Forward power can tilt Under-21 final in Limerick’s favour

Munster champions have survived the tougher passage than rivals Kilkenny

Bórd Gáis Energy GAA U21 hurling final – Kilkenny v Limerick, Semple Stadium, 3.0 (TG4)

In the strange ways of underage competition, these counties met in the 2014 minor final but return three years later minus nearly half of the players who lined out back then.

Kilkenny were the winners that day but on Saturday in Thurles they are in pursuit of a first under-21 All-Ireland since 2008 whereas the Limerick cohort are after their second since losing that minor final.

If you favour the more tested team in these matches, Limerick have that distinction nailed down. A battling progress – some of it self-inflicted – through Munster qualified them for an All-Ireland semi-final against Galway, which was only won in injury-time.

Kilkenny’s Leinster final was a cruise through a Wexford team reduced to 14 at an early stage and their last outing was a 52-point canter past a hopelessly outgunned Derry.

Eddie Brennan’s team might take encouragement from the manner in which Galway, with the traditional disadvantage of no competitive provincial action, could come into a semi-final cold and still run the Munster champions so close.

The most obvious blood in the water was the extreme difficulty encountered by the Limerick half backs in the air and Kilkenny will target that even if the team’s strength is from centrefield back towards their own goal with the defence all having legitimate prospects of getting a crack at the senior team.

The most obvious absentee form three years ago is minor captain Darragh Joyce, now over in the AFL, but one of the newcomers Huw Lawlor impressed in the Fitzgibbon with UCD.

Limerick have 10 of the 2014 minors still playing – as opposed to Kilkenny’s eight – and six of the team were on the under-21 All-Ireland winning side of 2015.

Although a number of the Kilkenny players have been introduced to senior activity, Limerick line out with half a dozen players who played senior championship this summer.

Kyle Hayes plays a different role for the 21s, dropping from centre back to help protect the full-back line but it will be interesting to see what, if anything, Limerick do to protect the half backs.

If one sector is to swing it, it should be Limerick's ability up front. Admittedly Cian Lynch comes in under the shadow of an injury but if his selection is bona fide, he and Aaron Gillane, Peter Casey, Tom Morrissey and Barry Nash all wield a bit too much clout.

KILKENNY: Darren Brennan; Michael Cody, Conor Delaney, Niall McMahon; Huw Lawlor, Jason Cleere, Tommy Walsh; Luke Scanlon, Richie Leahy; John Walsh, John Donnelly, Seán Morrissey; Shane Walsh, Liam Blanchfield, Billy Ryan.

LIMERICK: Eoghan McNamara; Seán Finn, Darragh Fanning, Dan Joy; Ronan Lynch, Kyle Hayes, Thomas Grimes; Colin Ryan, Robbie Hanley; Aaron Gillane, Barry Murphy, Cian Lynch; Peter Casey, Tom Morrissey, Barry Nash.

Referee: Paud O'Dwyer (Carlow)