It’s the battle of two extremely proud hurling counties today in Thurles as Limerick and Kilkenny battle it out for a place in this year’s All Ireland semi-final. We take a look at some of the key issues ahead of the 2pm throw-in.
What has changed since last year’s encounter?
Kilkenny and Limerick played out a thrilling game in Nowlan Park last year and it proved to be the battle of youth and enthusiasm versus experience and coolness with the latter edging it. Limerick were still finding their feet under John Kiely with a team largely comprised of members from the talented U21 setup. The more experience members of the Kilkenny squad killed off their challenge in the closing stages.
This year however, Limerick are older and wiser although they still retain the majority of that team whereas there has been much change in the Kilkenny camp with a rotation of players. Limerick have looked a much more composed and efficient outfit this summer and they will be itching to get another crack at Kilkenny. But the Cats still have those experienced, reliable heads in Cillian Buckley, Paul Murphy, TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly as they showed against Galway last week and they know how to close out tight games.
Will fatigue play a factor?
This is Kilkenny’s third game in as many weeks having endured two gruelling encounters with the All Ireland champions, Galway over the past fortnight. Limerick meanwhile, come into this game on the back of a relatively easy game against Carlow, where they were able to save some energy in the tank.
This is a Limerick outfit who love to run and move the ball quickly if the conditions suit and are not afraid to bring the ball into contact. They looked tired in their Munster semi-final against Clare but they then had a three-week break before their next game. You would imagine that if they could build up a relatively good lead going into the last 20 minutes, their energy levels should surpass Kilkenny’s.
On the flip side of that, Kilkenny will be bolstered by the fact that they came through two hugely physical games unscathed. And the fact that they came away without the victory will motivate them even more.
The key men: Cian Lynch v TJ Reid
Cian Lynch has become a hugely important player for Limerick since he burst onto the scene in 2015. Although he didn’t have as much of an impact as he would have liked over the past two seasons, since his deployment in the middle of the field, he has become their main playmaker. He has shown great intelligence, skill and delivery and his name has already been mentioned on the All Star team of the year. The 22-year-old has shown great maturity on the field this year onto of his scoring abilities.
We’ve said it a number of times this summer, TJ Reid remains Kilkenny’s most important player, not just for the scores he racks up, but for his experience and level-headedness among a relatively young forward pack. Many have been critical of Kilkenny’s over-reliance on the Ballyhale Shamrocks man because of the way Cody has set up his team around him. He is the player that drags them out of trouble and keeps them in contention when the game is slipping away. There aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe his current form.
The impact subs
John Kiely must be a happy man at training these days when he sees the competition for jerseys. He’s back to a full strength squad as Sean Finn, who picked up a knock against Clare, is back in the No.2 jersey. Upfront he has a plethora of options and with Graeme Mulcahy, Aaron Gillane and Tom Morrissey in flying form, Kiely can afford to leave players such as Shane Dowling, Peter Casey and Pat Ryan on the bench, all of whom will be craving an opportunity to show what they can do against the Cats.
Brian Cody may have less options on the bench than he has had on previous occasions but the players he does have are more than capable of making an impact. In reserve he has the likes of Richie Hogan, Liam Blanchfield and John Donnelly who can easily swing a game. Their defence will have their hands full with the Limerick forwards so going into the closing stages of the game, they will need to call upon whatever gives them an edge.