effort to determine your team’s state of readiness for battle.

This time last year Limerick travelled to Dublin on Saturday afternoon for their All-Ireland semi-final. As far as I could decipher the signs were all good. On the Saturday night we had a table quiz and there was a fair bit of banter among the players and backroom staff. On Sunday morning I can’t say I noticed any difference. This was a team who were in a state of readiness for battle.

The warm-up “sign” spotters were aware of what was going to unfold as soon as the game got underway. They told us so in Monday’s press. They should have told me beforehand.

Unfortunately for Limerick the opening quarter was riddled with mistakes and underperformance. It set the tone for the rest of the game. Clare ran out deserving winners.

This weekend they make the journey again, all a year older with last year’s experience etched into their psyche. Last year the youth and exuberance of the “new” Clare team on the block caused surprise after surprise on their way to the ultimate prize and their performance against Limerick was almost flawless.

This year, though, the opposition needs no introduction. Kilkenny have been the princes of hurling for the last decade and the Limerick hurling camp is fully aware of that.

Fairly impressive

Kilkenny have been fairly impressive all year. They are champions of all the competitions they’ve played in. They have a management and manager who have rarely if ever started the same 15 in any game so far this season. They have “managed” Henry Shefflin very well. He has seen game time in almost all of the games and yet he hasn’t played a major part in any of the successes. But he still remains a key component in Kilkenny’s drive back to the top.

The last time Limerick played Kilkenny in the quarter-final two years ago corner back Stephen Walsh (a top quality player in my estimation) was the chosen weak link by Mr Cody. As often done before he placed King Henry in the left corner of the attack and with 20 minutes gone he had two goals scored.

In late September they collected the Liam McCarthy cup for the the seventh time in 10 years.

Last year there were many signs that their dominance was coming to an end. And it did. They stumbled through the championship and fell in Thurles against Cork. It seemed on that day that the golden era was over.

On the evidence of what we’ve seen so far this year we have to keep the Kilkenny obituaries on the hard drive for a little while longer.

Limerick have a good team with a number of very promising minors almost ready to bolster the senior squad, but on Sunday they go to battle with more or less the same group of players as last year. They were superb against Wexford.

The bottom line was that Limerick had desire, probably the most important component of all . They played like a team who wanted to win. Maybe that seems a little over- simplistic but there are degrees of wanting to win. All players want to win but some want to win more badly than others. Yes all the “serious “ players are making huge sacrifices in their desire to be the best but it’s on match day that the desire has to be greatest. And that desire has to be converted into single-mindedness .

Among the greatest modern day exponents of that single-mindedness are Tommy Walsh, Henry Shefflin and JJ Delaney (unfortunately for Limerick, all Kilkenny players ).

Limerick had it the last day and I’ve no doubt that they’ll have it again on Sunday. But will they have enough of it to seriously trouble the latest version of the best in all categories hurling county of all time.

Hurling public

The bookmakers strongly believe Kilkenny will win. Most of the high -profile pundits are in agreement. The wider hurling public that I’ve encountered in the last fortnight expect a Cork-Kilkenny final .

Brian Cody and his different assistants rarely pick a team in which current form isn’t the primary prerequisite. His teams are rarely short of spirit or desire either. Last year was one of the very few on his watch where his charges looked beatable on many occasions.

The final blow was delivered by Cork and, with Clare taking advantage of their absence, we thought a new era was dawning. Well a new era is dawning but Kilkenny are very much part of it again. Of the four remaining teams, they have the strongest squad of players.

But Limerick are better than they were two years ago. However, arguably, their best 15 will start the game. The same cannot be said for Kilkenny. Some of the best hurling players ever seen will begin the day among the substitutes and not all might see game time. Some of the best hurlers presently playing will also sit with them . But 15 will start in the knowledge that just a few mistakes will see them replaced.

Limerick, on the other hand need the luck that was missing in Croke Park last year as well as the performance of their lifetimes from all the players. Shane Dowling needs to have a very high scoring return from frees. Kevin Downes and Declan Hannon also need to show the public how good they can be. Paul Browne and James Ryan need to be as influential in midfield as they were against Wexford and the six backs will have to be water tight.

It’s a tall order. Maybe too tall this time.

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