Limerick to prove a bridge too far for Kilkenny in All-Ireland hurling semi-final
Saturday: All-Ireland SHC semi-final – Limerick v Kilkenny, Croke Park, 6.0 [Live, RTÉ 2 and Sky Arena]
John Kiely and his selectors have tweaked and improved the team by bringing in Na Piarsaigh duo Peter Casey (above) and Will O’Donoghue. Photograph: Inpho
Are Limerick whistling past the graveyard? After all, Kilkenny are Kilkenny: under Brian Cody, just two defeats in 17 All-Ireland semi-finals in the past 20 years. In the quarter-final they beat a Cork side that has taken care of Limerick twice this year, a team that would have had its backers had they qualified for Saturday’s match.
A year ago, a Thurles quarter-final was a near-death experience for the eventual champions, pulled out of the fire in injury-time. A key figure in Walter Walsh missed that match with injury but a fortnight ago was able to play a major part in the second-half take-down of Cork.
Back in the material world, it’s not as if Limerick have stood still in the past 12 months. They moved on from beating Kilkenny for the first time in 45 years to win the All-Ireland, league and Munster titles in the year that followed. In most people’s estimations, they will not be beaten in top gear.
John Kiely and his selectors have tweaked and improved the team by bringing in Na Piarsaigh duo Peter Casey and Will O’Donoghue, who because of club commitments and injury were never really in a position to press their cases in 2018.
Cork aren’t much of a comparator either because were Limerick to play the Cork of the quarter-final, there’d be only fur and feathers left.
Kilkenny faced down the challenge and in the third quarter, dismantled them albeit not before some serious inroads were made in their defence. Some well-judged changes in the half backs put a lock on the Cork half forwards but how are they to deal with Limerick’s?
In the Munster final, the champions’ half forwards pillaged a previously imposing Tipp half-back line, providing a bridgehead in the middle third and scoring 1-8 for good measure. A year ago, they took Kilkenny for 0-10.
The problem for Cody’s team isn’t simply a series of areas where they will do well to gain the upper hand but the cumulative effect of these pressures all around the field will make it extremely difficult to hold the overall line.
In the league fixture in Nowlan Park (both about half a dozen short their best teams to the admittedly obvious advantage of the champions’ stronger panel) Kilkenny hung on for half an hour in a scrappy, low-scoring match before Limerick blew the doors off before half-time with an unanswered 2-3.
Kilkenny can be relied on to argue the toss until the bitter end but they will be facing an onslaught.
The challengers have plenty of seasoned talent. TJ Reid, although cooler in recent matches, could erupt into a fireball, and the return of Richie Hogan gave them an edge against Cork that sliced impressively but as they know themselves, having by-passed Patrick Horgan’s huge total two weeks ago, this will require their best collective display of the year.
In the past 18 months, Limerick have been note-perfect for all the big matches and there’s no reason to suggest that this weekend will be any different on a fast, hard track that suits them perfectly.
Last meeting: All-Ireland quarter-final, 15th July 2018, Semple Stadium, Thurles Limerick 0-27, Kilkenny 1-22.
Just the ticket: Stand: adult – €50.00, juveniles (U16) – €5.00. Terrace – €35. Concessions for students and senior citizens in Cusack and Davin Stands only
Odds: Odds: Limerick 8/15, Kilkenny 2/1 and 8/1 the draw