Goalkeepers, Replacements and Lynch v Joyce | Key Battles as Limerick and Cork meet in Munster

With the countdown well and truly on, we look at some of the crucial match ups and battles that could well decide the outcome.

It’s a clash of the titans on Sunday as one of Limerick or Cork will see their championship ended in Munster for the first time since the start of the qualifiers system back in 2002.

Heading into the TUS Gaelic Grounds contest with three points from as many games, it will all be on the line for the Munster rivals.

Both have 100% records in making it out of the province since the introduction of the round robin phase but that will change this Sunday unless the unthinkable happens when Tipperary host Waterford. For both to get through, they would need to play out a draw and need Tipp to lose by +5 to the pointless Deise.

As such, both will be treating it as a straight knockout tie and with the quality of players at either manager’s disposable, it is shaping up to be another classic in a championship that has delivered week in, week out in 2023.

With the countdown well and truly on, we look at some of the crucial match ups and battles that could well decide the outcome.

Nickie Quaid vs Patrick Collins

With the importance of possession in hurling growing year on year, so does the the value of the goalkeeper with two of the best to take to the field on Sunday. Nickie Quaid and Patrick Collins will have a crucial part to play with every ball vital in Sunday’s make or break encounter. The fixture hasn’t been kind to the Cork net minder and Quaid will be keen to ensure that continues this weekend. Collins was between the sticks for the All-Ireland final mauling two years ago and was on the end of another defeat in their next championship game, the 2022 Munster opener, taking him to 0-3 against the Shannonsiders.

Quaid on the other hand is preparing for a ninth meeting with the Rebels. The Effin man made his debut in this fixture as an outfielder thirteen years ago but when the sides next met in the 2013 Munster final, Quaid was in goals when Limerick ended a 19-year wait for provincial honours. Cork gained revenge the following year but have only once more been on the right side against Quaid and Limerick in the championship, at this weekend’s venue in the 2019 first round.

Nickie Quaid gets his pass off despite the attention of Jack O’Connor in the 2021 Munster SHC Semi-Final. Photo Credit Aidan Ryan

Collins has been in decent form this summer with four goals conceded from three games. His main weapon is a deadly puck out as he contributes to Cork’s flowing attack. Yet, his opposite number has been in scintillating form so far with just the one goal getting past him. That is as a result of a number of top drawer saves with the defence not as stern as in recent seasons. He may have been disappointed with Peter Duggan’s goal against Clare but on the same night he made three saves he had no right to and is up there with William O’Donoghue and Tom Morrissey as Limerick’s main man this summer.

Both have experience of high profile games, notably Collins’ experience in the 2021 All-Ireland final. But Nickie Quaid is one of the greatest of all time and he will be needed to the full if Limerick are to continue the defence of their titles.

Battle of the benches

Neither of the sides ended up on the right side of the result last Sunday afternoon, Cork being pipped by Clare while Limerick were held to a draw in Thurles. However, both results were through no fault of the substitutes bench with both playing their part for their respective sides and those reinforcements could prove to the be the difference this weekend in the do or die clash. The teams won’t be known until Friday morning but each team is likely to keep an ace in the pocket for the meeting.

For Limerick, Peter Casey and Graeme Mulcahy made telling impacts on their introduction last time around. Casey was somewhat surprisingly named among the substitutes bench but added to the scoreboard when going on while Mulcahy rolled back the years with a pair of crucial points. Those were his first points in the championship since bagging against the same opposition in 2022 with a return to form coming at a potentially crucial time for Limerick. Richie English also came into the fold and he will be needed in defence this Sunday again as Cork call upon the cavalry.

Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork 9/5/2021 Cork vs Waterford Cork’s Shane Kingston and Calum Lyons of Waterford Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

The standout name among those is Shane Kingston who has goaled against Limerick in each of his last three championship encounters. The Douglas native would count himself unlucky to be on the bench but his impact is needed for Pat Ryan with scoring contributions in each of the last two games. In addition to Kingston, Ryan can look to the likes of Shane Barrett, Brian Hayes, Tim O’Mahony and Get Millerick.

There is the possibility of changes in either side but those would only further the impact coming from the bench as arguably the two best squads in hurling descend on the TUS Gaelic Grounds. With little likely to separate the sides, the better “bomb squad” could prove vital.

Cian Lynch vs Christopher Joyce

There has been some talk to Cian Lynch being sprung from the bench as mentioned above but it is hard to imagine a world where the two-time hurler of the year is held in reserve if fit. On his day, the Patrickswell man is the best hurler in the country and simply unmarkable. And so often it has been the sight of the red jersey of the Rebels that has seen him produce his best. Who will ever forget his man of the match performance against Cork in the 2021 All-Ireland final. In the first half, he assisted 2-5 to put the game beyond the Rebels before plundering five of his six points in the second half. The following year he was pointing off his knees in the Munster championship win on Leeside. He also goaled against the same opposition in the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final.

22 August 2021; Cian Lynch of Limerick celebrates following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Cork and Limerick in Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

That 2021 All-Ireland final would have been a huge concern for Cork but it did highlight a major issue at centre back, with Ciaran Joyce coming in to fill the gap with aplomb since. The U20 All-Ireland winner embedded himself immediately last year and was instrumental in their league win at the Gaelic Grounds last Spring. A rolls royce of a centre back, Joyce has rarely put a foot wrong for the Leesiders, despite what is going on around him. Akin to Declan Hannon, Joyce likes to conduct from #6 and has all the ball skills in the world.

However, the presence of Lynch could see him having to alter his game style with the Patrickswell native likely to roam as he did to devastating effect two years ago. Cork could pluck for someone like Ger Millerick to man mark Lynch but Clare and Tipperary have shown that taking Limerick on man-on-man is potentially the best route.

Lynch himself will be eager for a big performance having failed to really impress himself on any of the championship games so far. A man for the big occasion, if he fires then Cork will be against it. But if the Rebels can curtail him, then it’s anyones game.

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