Limerick face Kilkenny this Sunday in Thurles in the 2018 Senior All Ireland Championship Quarter Final at 2pm. This will be Limerick’s sixth game of an already memorable championship for John Kiely’s men. Last summer Limerick were defeated by Kilkenny in the All Ireland qualifiers to end their season and Kiely will be keen to exact revenge on the Cats. Ahead of the highly anticipated game, we look at the talking points heading into the clash.
Ultimate Acid Test
Limerick last won the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship forty-five years ago in 1973 when they beat Kilkenny in Croke Park. It also marks the last time that Limerick defeated the Cats in Championship hurling. Brian Cody’s side have accounted for Limerick five times since his appointment as manager during his unprecedented reign of success. In the 2007 final, Limerick outscored Kilkenny for the final sixty minutes of the game but Kilkenny’s relentless start saw them run out seven-point winners.
Thurles in 2012 promised much with Limerick leading for majority of the opening half before Henry Shefflin and Co. took over with a flurry of second half goals. In 2014, the sides played out arguably the most picturesque game of all time in the rain in Croke Park where despite being on the back foot for long periods Cody and his troops came away with the win on route to another All Ireland triumph.
Last year in Nowlan Park, Kiely and his young troops gave a great account of themselves in the Qualifiers before Kilkenny’s experience told in the closing stages. Yet much of the Limerick team remains from last years tie while there has been a large turnover of players in Kilkenny since. Kiely can use this to his advantage this Sunday as Limerick will harbour genuine ambitions of toppling the Cats for the first time since 73’.
Kilkenny is the ultimate acid test in hurling, and it’s approaching a half century since Limerick last passed this test, yet Sunday provides a golden opportunity for Limerick to rewrite history in their favour.
Kilkenny come into this game off the back of a heavy defeat at the hands of Galway in the Leinster Hurling final replay. This will be Kilkenny’s third game in as many weeks while Limerick come into the match having played Carlow following a three-week break. Limerick’s defeat of Carlow also proved to be routine for the Treaty county with little exertion of energy.
This year’s championship has already demonstrated the effect of playing numerous games in continuous weeks. Who can forget Limerick’s leggy performance against Clare in what was effectively a Munster hurling semi-final. Kilkenny suffered the same fate when they met Galway in the round robin Leinster series. They simply couldn’t keep up with Galway after overcoming Dublin and Offaly the previous two weeks.
The speed at which hurling is now played, requires savage fitness and work-rate, something which is hard to replicate week in-week out. Cody’s men will be primed for battle as always, but the backlog of games could have a detrimental effect on their chances giving Limerick a slight upper hand. While Kilkenny have long been known for the ability to come from behind, Limerick can put their extra rest period to use in the final moments this Sunday
For the first time this championship, John Kiely will have a fully fit squad to work with. Sean Finn was rested against Carlow after picking up a knock against Clare but should have had ample time to reclaim his place in defence for this weekend’s game. Peter Casey notched 1-3 on his return to the side while Aaron Gillane once again demonstrated his class with 1- 5 against the Joe McDonagh cup winners.
While Nicky Quaid is certain to start in goals and the half back and half forward units to remain the same as they were throughout the Munster championship, there are positions up for grabs. Graeme Mulcahy and Seamus Flanagan started each of the Munster games and are in pole position to retain their places but Casey, Gillane and Dowling will all be looking to force their way into the starting line-up. After their appearances last week William O’Donoghue and Richie McCarthy will feel aggrieved to lose out should they not hold down their places.
Limerick’s strength in depth this year is well documented with any of the matchday panel more than capable of making the starting XV. Yet, John Kiely will have to be cute in his selection on Sunday. Match-ups will be key with players such as TJ Reid, Walter Walsh and Cillian Buckley carrying an enormous load for the Cats. If Kiely can nail down these players Limerick should have the quality spread throughout the park to pose serious problems to Kilkenny.
Limerick began the championship like a train with a brilliant victory over Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds which was followed by a tremendous showing of spirit in Pairc Ui Chaoimh to earn a draw against all the odds. Much was made of this young group after they dismantled Waterford to set up a final day clash with Clare in Ennis.
However, the build of games had a clear impact on Limerick as the players were unable to match the work rate from previous weeks looking fatigued throughout as they slumped to a ten-point defeat and lose out on a chance at Munster glory. Yet, the group has had time to regroup away from the limelight and went about their business in Dr Cullen Park in a professional manner, getting the job done with minimal fuss.
Now, John Kiely’s young troops will once more be under the spotlight on Sunday in Thurles. It is a team full of winners who are ready to convert underage success into senior triumphs. Sunday is their setting for redemption on that road.