The 133rd All-Ireland hurling final is upon us and it is truly like no other. Played against a backdrop of Christmas lights, in many ways this year’s hurling showpiece is bigger than ever. Below, we give five reasons why Waterford can beat Limerick.
What a final we have in store too. 2018 champions Limerick take on a Waterford side that haven’t taken Liam MacCarthy home since 1959. Ironically, if they were to win this year’s final, the cup would remain in Croke Park due to Covid restrictions. The Déise go into the game as 5/2 underdogs with the bookies, but here are five reasons why Waterford can beat Limerick.
1. Liam Cahill
Liam Cahill has exceeded all expectations since taking over from Paraic Fanning back in October last year. Cahill was coming to manage a Waterford side without a win in nine consecutive Championship games. The Tipperary man, who won back to back Under 20/21 All-Irelands with his native county in 2018 and 2019, has dramatically turned around Waterford’s fortunes since taking charge.
In what looks like a shrewd appointment, Cahill can draw on his underage success with Tipperary in order to have the Déise primed for All-Ireland final day. It seems the former Tipperary forward has built on the foundations left by Derek McGrath’s 2016 and 2017 success. He has transformed the team with Stephen Bennett and Tadhg de Burca having, arguably, their best season in a Waterford jersey.
Cahill’s comments in his post-match interview showed he was confident of getting Waterford to All-Ireland final day despite not many giving his side a chance at the beginning of the Championship.
“I don’t mean to sound that we were confident or arrogant about it, we weren’t. But we did feel that if we looked after ourselves and trained well and got the balance of our team right that we’d have a chance.
“And look, we’re getting a bit of luck along the way and we’re there. We’ll look forward to the final.”
It seems Cahill’s comments is a major factor in Waterford’s success to date and there’s no reason why they can’t take that confidence when facing the 2018 champions on Sunday.
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2. Waterford’s Austin Gleeson
The 2016 Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year has been slowly rediscovering his best form and there is a quiet optimism that we will see the best of Gleeson in Sunday’s final.
With Tadhg de Burca playing very well at centre back, this has taken the pressure off Gleeson. As well as contributing four points from play against Kilkenny, his second half performance was also singled out by Cahill after the game. Cahill was particularly impressed with the 25 year old’s work rate off the ball.
Cahill said: “He’s brought a different aspect to his game from work rate and honesty and hooking and blocking. I’m delighted for him in particular.”
The Mount Sion man is capable of magical moments and I’m expecting a massive performance from Waterford’s number 14.
3. Limerick question marks
Limerick are rightly known as the best team in the country, ever since their 2018 All-Ireland victory. However, I do believe questions marks hang over their ability in big games.
Firstly, they were five points up going into the final quarter in their All-Ireland semi-final against Galway, yet the game was level going into injury-time. A couple of late scores sealed a three point win for the Munster champions but you feel there is enough there for Waterford to go on. If they’re within touching distance heading into the final quarter, you’d fancy Waterford to give it a right go.
Secondly, I can’t get last year’s semi-final defeat to Kilkenny out of my head. Limerick were massive favourites going into the game but found themselves 1-8 to 0-2 down after the first quarter. They fought back creditably to only lose by one point but the damage was done by their start.
Between letting Galway back into the game or giving Kilkenny a nine point lead in last year’s semi-final, there’s enough there for Waterford to exploit the couple of chinks in the Limerick armour.
4. No crowd
The absence of a crowd makes this All-Ireland final like no other. You do get the sense that this definitely suits the underdog. While there have been virtual All-Ireland final press conferences, the media commitments in general have been curtailed.
Obviously, there is massive disappointment that families and friends of players are not allowed into Croke Park tomorrow. However, that could play into the hands of Waterford as a completely behind closed game makes it feel a lot less like an All-Ireland final. There’s no tickets for the Waterford players to distribute so pure focus can be put on the task in hand.
Waterford legend John Mullane has spoken publicly about the ‘nightmare’ that was the build up to the 2008 All-Ireland final.
Mullane said: “On the Friday before the 2008 All-Ireland senior hurling final, work brought me to a school in Tramore.
“This would turn out to be no ordinary work call because, unknown to me, the principal there had filed all of the pupils into the main hall to wish me the best of luck before the game.”
There were no school visits this time around and the lack of build up can only help Waterford’s preparation.
You do get a sense that Waterford’s second half comeback against Kilkenny brings a huge amount of momentum. Waterford found themselves 2-10 to 0-7 down just before half time. However, they battled back in the second half to seal a memorable 2-27 to 2-23 victory.
Stephen Bennett, Tadhg de Burca and Austin Gleeson were all instrumental in that second half. You feel Waterford’s three biggest names can take that momentum and bring that performance from the first whistle against Limerick. If those three players produce the goods on the day, Waterford stand every chance.
All things being equal, I do believe Waterford can beat Limerick on Sunday given the reasons above.
Whatever happens, I hope you enjoy what promises to be a cracking Christmas All-Ireland final.