Limerick enter the All-Ireland final looking for performance gains

Speculation that the Limerick senior hurling juggernaut was at an end after an underwhelming Allianz Hurling league campaign have been put to bed as Limerick remain unbeaten in championship this season.

John Kiely’s men enter the July 17th showdown on the back of a hard fought three-point win over Galway whose performance has raised questions on Limerick ahead of their showdown against Kilkenny.

In this blog post, Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on Limerick’s campaign so far and identifies areas of hope and concern for the Treaty County ahead of the July 17th All Ireland hurling final.

Backdrop

Limerick had an underwhelming league campaign in 1A. Early league fixtures losses to Wexford, Galway and Cork prompted media outlets to raise questions on this Limerick’s side squad depth and desire to continue to dominate.

The answer was that John Kiely and management team were using the league campaign to build up for the championship.

Heavy preseason workload coupled with integrating new faces into the squad were key factors. The new squad players experienced first-hand the intensity of intercounty senior competition. Cathal O’Neill the breakout star for Limerick.

A draw against Clare in Cusack Park in the penultimate round of games with a strong line-up prompted more media talk of demise but Limerick have stuck to the process and their emphatic victory over Offaly in the final round of the league indicated more good form was to follow.

Munster SHC

Easter weekend saw Limerick travel to Pairc UI Chaoimh and face Cork in a repeat of the 2021 All Ireland final.

Early Cork promise evaporated as Limerick’s physicality in the middle third resulted in Cork losing possession; scoring opportunities presented itself in the inside full forward line as Kyle Hayes and Aaron Gillane scored the decisive goals.

It was a comfortably routine victory for Limerick on a score line of 1-17 to 2-25. Cork a well beaten docket by the final quarter. Statement of intent issued.

Limerick’s opening two fixtures had banana skin written all over. Waterford travelled to TUS Gaelic Grounds looking to create a statement of their own. Limerick were missing a number of key personnel from their All Ireland win of 2021. Peter Casey and Seamus Flanagan were joined on the injury treatment table by Cian Lynch who pulled up early with a hamstring injury.

If there was ever a time for Waterford to beat Limerick, this surely was the evening in Limerick. Limerick though refused to be distracted. Gillane having a field day inside (0-13) with seven coming from frees. Diarmuid Byrnes scoring five key long distance frees in his six-point tally. Cathal O’Neill coming to prominence with three points from play.

Waterford stirred to life in the final quarter with two quick fire goals but the Limerick composure to take those setbacks on the chin and score the last three points were quite significant. Pat Ryan and Damien Reidy scoring a point each off the bench. Waterford defeated and on reflection deflated from their performances thereafter.

Limerick then had a tricky assignment against Tipperary. Hot favorites tag for Limerick to deal with as Tipperary’s form in the championship was a mixed bag.

Tipperary brought energy and intensity to proceedings but ultimately Limerick did enough to win by seven points. Aaron Gillane again the scoring threat with two goals.

Tipperary’s squad depth exposed down the stretch albeit Ger Browne’s ability to find pockets of space in the middle third was a concern for Limerick particularly in the opening half.

Limerick with All Ireland series qualification already secured travelled the short hop north to face local neighbours Clare in Cusack Park, Ennis.

A massively intense fixture ensued. Colm Lyons struggling to keep control of proceedings. Tony Kelly rampaging in the middle third to score at will in the opening half. Gearoid Hegarty receiving two yellow cards; perhaps that was the cue for Limerick to fold but they did not as Diarmuid Byrnes’ late free secured a draw.

The two rivals continued where they left off in FBD Semple Stadium, Thurles. An epic physical battle followed. Limerick and Clare both had good periods of dominance. Gearoid Hegarty with a magnificent goal to quell Clare’s early promise. Tony Kelly starring again in the middle third from play and then produced a superb side-line cut to bring the game into extra time.

This was when the Limerick team character and resolve was tested. Limerick’s squad depth came to the fore as David Reidy provided more good cameos with the ball and securing a vital point down the stretch. Aaron Gillane and now fit Seamus Flanagan combined for eighteen points and the half forward lined combined for 1-5.

The performance not perfect but a provincial win was secured. Mick Mackey cup was coming back to Limerick.

All Ireland SHC Semi-Final

The All-Ireland quarter-final results saw Galway pitted against Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final. Social media commentary suggested that this fixture would see a Limerick blowout but historically, these two sides bring out the best in each other and so it proved here.

Limerick on reflection got out of jail to a certain extent. A super start where Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan were securing fast ball and scoring at will. Galway changed tact and then pushed man to man on Limerick’s middle third with excellent results.

Limerick’s half forward misfired as Galway’s half-back line grew more and more into the contest. Galway guilty of some poor shot selection and wides during the seventy minutes. The game again in the melting pot after Brian Concannon’s early second half goal which exposed full back line positioning issues.

The mantra of composure and trusting the process was seen down the stretch. David Reidy introduced, and his contribution was devastating. Three key points down the stretch as Galway ditched their passing game and went route one to get a result. Galway composure rattled and Limerick were able to see out the contest.

Kyle Hayes produced a man of the match display with three points but this was a reality check for Limerick. The performance was not good in parts with middle third issues allowing Cathal Mannion, Tom Monaghan to create pockets of space to score points in the first three quarters.

Limerick enter this All-Ireland final with scope to improve upon. Key personnel back from injury will require more game minutes on the training field in the leadup to the final to provide that impact that Limerick require. Lynch and Casey need to provide starring roles to complement the threat from the likes of Gillane and Flanagan inside.

The half-forward line unit for Limerick will look to rectify the misfires from the Galway game. Tom Morrissey is due a big final performance; he has threatened to let loose in certain games this season. Gearoid Hegarty must provide that physicality in the air and running to seriously test this Kilkenny rear guard, likewise Kyle Hayes who may float deeper to get ball and look to run with pace.

The midfield area for Limerick has had challenges this season. Opposition looking to drag out O’Donovan and O’Donoghue out of position. The midfield duo will look for their half-forward line to provide more support in this regard to focus on creating attacks from the middle third. O’Donoghue will look to stop Kilkenny attacks from midfield.

The back line unit overall has played solid hurling. Barry Nash has been Limerick’s standout player this term with some immaculate performances from corner back. His skill set and running lines causing opposition massive headaches. Nash is well capable of scoring from distance as seen against Galway.

The full back position is still a concern for me. Despite, Mike Casey’s skill set – he was rattled in the second half of the Galway fixture. David Burke’s early delivery catching Casey off guard and Brian Concannon did the rest. Mike Casey needs to be assured on July 17th and some may argue that Dan Morrissey may still be a bigger option to quell the likes of Keoghan or Reid inside?

Limerick enter this final under no illusions. They know that they will need to up their performance again to beat a progressively improving Kilkenny side. Physicality and skill set need to be point for Limerick. It is all about trusting the process, putting in the work rate and executing the skill set. If they can do those things, Limerick and three in a row will be the popular sentence on Sunday evening.

It is setup beautifully for Limerick to deliver their most complete performance of the season. The opposition on July 17th necessitates this performance level. It will be interesting to see if Limerick can deliver this performance. If they do, then last year’s All Ireland final performance will be usurped.