Limerick the Munster team best equipped for Leinster grindhouse

Right, tomorrow in Thurles. Here’s the slightly — but only slightly — likelier scenario.

Limerick the Munster team best equipped for Leinster grindhouse

In their third outing on consecutive weekends, Kilkenny are in the zone. Mick Dempsey having been around the place for so long, they had no problem getting their recovery right during the week. Richie Hogan starts and pulls strings. Colin Fennelly starts and gives them a pace injection.

Limerick’s half-back line, though impressive, is not as formidable as the Galway half-back line on which Kilkenny foundered in the first half last Sunday.

Kilkenny pick off their points, score a goal and have enough decent subs to bring on in the second half to keep their noses in front at the finishing line.

The only slightly less likely scenario is easy to infer from the above.

Limerick didn’t make the mistake of dwelling on the Cusack Park fiasco, choosing instead to ascribe it to one of those unpleasant episodes that occasionally befall a young and emerging team (all enquires on that count to Dalo and those other Clare 1995 heroes who’d been there in 1993 and ’94 too) and move on.

Their outing against Carlow last Saturday has sharpened them. They hit the ground running and their half-back line repels all boarders, with Walter Walsh’s absence easing the task for them.

Limerick have a couple of points in hand from an early stage and Kilkenny lack the zip to make up the leeway in the closing 10 minutes.

Equally plausible, you’ll agree.

Both teams will view the fixture through the same lens. A tough test but nothing daunting. A winnable game.

For Kilkenny, it’s a chance of a return to business as usual. For Limerick, it’s an opportunity to record a first significant win in the All-Ireland series for ages. Something has to give, and it will.

From a neutral point of view, the match is intriguing in that it represents the first intersection between the 2018 Munster and Leinster championships. In an arresting contradiction of the history and self-image of the competition, was the hurling down south too open and easy on the eye, as the recent refrain has had it?

Are the Munster teams so used to being accustomed to play their own game, with minimal physical interference from the other crowd, that they’ll face a culture shock when at last they fetch up against a representative of Leinster’s grindhouse version of the sport?

In tomorrow’s case, no. Limerick are the Munster team best equipped to cope with the task. After all, they’ve spent the past two months being described as the team that most nearly resembles Galway. And Kilkenny are, in shape and size, no Galway clones.

Regardless of the outcome — and accepted, Limerick fans have been living for jam tomorrow for far too long to accord this anything other than a yawn — it shouldn’t be forgotten that the county’s season is already a signal success.

An escape from their years of National League incarceration in Alcatraz, a feat that will have positive ramifications for years to come. A place in the semi-finals. Three fine performances in the provincial round robin. The fourth they can be forgiven, not least because it was their first

defeat in normal time in any match all year.

In John Kiely’s second season they’ve become a championship side with a recognisable USP that blends patient build-up play with size and heft. Are they a team that will win an All- Ireland? Not yet. Are they a team that will stop, or at any rate frighten the daylights out of, a team that might? Absolutely.

At the risk of boring the reader, Limerick can never have enough happening in the final 30 metres of the field. Of late, they’ve been getting closer.

Aaron Gillane is patently a leader up front and Peter Casey’s 1-3 in the second half against Carlow was encouraging. Tomorrow they’ll need to have enough going on in the full-forward line, enough people making runs. They do look to have a sufficiency of substitutes for the sector, which is similarly encouraging.

Do Kilkenny have the wherewithal to compile a winning total? On the basis that the drawn Leinster final may turn out to be the closest that anyone gets to Galway all summer, it would be harsh to criticise Brian Cody’s team for not scoring more over the past two Sundays: 1-3 from play from their starting forward line six days ago and 0-6 from them seven days earlier. Then again, Kilkenny’s total of 0-11 from play against Wexford was not stirring stuff either.

The problem is obvious. A dearth of scoring forwards despite the efforts of TJ Reid, who last Sunday produced one of his finest hours in stripes. Late-period TJ is not unlike mid-period DJ: obliged to drag a mediocre team along behind him and doing so magnificently if unavailingly.

Kilkenny’s approach in the replay demands an explanation. In the first half, they abandoned their 2018 campaign manifesto of working the sliotar up the field with

patience and precision, qualities they’d demonstrated in abundance at Croke Park. Choosing to go long against the skyscrapers in the Galway defence was as inexplicable as it was asinine and with three minutes remaining in the first half, they were 12 points adrift.

A note for the connoisseurs tomorrow. Have a look at Richie Hogan and Cian Lynch. Observe the points of comparison between them. See the way they peel off and float into space, noses permanently sniffing the air in search of the right man to pass to.

Then switch over, or go home, and watch how Luka Modric does it.

Don’t give Limerick too much of a lead in the first half and it should be Kilkenny.

Banner may just have that little bit extra

Five years ago, on a neverending evening at Semple Stadium, Clare and Wexford went to extra-time. It was the end of Wexford’s season. It was only the beginning of Clare’s. You know the rest.

Now? Clare have looked a prospective last-four team all along while Wexford always looked prospective quarter-finalists, nothing more. It is their level, although Davy’s achievement in guiding them that far two years in a row should not pass unacknowledged. Membership of the pack of All-Ireland semi-final contenders is not to be sniffed at. There were too many years when Wexford did not possess it.

The verdict of the instant postmortem on their defeat at Nowlan Park doesn’t require revision. They did little wrong bar tiring in the closing quarter and taking a few wrong options, among them going for broke from a lineball soon after Kilkenny had pulled level 13 minutes from time.

At any stage in any game there is never anything wrong with putting a sideline cut in around the house and seeing what ensues.

Rory O’Connor cannot yet be expected to hit the target with every arrow. It is consequently incumbent on Lee Chin to get the full 70 minutes plus injury time today; on Conor McDonald to weigh in with two or three points from play; and for the lads further back to enact the usual choreography that leads to the usual points from distance from unusual scorers.

No need either to return to the Munster final. Clare’s supply lines were cut off in the second half, they missed a few simple points and that was that. This was a far graver setback than last season’s defeat to Cork, not least because Clare appeared beforehand to have evolved.

If Clare are not feeling too sorry for themselves, they should just about get over the line here.

Five years on from Thurles, however, we may be looking at extra time again.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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