TALKING POINTS AHEAD OF THE 2018 ALL IRELAND HURLING FINAL.

After an incredible year of action, the 2018 All Ireland hurling final is less than 48 hours away. Galway enter as slight favourites looking to retain their crown from last year having navigated through 2018 unbeaten. Limerick come in as the underdogs but with serious potential in their young squad. Ahead of the game, we look at some of the key talking points coming into the biggest game of the year.

What to do with Joe Canning and Johnny Glynn?

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay, Semple Stadium, Thurles 5/8/2018
Galway vs Clare
Galway’s Joe Canning scores a late sideline cut
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

One is the current Hurler of the Year, in with a shout of regaining that crown whilst also cementing his legacy as one of the most talented to ever play the game. The other is a 6ft 4’ one-man wrecking machine. Both are instrumental to Galway and if are not looked after on Sunday, one could single-handily be the difference between the teams.

Joe Canning will wear number 11 for the Tribesmen but will rarely occupy that role. More often than not he will drop deep to pick up possession around midfield and quickly supply Galway’s dangerous inside forward line of Glynn, Conor Whelan and Cathal Mannion. If they are not firing, Canning has the ability to slot the ball over the bar on his own from anywhere within 100m of the goal. His battle with Declan Hannon will be fascinating with the Adare man playing as a deep lying centre back throughout the summer. He will have to make the decision to pick up Canning nearer to midfield or trust his midfield and half-forwards to keep watch on the Portumna man.

As for Johnny Glynn, his game plan is far less complicated but no less effective. On the edge of the square, there is no man more dangerous than Glynn. His ability in the air is unmatched with a massive height advantage over each man he marks. Mike Casey will be given the task of looking after Glynn and has all the ability to disrupt Glynn. However, he will need Sean Finn and Richie English close to goal to sweep up loose ball as the chances of winning clean ball in the air will prove near impossible for the Na Piarsaigh man. John Kiely will need to have a Plan B ready if Glynn begins to cause damage and could look at moving Dan Morrissey back or even consider calling Richie McCarthy from the stands.

All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Qualifier Round 1, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny 1/7/2017
Kilkenny vs Limerick
Kilkenny’s Joey Holden and Paul Murphy with Cian Lynch of Limerick
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Midfield Battle.

In a game with so little to choose between the teams, there’s no doubting that the battle in the middle third will prove crucial in the outcome of the game. Galway’s All Ireland winning pair of Johnny Coen and David Burke have improved each game and nearing the levels they set last year when they were unquestionably the outstanding midfield partnership in the country. Coen’s relentless work rate matches superbly with David Burke’s class.

As for Limerick, Darragh O’Donovan and Cian Lynch have demonstrated an understanding that comes from playing together underage to form a lethal midfield combination. O’Donovan has always plied his trade in the centre of the pitch and has added an intelligence to his game, knowing when to shoot or when to feed his inside forwards. Usually sees more of the ball than Lynch and his distribution will be vital on Sunday. Cian Lynch’s move to midfield at the start of the year has energised the Patrickswell man. His performances this summer have been top class and he has arguably been Limerick’s most consistent performer. His work rate is savage and his ability to win ball in a ruck is unrivalled. As shown in the semi-final he also has an eye for a score.

While the battle between the aforementioned four men is mouth-watering, the nature of the sides play will see the half forward lines drop into the middle third. Joe Canning will spend a lot of the game around the middle, as will Cathal Mannion who has license to roam in this Galway team. Similarly, Kyle Hayes, Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey offer their services deep on the pitch, yet they do not neglect their attacking duties. Whoever can gain the upper hand around midfield on Sunday will have the correct platform to launch their side to All Ireland glory.

Galway’s experience against Limerick’s youth.

Munster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Round 3, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork 2/6/2018
Cork vs Limerick
Limerick’s Kyle Hayes celebrates scoring a late point to equalise the game and
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Last Summer Galway bridged a gap of 29 years to secure their first All-Ireland title since 1988. In the intervening years, Galway had been branded spineless by some around the country for their inability to show up when most needed. However, the introduction of Michéal Donoghue in late 2015 has seen Galway become a serious force once more in hurling and his 2017 side won everything on offer including the League, Leinster Championship and All Ireland title. This year Galway easily defeated all competition in the round robin series in Leinster. Yet they have shown cracks in their armour, most notably in the draws against Kilkenny and Clare in their only two appearances in Croke Park this summer.

This is something Limerick will have looked at and will hope to learn from those teams who pushed the Tribesmen all the way in Headquarters. Galway responded like champions against Kilkenny in Thurles to their credit, but Clare will be ruing missed chances in their replay with the width of the post arguably saving Galway’s season. That being said, over the course of 160 minutes against the Banner, Galway found themselves behind for only three minutes. Their experience of winning the All-Ireland has clearly stood to them, with the likes of Joe Canning, Conor Whelan, Daithí Burke and the Mannion brothers demonstrating a calmness that comes from winning.

Yet, Limerick will come into the game with no fear. This is a team that is used to winning, albeit in the underage ranks. Of the starting XV against Cork, eleven of the side have won an All-Ireland U21 title in the previous three years. Five of the side were part of both successes. This side do not carry the burden of previous Limerick teams. They are their own team and are looking to create their own history under the tutelage of John Kiely. Only Sunday will tell who will win the battle of experience against innocence of youth.

Limerick’s bench.

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 29/7/2018
Cork vs Limerick
Limerick’s Pat Ryan celebrates scoring a goal in extra time
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Against Cork in Croke Park, with a quarter of an hour remaining Limerick were struggling against the Rebels. Within the final ten minutes, Limerick trailed by as much as six points and looked like losing a fourth consecutive All Ireland Semi-Final since 2007. However, John Kiely was able to introduce some serious talent of his bench that would turn the tide in his sides favour and deliver Limerick back to where they belong. Shane Dowling will no doubt be itching to start the final, but with twenty minutes to play, there is no better player in the country to come on and change a game. Against Cork he scored 1-4 in his cameo of the bench. His first action was to nail a free from 80+ metres on the side-line. Dowling is a born leader and will be crucial again on Sunday.

In addition to this, Kiely could call upon two time All Ireland U21 winner Peter Casey and his Na Piarsaigh teammate William O’Donoghue who have both won All Ireland club titles alongside Dowling. Pat Ryan was introduced to immediate effect scoring a brilliant solo goal while fellow subs Barry Nash and David Reidy put the tie behind doubt with a point each. Two goals and six points from the bench is unreal scoring and Limerick will need this again on Sunday. It must be noted that the only survivor from the 2007 Final, Seamus Hickey was also given game time against Cork and helped his side see out the victory in mature fashion.

As for Galway, they have their own firepower to come off the bench in the form of Jason Flynn. He like Dowling will argue that he should be a starter, but he will have to be closely watched by a tiring Limerick defence. If Gearoid McInerny recovers to start, which is likely, one of Niall Burke or Conor Cooney will also start on the bench. Both have shown their scoring ability this summer. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, Limerick will be confident that if they are within a couple of points of Galway down the home stretch, their superior bench should be able to contribute enough scores to bring Liam McCarthy back to Limerick.