Finn on Hutchinson, Barron vs O’Donoghue & the Cian Lynch problem | Three Key Battles as Limerick and Waterford do battle

Across the park there will be some fascinating match ups on Sunday as we look through some of the key battles set to unfold.

Limerick will be seeking a sixth successive win over Waterford this Sunday when the duo meet in the opening round of the Munster Senior Hurling Championship in Thurles.

Limerick’s dominance over the Deise has come at a time when John Kiely has transformed the sleeping giant into arguably the greatest team of all time.

Under Kiely, Limerick broke Waterford hearts in both the 2020 Munster and All-Ireland finals, with the latter a display full of power and skill as they had 11-points to spare on their provincial rivals.

The margin was increased by one the following year in the All-Ireland semi-final with Limerick going on to retain their title for the first time. Last year, Waterford came within three-points of the eventual champions in the second game in Munster. In that encounter, Waterford were within a point down the stretch and had led for large parts of the opening half.

But since, the wheels have somewhat fallen off the for the Deise as they were eliminated in Munster before a below par league campaign under Davy Fitzgerald.

Yet, there is no doubting the talent amongst the Waterford squad and they will be confident of causing an upset, coming in under the radar.

Across the park there will be some fascinating match ups on Sunday as we look through some of the key battles set to unfold.

Jamie Barron and William O’Donoghue

Jamie Barron was the best hurler in the country during Waterford’s run to the All-Ireland final in 2017 and would have certainly picked up the Hurler of the Year award had they beaten Galway. Nonetheless, Barron continued his superb form for the next couple of years, once again reaching those heights in 2020. But in their six encounters that year, Barron was noticeably quiet in a pair, both when facing a certain William O’Donoghue.

The Na Piatrsaigh native, who only sealed his place in the starting team for 2019, was a key differential for Limerick in their All-Ireland win in 2020, twice putting the shackles on Waterford’s key man. Incredibly, O’Donoghue missed out on a maiden All-Star with Barron named at midfield. Tony Kelly was also named in midfield despite operating in the forwards all summer with both Barron and O’Donoghue the deserving pair.

26 February 2023; William O’Donoghue of Limerick hand passes during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A match between Galway and Limerick at Pearse Stadium in Galway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

But after missing out in 2020, O’Donoghue was finally granted a first All-Star in 2021, with his most dominant performance coming in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Waterford. Barron didn’t burn a ball in O’Donoghue’s presence and was duly shifted into the forward ranks such was the Limerick man’s influence.

The Na Piarsaigh native missed the League final through suspension but will be back in time to renew acquaintances with his Fourmilewater opponent. And if Waterford are to have a chance against the Limerick juggernaut, Barron will need to get past O’Domnoghue first.

If De Burca sits, who picks up Cian Lynch?

Prior to the League final, I picked three match ups that Kilkenny needed to get spot on if they were to upset the odds against Limerick. One of those was the Cian Lynch conundrum as I wrote,

“Paddy Deegan is another option but like Hegarty, Kilkenny will have to get this one right to ensure Lynch’s handprints aren’t all over everything Limerick do well as has become the case so often.”

In the 54th minute on that day, Lynch fetched a Richie English sideline and instead of throwing it over, the Patrickswell man sensed the danger, despite being so far out, delivered an inch perfect ball to Seamus Flanagan who set Aaron Gillane free, goal. Game over. He may not have had his best game, but when needed, Lynch was central and sharper than he has been so far in the league as he continues his recovery from the ankle injury suffered prior to the All-Ireland final.

With another fortnight of hurling under his belt since that final and against the side where he first suffered injury last year, the signs are positive for a Lynch like the one that was Hurler of the Year in 2021.

But who from Waterford will pick him up is the key question the Deise will need to answer.

7 September 2021; PwC GAA/GPA Hurler of the Month Award for August, Cian Lynch of Limerick, with his award at Patrickswell GAA Club in Barnakyle, Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

Tadhg De Burca will be named at centre-back for the contest but under Davy, he is likely to revert to a sweeping role where he excels. Waterford will need him as extra protection for the full back line no doubt but Lynch cannot be given space. As such, Waterford are likely to assign someone to follow the Patrickswell man, regardless of where he goes. Many will have their own merits with athletes like Callum Lyons, Jack Fagan and Darragh Lyons all capable of running with Lynch. But athleticism will only get you so far with the Limerick superstar with his movement and ability on a different level. Iarlaith Daly was an option but he is out injured while his brother Cathrach could pick up the slack.

But, if he isn’t halted even somewhat, Waterford’s chances are limited.

Sean Finn v Dessie Hutchinson

The best corner back in the game against one of the most dangerous forwards, Sean Finn and Dessie Hutchinson write the latest chapter in their fascinating rivalry this Sunday. The Ballygunner man may be named at centre-forward but expect him to match up with his Bruff counterpart at various stages in the contest. Their first meeting came in the 2020 Munster final where the Deise man scored a fine point early on, taking the game to the two-time All-Star. But for the remainder of the contest, Hutchinson didn’t get a sniff and this was also the case in the All-Ireland final later that year.

22 August 2021; Seán Finn of Limerick celebrates during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Cork and Limerick in Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Finn claimed a third successive All-Star and was a hurler of the year nominee the following year, again putting the shackles on the Waterford man in the All-Ireland semi-final. However, Dessie did get the upper hand in their meeting last year, clipping over 0-5 from play, although not all came in the presence of Finn. He will need to replicate that performance this Sunday to give Waterford an opportunity of upsetting the odds and will be boosted by the presence of Mikey Kiely in the full forward line. Kiely was the star for UL in their Fitzgibbon Cup success for the second successive year, grabbing four goals in the final alone. Dan Morrissey looks likely to follow him which will free up Finn for Hutchinson.

The best of the best going at it is what the Munster Championship is all about with Finn and Hutchinson at the pinnacle of the sport.

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