ALLIANZ HURLING LEAGUE FINAL
Limerick v Waterford
Croke Park, 2.0
(Extra time and result on the day, if necessary)
This promises to be a great occasion between the two form sides in the league to date. Given the age profile of All-Ireland champions Limerick, they were always going to have the stamina to go for what is the comparatively rare achievement of tacking on a league title in the season after championship success, but their focus has also been first-class.
Beaten just once in the 11 matches since embarking on last year’s All-Ireland campaign, Limerick have always looked to have something in hand. Even if on occasion they drifted out of matches or failed to rack up scores commensurate with the trend of a match, they have always been able to snap back into it and reel off match-breaking scoring sequences, such as the 1-5 last week against Dublin or the 2-1 against Kilkenny.
Manager John Kiely has also assembled a suite of options around the field – Tom Condon's resurgent form and Paddy O'Loughlin's emergence exerting pressure on the full- and half-back lines, respectively – with the exception of the half forwards where they still don't really have understudies for the power and athleticism of Gearóid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey.
Waterford have put together a great sequence of results, overturning a huge deficit against Galway, walloping Clare and then last week coming from behind again against Galway and with just 14 men for the last quarter.
Their style under Páraic Fanning is less structured, but the determination and sharpness has been irreproachable.
Last year's injury problems have dissipated and the team is showcasing some fine individual form from the Bennetts, Shane and Stephen, whereas Jamie Barron looks in the form of 2017 and Austin Gleeson has been given licence to roam.
Croke Park won’t be a factor for either team, as both have been in All-Ireland finals in the past 18 months or so.
If there is a difference in resources at the moment it is that Waterford have been improvising in defence, with key backs still to return fully to the fray, although Tadhg de Búrca’s appearance last week was a sign that this is easing.
In the meantime the All-Ireland champions look in sufficiently good form to be able to string together another winning performance. Their defence will be tougher than that of any opponents Waterford have met to date, while their ability to thread fast-moving attacks though the middle will create chances at the other end.