Limerick picking up speed in drive for three in a row

Galway must demonstrate improvement to stand chance of being competitive

All-Ireland SHC semi-final
Limerick v Galway, Croke Park, 3.30
[Live, RTE2 and Sky Sports Arena]

Unlike Saturday’s match to which Kilkenny’s perennially perceived threat adds a cautionary menace for Clare, the second semi-final has a fairly narrow competitive bandwidth.

Limerick are in form, unbeaten and getting some serious players back in action. They also have a track record of taking to Croke Park and convincingly going up the gears when they get there.

Were the Munster champions to end their season this weekend without being thrashed, no one would be declaring 2022 a triumph but the feeling is that Galway are probably at the edge of their reservation in making it this far.

For a side that featured 10 All-Ireland medallists in their recent quarter-final defeat of Cork, that may seem a bit defeatist but there has been little in the form of Henry Shefflin’s team to suggest they are cut out for bigger things.

The collapse of any challenge to Kilkenny in the Leinster final was dispiriting in the lack of scoring capacity and the presence of Conor Whelan as a one-man band rather than first violin in a functioning orchestra.

The likely loss of Gearóid McInerney after a serious-looking injury in the quarter-final reduces their stock of big, physical hurlers — one category in which they can match the champions — and will prompt a bit of re-ordering with Joseph Cooney a like-for-like replacement but a switch that weakens the team farther up the field.

Decent defence

Galway’s defence is decent but will need to be against the champions, who have a range of options up front. Match-ups will be important. Paul Flanagan had a good afternoon on Kyle Hayes in the Munster final but the Clare defender’s cousin Séamus Flanagan ran riot for Limerick.

That’s before the power-packed wing forwards Gearóid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey, back to close to his best form, are taken into account. Galway have the physique but in McInerney’s absence, it’s a stretch.

Then there are the reinforcements. Peter Casey is back on the panel after nearly a year out and by all accounts raring to go and there is even talk that Cian Lynch, two months after a serious hamstring injury, is also close to a return.

Galway ran the champions neck-and-neck at this stage two seasons ago without quite suggesting they’d win but Joe Canning was around and whizzing over sideline cuts that kept his team in touch. Limerick are much improved on that day; are Galway? Debatable at best.

John Kiely’s team are big and physical but they also have movement and pace, with which Galway aren’t as well endowed.

In fairness to the westerners, they battled well in Thurles to down Cork and whereas it can be pointed out that their opponents committed hara-kiri by the ritual of hitting abundant wides, winners just have to out-score the opposition.

To accomplish that, however, they managed 2-6 in the first half. It may not be comparing like with like but the last time Limerick were in Croke Park they put up 3-17 before half-time.

It could get ugly.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times