Gillane will once more be tasked with Lawlor, the man that almost single handily cost him the HOTY gong last year.
The game narrates itself with Limerick and Kilkenny meeting for the biggest prize in hurling. John Kiely’s men have conquered all before them over the past three years but it’s the Cats who stand in their way of a historic four in a row.
Each team is blessed with incredible forwards that match their work ethic to an impressive skill set. The midfields are full of game changers while the defence mix tenacity with fleet of foot.
But while they’re so evenly matched, there are a couple of duels that could decide the contest as we look below.
Aaron Gillane & Huw Lawlor
Heading into the All-Ireland final twelve months ago, Aaron Gillane was the front runner for the Hurler of the Year award, just edging his teammate Diarmaid Byrnes in the pecking order. A quiet final from the forward as he had to deal with Huw Lawlor coupled with another exceptional Byrnes performance saw him pick up the award.
This year, the narrative is similar with Gillane heading up the shortlist, albeit he is much shorter odds this time around following another phenomenal year, including 3-16 in the two biggest games of the year.
However, once more he will be tasked with Lawlor, the man that almost single handily cost him the HOTY gong last year. Lalwor has taken his game to another level under Derek Lyng and provides Gillane with his toughest opposition yet. The Patrickswell man is also in the form of his life and will be keen to get the better of Lawlor this time around.
If he does, it’s hard to see past Limerick but should Lawlor get the upper hand, it will go a long way in helping the Cats break their eight year wait.
Who picks up Eoin Cody?
If Kilkenny are to pick up a first All-Ireland title in eight years, then Eoin Cody will be central to their hopes. TJ Reid is still the leader of the Kilkenny forward line but Cody is captain and arguably their go to man as of now. So far he has hit 4-21 in the championship and is second favourite for the hurler of the year award having won back to back YHOTY gongs in his maiden seasons.
Twelve months ago, Cody was heavily curtailed by Sean Finn but with the Bruff native injured for the remainder of the year, there is a chance for him to prosper depending on his direct opponent. Regardless, like Gillane, he will be desperate to improve on his 2022 final performance.
Last year two green flags weren’t enough for the Cats and it’s likely more will be needed this time around. Martin Keoghan has got five so far in 2023 but Cody will be the man most on Limerick’s lips in terms of stopping the Cats in that regard.
Dan Morrissey and Mike Casey are the most likely to pick up the Ballyhale man but if things don’t go to plan, he could shift out the half line where he is deadly accurate.
Darragh O’Donovan and Adrian Mullen
Two midfielders at the apex of their game right now, the battle of O’Donovan and Mullen will be a key one on Sunday. If William O’Donoghue is restored to the middle, then he will likely take on Mullen but should Lynch start alongside O’Donovan, there could be a direct battle between the Ballyhale man and the Doon native.
O’Donovan, a four time All-Ireland winning starter and All-Star, has really come into his own this campaign with his invaluable contribution to Kiely’s side starting to be fully appreciated. Twice already he has picked up man of the match awards from the middle and was arguably the key component as Limerick wrestled their way into the semi-final fortnight ago. He has clipped in with scores throughout the campaign and even without O’Donoghue last time out he dominated.
Mullen has always been appreciated by the Cats since his Young Hurler of the Year campaign in 2019, where he hit five from play against Limerick in the semi-final. Last year he switched to midfield and was rewarded with a deserved All-Star. He has struggled with injury this time around but returned for the semi-final win over Clare.
While O’Donovan is more of a creator, Mullen is a keen scorer from the middle of the park and will certainly need watching. If the Doon man is left free, it will allow him to find Limerick’s dangerous inside line. Expect a lot to come from these two stars.
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