Following an interesting weekend of action, we look at the key points to emerge from the League semi-finals, particularly Limerick’s TUS Gaelic Grounds win.
Limerick sealed their place in the 2023 National Hurling League final on Saturday evening with Kilkenny booking their spot the following afternoon.
It sets up a mouthwatering rematch of the All-Ireland final from last July where Limerick secured a three-in-a-row of titles with the two point win, becoming the first team to complete the feat since the Cats in 2008.
Following an interesting weekend of action, we look at the key points to emerge from the League semi-finals, particularly Limerick’s win over Tipp.
Shades of the 2021 Munster Final
From Tipperary’s early intensity to Jason Forde’s unerring accuracy out the field, the similarities between Limerick’s Munster final defeat of the Premier and Saturday’s League semi-final were uncanny. On both occasions, it was the men in blue that took the game to the pre-match favourites, taking a healthy lead into the dressing rooms on both occasions. Two years ago, Liam Sheedy’s men were 2-16 to 0-12 to the good at the break while Liam Cahill’s men had as many points without the goals with Limerick, incredibly, again on twelve points.
Yet, Tipperary’s good work was undone in the third quarter once more as Limerick buoyed by the efficiency of Aaron Gillane and Diarmaid Byrnes drew level within ten of the restart, outshooting their opponents 0-11 to 0-2 in the first twenty minutes of the new half.
Game. Set. Match.
Cahill’s side, like Sheedy’s, had no answer for the Limerick juggernaut who seemed perturbed to be questioned as they were by the visitors. Alan Tynan and Jason Forde had 0-6 from play between them in the first half but that was cut to two second-half scores from play as the Shannonsiders applied their vice-like grip.
In their clash in the Gaelic Grounds last summer, Tipp led for large portions of the contest before being blown away late on while the meeting prior to the 2021 edition saw the Premier go toe-for-toe early on until they were brushed away.
Defeats like the one suffered on Saturday will make Tipperary further question their approach come the championship meeting in May with Limerick currently having all the answers between the ancient rivals.
Defence holds firm
As mentioned above, if two men signified what Tipperary were about in the first half, it was Jason Forde and Alan Tynan with Limerick struggling with both. Three of the Silvermine man’s first five scores came from play as he showed his ability to score from range and closer to goal. Tynan’s were more power plays with his rugby background to the fore taking the game to Limerick’s main enforcer William O’Donoghue.
But despite trailing by four at the interval, Limerick never seemed in trouble of conceding a goal to a Tipperary side who raised green flags for fun in the group stages. Nickie Quaid was a relative bystander in the first half outside of puck outs en route to keeping a second successive clean sheet. And when the legs began to catch up with the Tipperary forwards who had worked so hard in the opinion period, Quaid’s job was made all the easier with less and less to do. Indeed the Effin native didn’t touch the ball in play during the entire contest.
Much of that was due to the efforts of those in front of him as Limerick’s All-Ireland winning first six were ably accompanied by Colin Coughlan who duly filled in for Dan Morrissey at #7. Mike Casey got to grips with Forde midway through the first half while Sean Finn showed why he is the still the best defender in the game. The other four defenders, Barry Nash, Byrnes, Declan Hannon and Coughlan all managed to find the target while keeping their men quiet.
It is the ability to keep clean sheets that make Limerick such a difficult opponent as they routinely reach 30 points a game. To match that, you would assume green flags are needed with the Shannonsiders proving stingy in that regard thus far in 2023. Against Kilkenny they will be against the best goal getters in the game, providing Kiely and co the perfect warm up for the Munster championship.
Injured attackers find their feet
In the midst of their greatest performance to date, Limerick’s Peter Casey saw his All-Ireland final cut short approaching the half in the 2021 decider. An ACL tear was the diagnosis for the Na Piarsaigh man who had plundered 0-5 from play in his cameo. With Casey in the stands, Cian Lynch took over the scoring mantle, shooting over six after assisting almost all of the first half scores. Those displays saw each rewarded with a deserved All-Star while Lynch was named Hurler of the Year for the second time.
Casey’s absence from last year’s provincial campaign had been pencilled in from that date but Lynch also saw his Munster championship ended early on when picking up a hamstring injury against Waterford in the TUS Gaelic Grounds. Both would reappear for cameos in the All-Ireland semi-final but neither made it onto the field for the final, Lynch injuring his ankle in the build up.
However, after building up their fitness levels in the early rounds of the league, both seemed close to their best against Tipperary as they accounted for 1-3 of Limerick’s sizeable tally. Lynch, was the key figure throughout the pitch while Casey showed his pendant for work rate at one end before finding himself on the end of a dropped shot which he kicked to the net. The return to form of that duo is another headache for Kiely as his options seem to increase season on season.
Yet the decision in straightforward, if Lynch and Casey are on form, they both start every day of the week.
All-Ireland Final rematch awaits
Whether the intention from either was to make it all the way to the league final, that is the scenario both Limerick and Kilkenny find themselves in as the best from 2022 carry their form into the new year. Both Cork and Tipperary brought with them perfect records into the last four but each were comprehensively overhauled by the 2022 All-Ireland final pairing.
But the public can rest assured that both will be keen to lay down an early marker in the first meeting of the sides this year, the first of two if their current form continues. Between them, they have won all provincial titles on offer since 2020 with Limerick annexing each of the All-Ireland’s in the same time frame.
Their recent history is ever-expanding as Kilkenny were the only side to hold a winning championship record over Limerick during John Kiely’s tenure prior to last year’s final. The Shannonsiders squared that stat at two-apiece following the July collision with each contest more important than the previous.
If last year’s final is anything to go by, the league final between the pair will be a memorable one.
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