In the final All Ireland Hurling semi-final team profile, we look at Limerick; the most progressive team in the championship this season under the management of John Kiely. A decent Munster SHC run ultimately ended in provincial final berth disappointment with a heavy loss to Clare in Ennis but the side have regrouped and their sensational two point victory over Kilkenny two weeks time has the side in position to drive on for championship glory. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on his native county (apologies if this sounds biased)
Route to All Ireland Semi-Final:
Limerick’s path to this stage of the competition started back in the NHL campaign. Their promotion from NHL 1B, a division where Limerick have tolled in for several seasons was smashed open after a superb victory on the road to Galway. This result proved to management, players and fans that this side had the potential to be a legitimate threat for the Munster SHC.
Limerick’s first fixture saw the good and the bad. The good was the distribution of scores across the team and composure to not switch their game plan after Tipperary’s goals. The bad was the defensive lapses for those Tipperary goals; NHL 1B habits die hard and Limerick’s back line were punished to the max. Limerick’s strong finish saw Tipperary flounder and a good home win laid the foundations.
The bye week probably came too early for this youthful Limerick side but the Cork fixture showed the new resolve and determination of this side. When Aaron Gillane was shown his marching orders in the opening period, many would have thought that Limerick’s game was cooked but the work rate of the side thereafter was exceptional and their distribution and shot selection really on point. A draw was thoroughly deserved.
Waterford were the next opponents for Limerick; a difficult fixture for Limerick was professionally negated as Limerick hit Waterford for two first half goals and the performance of Shane Dowling (0-15) securing a comprehensive victory at home; five points secured but there was a twist in the tale as a fresher Clare outfit took Limerick apart in the final round robin game to advance to the provincial final. A kick in the solars that.
Regroup was the keyword and Limerick started their All Ireland Series journey on the road in Carlow. The Joe McDonagh champions were simply blown away by a Limerick side whose pace and power exposed massive depth chart issues for Carlow. Five goals scored. Numerous players on the scoreboard with players such as Peter Casey providing excellent cameos ahead of their tussle against Kilkenny.
The All Ireland Quarter-Final fixture with Kilkenny was an excellent encounter. Both sides did not give an inch throughout. Limerick’s composure was truly tested when Richie Hogan scored a potential game winning goal with seven minutes to go but Limerick’s response was emphatic with Tom Morrissey, Casey and Dowling scoring to level the game. Tom Morrissey’s incredible game winning point was a video highlight reel moment. Victory over Kilkenny achieved; forty-five years trying had ended.
Several players have stood out for Limerick this season. Mike Casey, Sean Finn and Richie English in the full back line have provided tight defensive displays and their distribution from the back has seen massive improvements in the side this season.
The half-back line is an unit which has grown with each passing game. Declan Hannon will look to dominate out on the forty; his aerial ability and game management has being impressive. The wing back areas have seen upward progression with Diarmuid Byrnes producing several standout performances along with Dan Morrissey who has reveled in the half back line this weekend. Aerially strong, good distribution and the ability to score from long range is a real asset for the side.
The midfield unit combination of Cian Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan has seen genuine attacking threat from deep. Lynch’s skill set is immense and his distribution to colleagues when under pressure has caught the eye. Lynch’s running style also will create scoring opportunities for either himself or attacking colleagues inside. O’Donovan has being the preferred midfield partner for Lynch; superb work rate and his ability from side line cut and long range is another good attacking source for John Kiely’s men.
The half-forward line has youth in abundance. Hegarty, Hayes and Tom Morrissey have grown in stature with each passing game. Aerial ability is on point and their ability to take scores from open play has being a recurring theme this season. The emergence of Tom Morrissey as a go to player for Limerick have lifted the scoring burden from the inside full forward line.
Flanagan, Gillane and Mulcahy will most likely lead the full forward line. Flanagan has massive upside; his pace to the fore and his ability to take a score was seen against Cork particularly when he scored 0-6 points from play. Gillane has emerged this season; his free taking and general all round play excellent but his red card against Cork will mean that the Rebels will test the discipline of the player this weekend. Mulcahy’s experience and ability to score from play at key stages will need to continue this weekend.
The forward line unit is a different proposition to twelve months ago. It is another year under the guidance of highly respected coach Paul Kinnerk. The movement and speed in this forward line has caused endless issues for opposition this season but the distribution from defense and midfield to the forward unit has being very impressive. It is so hard to defend this movement when the distribution is that good into space.
The scoring threat is distributed across many players. The attacking options are all well capable of scoring heavy and are complemented by midfield and half-back scoring threat from long range. This is a different trait to Limerick compared to recent championship runs where the side were depending on a player or two, this group of players have confidence to take scores when required.
Game management and shot selection has vastly improved this season. The memories of Nowlan Park last season when Limerick were blazing wide after wide from extremely long range and acute angles hopefully is consigned to the annals; the ability of the player in possession to seek out the best option for the side has being a welcome development.
Squad depth. The Na Piarsaigh club contingent have provided massive cameos off the bench particularly against Kilkenny. Peter Casey, William O’Donoghue and Shane Dowling are quality hurlers and their contributions in the last quarter when players are tiring can only be beneficial for Limerick going down the final stretch.
Croke Park. Some will say that this side is young and are rid of the shackles of past heartache at HQ but until a Limerick Senior Hurling side comes to Croke Park and delivers a smart, savvy performance, then this question still remains for me. Cork will look to prey on Limerick’s inexperience of this occasion; can Limerick kept their composure and adhere to the game plan? This side have won All Ireland’s at minor and U21 so hopefully for Limerick, this is a moot point at the weekend.
Mindset. Limerick is an intoxicating sports fan county; from rugby, soccer, hurling, football; the county want to be competitive. The mindset has slowly shifted with the hurlers this season; the Kilkenny win was greeted with jubilation but letters to the Limerick Leader thereafter asked for the paper to stave off the temptation of going over board on the coverage of the side, upping the ante, putting unnecessary pressure on the team. Limerick fans and team need to keep their feet on the ground. The team should embrace this occasion; they will be underdogs this weekend to win. The team need to focus on their own performance and the result will take care of itself but it requires the supporters to support the side in the right way. The supporters need to play their part at HQ; not starting groaning if there is an indifferent start and put negative vibes to the team. A fantastic opportunity has presented itself for the side, time to take it with both hands.
Movement. Declan Hannon will look to consolidate in the traditional center back slot but what happens if Cork decide to deploy their half-forward around the park? Who picks up the player? It is an interesting tactical decision for Limerick management to ponder ahead of this fixture. Hannon provides solidity for the full back line and if he needs to move out of position, could Cork exploit the space created?