Limerick with scope to improve ahead of the All-Ireland final

In the second of a three-part special on the 2023 All Ireland SHC final, Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the Limerick season to date and identifies the key players who may prove pivotal in the final on Sunday, July 23rd.

Limerick continue to set the standard in the league

This has been a season where many have accepted the challenge to topple Limerick. Most challengers have failed. Limerick come into this All Ireland SHC playing within themselves knowing that further performance improvements are required to get past a dangerous Kilkenny outfit.

The Allianz NHL campaign was used to blood inexperienced players into the panel. O’Dalaigh and  O’Brien getting valuable minutes in high profile games in the same manner that O’Neill and Coughlin received in the 2022 season.

A loss to Cork in the opening night of the league saw positive notes from Limerick manager John Kiely. The first half was excellent in terms of distribution and shooting. Cork came on strong in an exciting finish but the Limerick management were quite happy with the night’s work.

Let us be honest though. The league was plenty of shadow boxing amongst the teams. Limerick though registering some keynote wins against Galway on the road and Clare at home. Wexford were put to the sword early as well as Westmeath. Winning momentum-built heading into the semi-final.

Tipperary for the opening period of the Allianz Division One semi-final posed Limerick issues. Their movement and distribution on point but Tipperary could not sustain the level required. Limerick growing into the contest and the third quarter swing fundamental in a convincing win.

The Allianz Division One league final was played in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. An underwhelming fixture as the final never hit the heights expected. Limerick in cruise control as Kilkenny several marquee players were devoid of the physicality and attacking nous to unsettle Limerick.

Munster SHC

Waterford in the opening round of the Munster SHC was a banana skin fixture. Limerick started strongly but Waterford’s energy and middle third setup saw the fixture on a knife edge. Limerick’s response to going down to fourteen players when Gearoid Hegarty was sent off for a second yellow offense was to rattle three scores in succession.

Waterford on the other hand froze down the stretch with some horrendous shot selection. Limerick getting out of jail in Thurles. Flanagan and Gillane partnership blossoming further when given good service inside.

The Clare home fixture was a topsy-turvy affair. Clare unlike the league fixture were on the front foot from minute one and Limerick were always playing catchup. John Conlon, Aidan McCarthy and Tony Kelly inspired as Clare beat Limerick by one point. The loss focused minds. Limerick suddenly under pressure to make just the top three in the province. Limerick’s shooting accuracy a source of concern.

Tipperary away for any Limerick is a tough proposition. When you throw in the fact that Tipperary were revitalised after the arrival of Liam Cahill, this fixture was going to an even more precarious assignment. Bonnar Maher and Noel McGrath led by example as Tipperary looked to stretch Limerick to breaking point. Rhys Shelly’s distribution causing initial Limerick concern but that third quarter was huge for Limerick again who were pegged back late. A draw and a winner take all contest with Cork.

Cork brought everything to the TUS Gaelic Grounds. Patrick Horgan excellent throughout. The Cork accuracy in that opening quarter was spellbinding. Other teams in Limerick’s position would have folded but Limerick do not do panic and with Gillane a prominent contributor, Limerick came good in the second half. Limerick winning and securing an unlikely Munster SHC final berth.

Limerick vs. Clare. The Mid-West El Classico. The game ebbed and flowed. Clare with a strong opening half but again the third quarter from Limerick reaped rewards. 1-8 to 0-3 was a decisive period and the use of ball inside to Aaron Gillane on an overworked Cian Nolan spelled trouble for the Banner. Clare aggrieved at the end but Limerick held on for yet another Munster SHC crown (five in a row). Mick Mackey Cup would stay in Limerick for another year.

Limerick power past Galway

An All-Ireland SHC semi-final which needed no introduction. Limerick and Galway’s recent fixtures suggested a blood and thunder fixture but apart from the opening twenty-five minutes, Limerick made the adjustments to nullify the ball going inside to Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon to secure a comfortable nine-point win.

Concern will be expressed internally within the Limerick on the opening quarter cameo. It lacked urgency and the work rate required to compete with a rampant Galway. The work rate improved from minute thirty and Limerick only were behind by a point heading into half-time. Galway had played all the hurling and their spirit started to wane rapidly.

Aaron Gillane’s two goal cameo key as Limerick picked off Galway in the third quarter. 1-13 to 0-4 midway through this contest secured the win well before the final quarter. The bench impact significant as Cathal O’Neill and Graeme Mulcahy scored points.

