Hawkeye Sidekick

All Ireland U21 Hurling Final: Limerick 0-17 Kilkenny 0-11

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Limerick too strong for Kilkenny at Semple Stadium

Limerick U21 hurlers made it two All Ireland’s in the last three seasons with a comfortable six point win over a Kilkenny at the majestic surroundings of Semple Stadium. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action, wonders if this is the now the start of real progress for the Limerick Seniors and wonders where it all went wrong for Kilkenny yesterday. .

Dominant Limerick

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Gillane again the standout

The six point victory was an accurate reflection on the contest as Limerick were utterly dominant for long periods of this contest. The middle third was convincingly won by Limerick as the half back line of Grimes, Hayes and Ronan Lynch set the platform that Limerick never relinquished.

This victory was particularly sweet for this group of players considering the reversal to the same opposition three years ago at Croke Park in minor grade; on that day, Limerick failed to produce a performance, something that speaking to Ronan Lynch last night post-game was a key driving force for the team’s success.

What struck me about the conversation with Ronan Lynch was how calm and focused he was about yesterday’s victory. ‘Stepping stone’ was the key phrase from Lynch; something to build on and help the senior team to win Liam McCarthy. Lynch had a stellar outing; dominant in his defensive duties and was also unerringly accurate on long range placed balls which gave Limerick the seven point buffer at the half-time.

Limerick management were on point with their tactical switches. They deployed Ahane clubman Tom Morrisey to rove around the half forward line creating space inside for the pacy and dangerous Peter Casey. Morrissey’s work rate was on point, others followed his example as Kilkenny defensively were under huge pressure to clear their lines. The lack of time to pick out a pass resulting in Limerick’s middle third gobbling up possession and forcing Kilkenny management to make several switches before the interval.

The Patrickswell contingent came to the party. Cian Lynch played with composure. His game management was on point during his injury restricted cameo, correctly spotting when to run with the sliothar. His point was a prime example; made the run into space superbly before slotting over.

Aaron Gillane has had a superb season for college, club and now county level. Gillane’s free taking was on point but he also massively contributed in open play. Five points from play for the wing forward and you would start to wonder how the Limerick Senior Hurling Management thought that the player was only a fringe panel member this season. Leading Fitzgibbon Cup scorer with Mary Immaculate College. Things need to change fast on this point.

The Limerick full back line were tenacious and abrasive. Joy and Finn stuck to their tasks well and Fanning provided presence in the full back position. McNamara in goals was not forced into action but his puck out and distribution strategy was on point throughout. A thoroughly pleasing performance from Limerick who produced their most complete display in this competition on All Ireland Final day.

The sub impact of Limerick was also noted as Cian Lynch’s withdrawal resulted in Limerick making a couple of switches early in the second half. Boylan used his physicality and height to great effect; winning aerial ball and chipping in with a point. La Touche Cosgrave provided middle third energy and work rate to the cause. O’Reilly’s pace in the last ten minutes on the counter attack created several scoring opportunities. All Limerick players contributed to this victory. A job well done.

Flat Kilkenny

As I said on the blog posting dealing with the U21 All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final, questions had to be asked of Kilkenny ahead of the final. No significant test of note in either the provincial final or All Ireland Semi-Final which bordered on the ridiculous. Kilkenny management would only know how good their side were when the sliothar was thrown in yesterday. The training session games were not sufficient to get the team over the line.

This was a performance which will grate at the Kilkenny management and players for some time to come. The forward line unit were second best for long periods; evident in the decision to substitute four of the starting forwards before forty minutes.

The forward line units lacked precision, passing was over-hit more times than not and Limerick were nullifying key corner forward Billy Ryan’s influence on proceedings. Liam Blanchfield struggled to get into the contest and only Walsh and Murphy made the score keepers work.

