Ahead of this weekend’s All Ireland Hurling Final between Galway and Limerick, Pundit Arena spoke to some of the country’s top hurlers to get their predictions on what should be an enthralling affair.
Austin Gleeson (Waterford), Liam Rushe (Dublin), John McGrath (Tipperary), and Conor McDonald (Wexford) have their say.
1. Who will be Galway’s key man and why?
Austin Gleeson: I can’t think of just one player. I think Galway’s midfield line is their key to winning this weekend because Darragh O’Donovan and Cian Lynch are the link between both backs and forwards and the Limerick half-back line always look for those two to set up attacks by giving 20 yard balls and then quickly moved on from those two. So I think if David Burke and Johnny Coen stop those two getting good ball in, it will be a massive factor for Galway.
Liam Rushe: Padraic Mannion. He has provided fantastic cover to his full-back line all year and places his passes forward more accurately than any of his teammates. He is also likely to go up against Limerick’s biggest aerial threat in Gearóid Hegarty. Winning this battle will be an important marker for both teams.
John McGrath: If named as expected, Gearoid McInerney has a big part to play for Galway. The Galway full-back line will need protection and McInerney is very clever in closing down the space between the lines. Limerick create a lot of space in their full forward line which will cause Galway problems if it isn’t filled.
Conor McDonald: Conor Whelan. He has a ferocious work rate and is unbelievably accurate if he gets any sniff, just a brilliant team player.
2. Who will be Limerick’s key man and why?
AG: Declan Hannon. He likes to sit in and try and control his defence which he has done superbly so far this year but Joe Canning is firing in recent weeks so Hannon needs to be tight to him and take him down. Both players are the big leaders in both camps so I expect that to be a super battle if they go toe-to-toe.
LR: Declan Hannon. It will be interesting to see how Limerick set up to neutralise Joe Canning. Either Hannon will stay tight and follow or they will assign a marker and let Declan operate as a sweeper. There will be a huge onus on him to launch attacks from deep if so.
JMcG: Aaron Gillane will have a big say in the outcome of the game for Limerick. His pace has troubled every team they have played and if he is more composed when in on goal, he could bag a few goals.
CMcD: Gearoid Hegarty. He works hard, is very physical and always gets a few scores.
3. Galway’s experience v Limerick’s youth, how much of a factor will it be?
AG: I don’t think it will be a factor at all! That Limerick team, 75 percent of them have been there in college and underage so they will not fear the Galway team. Obviously, Galway, having won last year and been there in previous years, will have the practice of the build up. Limerick need to get that out of their minds, banquets, suiting up, new gear, etc., everyone will want a piece of them, they need to focus and go into Croke Park as if it’s just another game.
LR: It’s a marginal advantage for Galway having dealt with All Ireland final distractions previously but Limerick have proven themselves in enough big games over the past two years that I don’t anticipate a collapse.
JMcG: It’s difficult to tell which will be more important on the day. Limerick’s youth and speed will suit Croke Park and they won’t fear playing Galway. If the game is tight coming to the end, I think Galway’s experience may see them over the line especially in such a big game.
CMcD: Anything can happen in a final. Having either is an advantage if you approach the game using it as an advantage.
4. The million-dollar question, who will lift the Liam McCarthy Cup?
AG: I think Galway will start extremely well as they always do and Limerick will claw themselves back into it but I think Galway will just hold out as they have done a few times this year by two or three points.
LR: Galway if they can straighten out their shooting. If they leave Limerick in the tie à la the semi-final they won’t be so lucky.
JMcG: It’s very hard to call but I think the physicality and experience in the Galway team might see them over the line. It’s very much a lottery!
CMcD: I fancy a draw. Without sitting on the fence, I genuinely do. If Limerick start well and have a good first half, it could be theirs.
5. Predictions for Hurler of the Year and Young Hurler of the Year?
AG: Padraic Mannion (Galway) for Hurler of The Year, 110 percent. He has been incredible for Galway all year and has been the driving force for them when they really need a leader. Darragh Fitzgibbon (Cork) for Young Hurler of the Year. He has been consistently outstanding since he burst onto the scene in both U21 and senior level. In every game, he totally empties himself and leaves absolutely everything on the field.
LR: Padraic Mannion (Galway) and Mark Coleman (Cork).
JMcG: As usual the final will have a big say on these awards. If Padraic Mannion (Galway) has another good game he will be the front-runner for HOTY even if Galway are beaten. If Limerick lift Liam then Kyle Hayes will be in with a big chance for the Young Hurler award. He will need a big game in the final to pip Darragh Fitzgibbon to the award.
CMcD: Peter Duggan (Clare) for Hurler of the Year and Darragh Fitzgibbon (Cork) for Young Hurler of the Year.
6. New hurling format, success or not?
AG: When it came out first I was worried if players would be able to withstand the demand put on them. How wrong was I! The new format has been an absolute joy to watch. Look at some of the games we have had this year. Three or four from this season could easily go into the top ten games of the past decade. For a year where the GAA have been questioned on some of their decisions, this is the decision that not one person can argue with. It has been a mesmerizing summer of hurling and hopefully, Sunday can top it all off with a classic between two strong, physical and fit teams. Best of luck to both sets of players involved.
LR: A roaring success. However, I think it needs to be tweaked so that nobody plays four games in a row next year. It gives an unfair advantage to the rested team.
JMcG: Not from a Tipperary point of view! As a spectacle, it’s the most competitive and entertaining championship I can remember. With some small tweaks, such as every team getting a rest during the provincial championships, next year could be better.
CMcD: The new format has been a massive success, however, each team needs a break at the same time in the provincial format. It has definitely been a great year.
Galway and Limerick go head-to-head on Sunday at Croker, with the Tribesmen looking to retain the crown they won last season. Stay tuned to Pundit Arena for all your coverage.