A comfortable win as Limerick’s half-back setup with O’Donoghue and O’Donovan worked out eventually. The Limerick full back line intact despite the season ending injury to mercurial Sean Finn at corner-back. Limerick back in a fourth All Ireland SHC final in a row with plenty of scope to improve in all areas of play. 

Team Profile

Limerick have faced down adversity well this season. Sean Finn as mentioned was a season ending scratch after the Clare round robin loss. Many counties would have accepted their fate but Limerick’s next man in mantra continued. Mike Casey fulfilling the role with professionalism and with Richie English in close competition, the full back unit led by Dan Morrissey and Barry Nash has performed exceptionally well given the circumstances.

Declan Hannon’s knee injury represented another puzzle for Limerick management to solve. They decided to call upon William O’Donoghue against Galway. O’Donoghue grew into the role as the game progressed and aided by his teammates was a prominent performer in that second half revival.

The half-back line unit has at times provided key cameos. Diarmuid Byrnes has been an ever present at wing back. His free taking has been pivotal in certain games this season. Kyle Hayes continues to impress with his marauding runs from deep. His distribution and scoring capability has really provided serious questions for opposition to address.

If Declan Hannon is fit for the All-Ireland SHC final, then Darragh O’Donovan and William O’Donoghue will relish an opportunity to go against Conor Fogarty and Adrian Mullen. O’Donovan link-up play has been excellent all year and will ask fundamental questions of the Kilkenny midfield unit.

The half-forward line has seen plenty of personnel changes. David Reidy middle-third play has been eye catching in terms of distribution and points from distance. Tom Morrissey’s work rate and point taking has provided a key platform for Limerick in championship this season.

Gearoid Hegarty is starting to impress with his runs and points scoring. Cian Lynch is coming back to form after an injury hit season. Cathal O’Neill has provided adequate support seen in his five-point haul from play against Tipperary in round robin Munster SHC action.

The full forward line axis is Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan. The two players have an incredible understanding on their movement and tendencies. They are elusive and provide full back line units with massive issues in every game. Flanagan will maraud and hit points from the wing. Gillane is a focal point in the full forward line and his goalscoring exploits represent a big challenge for Kilkenny.

Peter Casey roving in the middle third is a player who could burst onto the All-Ireland SHC final with a performance akin to his All-Ireland SHC performance against Cork which oozed class and scoring quality. A squad which has been challenged but have accepted the blows throughout.


Goal in Munster SHC were at times like gold dust for Limerick but Seamus Flanagan and Aaron Gillane have been the main threats.

Diarmuid Byrnes penalty and Cathal O’Neill’s goal from open play against Cork have shown Limerick’s versatility this year.

There have been other goal opportunities spurned so Limerick have looked to go more direct and score goals this season compared to other recent seasons.

The Aaron Gillane effect is prominent for this Limerick but there are notable contributors to the Patrickswell player. Gillane has hit fifty-one points in this campaign but there has been a consistent support cast in championship games where multiple players have impressed.

There have been sixteen different players to score for Limerick this season. The impact of the bench players seen in the likes of Mulcahy, O’Neill, Reidy and Adam English all registering scores.

The scoring distribution is quite interesting. Forty-three points out of one hundred and sixty-two have come from frees. Seventy-one percent of Limerick’s scores are coming from open play. The third quarter surges key to Limerick’s wins in this campaign.

Weak Points

The slow starts to championship fixtures have allowed opponents to secure early leads. Limerick will be mindful to get on the front foot in the final like last year.

Kilkenny punished Limerick in 2019 for such a slow start and you know it is something that John Kiely, Paul Kinnerk and the rest of the management team will be at pains to highlight in final preparations.

The half-back position if Declan Hannon is unable to take part will be tested out by Kilkenny. Galway were able to expose holes in the half-back line of Limerick providing quality ball inside to Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon.

This would be the perfect setup for TJ Reid and Eoin Cody on Sunday. How does Limerick look to shore up the half-back position further on Sunday will be an interesting watch?

The shooting accuracy will need to improve for the final. The shooting accuracy has been flirting around the mid-sixties so far this campaign.

There were notable improvements in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final second half but a final of small margins, the shot selection and execution this year has left opposition in contests. Limerick need to kill off this contest as soon as they can.

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