The middle third was a rout for Limerick. As Robbie Hanley and Colin Ryan continued to assert dominance with their running and distribution, Richie Leahy and Luke Scanlon were increasingly being put through the ringer. Leahy is not a midfielder; his earlier cameos at wing forward were enough proof of this. Perhaps with the injury to Lyng, the decision was made to deploy Leahy to the middle of the park. The move backfired. As mentioned, Limerick’s half back line were dominant in the air with Kyle Hayes outstanding catching several key balls in the second half.

The mere fact that Kilkenny scored only four points from play in the sixty-six minutes played speaks volumes on the struggles of Kilkenny yesterday. The All Ireland Semi-Final did Kilkenny no favors; no challenge received from Derry, management not knowing how good the team were in a hotly contested championship match. Limerick were battle hardened after an epic tussle with Galway and it showed yesterday as they got to the pitch of the game early and Kilkenny struggled for tempo throughout.

A quick note on Robbie Hanley from Limerick. His ten minute spell either side of the interval was sublime; his possession count was outrageous, his running game was too much for Lyng, Scanlon or Leahy. Hanley’s game management was on point evident in the first score of the second half setting up the talisman Gillane for the significant first score of the second half. It was a pivotal score as both sides battled hard for that morale boosting opening point of the second half. The first score of the half came ten minutes into the period. Hanley’s contribution was pivotal in the Limerick win and this period of the game pretty much sealed the win.

Where now for Limerick and Kilkenny?

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Limerick need to strike on and become a senior hurling team force

An excellent win for Limerick but we have seen this before in the past that Limerick U21 hurling success does not transform into senior success. Limerick manager Pat Donnelly was quick to point this out post-game, words ‘wasted’ were uttered when reflecting on the success of the three in a row Limerick U21 team of the late 90’s – early 00’s. The team never drove on to the senior ranks; hoping lessons are learned.

John Kiely and Limerick Senior Hurling backroom staff must integrate players from this U21 panel into the senior squad. Failure to do will be seen for what it is; gross negligence. The first decision is to give Aaron Gillane sufficient game minutes next season; consistent free taker with an excellent running game.

The second decision is to decide where is Kyle Hayes’ best position? The U21 team deployed the Kildimo clubman at half-back where as the seniors deployed the youngster in full forward / wing forward. Management need to make up their minds on his position and keep him there for a number of years. It is unfair for the player to have to juggle multiple positions; make the call now.

The third decision is to draft the promising talent from this side and integrate into the senior squad. Several standouts. Hanley and Ryan surely must be running the likes of Browne and James Ryan hard for starting senior spots. Peter Casey continues to impress; his pace and speed were pivotal for Limerick in the inside full forward line. Three points from play speaks volumes. Barry Nash worked hard, genuine goal threat and needs game minutes along with Tom Morrissey who is clinical when giving good ball.

The Limerick Senior Hurling team seriously needs new blood in the playing panel to drive competition; there was a staleness to the senior side in recent years. The county supporters will be watching keenly in the off-season if any of these decisions are taken.

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Kilkenny will reflect on this final reversal

Kilkenny will reflect on a decent U21 championship season. They won the Leinster U21 championship this season with a minimum of fuss; avoiding the Westmeath banana skin of last year. Eddie Brennan and management will realize that work is still left to do in terms of player development. The side struggled for long periods yesterday; work rate was second best, something that is not associated with Kilkenny hurling teams.

No one in the Kilkenny side yesterday took the game by the scruff of the neck; zero leaders on the park to stem the flow. Limerick comfortably saw out the final quarter with ease. Leahy and Blanchfield were nullified and must be a great source of concern for Brian Cody; talented players but were snuffed out easily by Limerick.

No significant talent other than that emerged from the Kilkenny U21 team to suggest that they will be pushing for starting spots. Cleere potentially at half-back who has being on the senior panel in recent seasons but he had his hands full throughout. Time to reflect. Adrian Mullen will emerge in the years to come but the conveyor belt of talent was not seen yesterday. Kilkenny have a long winter to reflect and address the decline in hurling fortunes.