Through The Lines | How do Limerick and Kilkenny match up ahead of All-Ireland final

There are calls to be made but the majority of both XVs can rest easy that the starting berth they held in the semi finals will be retained come the weekend.

Returns, losses to injuries, debuts, sweepers, red cards, black cards, you name it, nothing is off the table in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final.

Limerick and Kilkenny have kept their cards close to their chest in the build up to their rematch this Sunday with so much speculation on the make up of the sides.

Declan Hannon is the obvious question mark for Limerick and his availability could also affect how Kilkenny line up.

Elsewhere, there are calls to be made but the majority of both XVs can rest easy that the starting berth they held in the semi finals will be retained come the weekend.

Based off those starting outfits, we go through each line of the field and see which county holds the advantage in the Liam MacCarthy race.

Goalkeeper

Nickie Quaid (Limerick) v

Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)

The two best goalkeepers in the business, there is no question of that. Whether you think it’s Eoin Murphy or Nickie Quaid is a matter of personal opinion. Both are integral components to their sides with Quaid’s puckout in particular a huge asset. Murphy is widely renowned as the best shotstopper in the country but Quaid often goes underrated in that department.

8 July 2023; Limerick goalkeeper Nickie Quaid during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Limerick and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Evens here.


Full Back Line

Mike Casey, Dan Morrissey, Barry Nash (Limerick) v

Tommy Walsh, Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler (Kilkenny)

Almost the exact same full back lines that started in the 2022 final, the only personnel change is Dan Morrissey’s move to full back following Sean Finn’s injury. The Bruff natives’ ACL tear has forced Mike Casey into the corner but he has coped admirably and is assured of his place in the starting XV for the decider. Morrissey has picked up on his 2021 form from #3 while Barry Nash has been at his influential best.

On the other side, Mikey Butler has become Kilkenny’s equivalent to Nash, with his goalscoring exploits in the Leinster final. However, he showed the defensive side of his game in tying down Tony Kelly in the semi and will be a key cog if the Cats are to stop Limerick on Sunday. Huw Lawlor did as good as any on Aaron Gillane last year and has continued in that rich vein of form at full back. Tommy Walsh has settled into his role at corner back to round out a stable unit at the heart of the Kilkenny defence.

The absence of Finn is a major miss for Limerick but they still edge the battle of the full back lines.


Half Back Line

Diarmaid Byrnes, William O’Donoghue, Kyle Hayes (Limerick) v

David Blanchfield, Richie Reid, Paddy Deegan (Kilkenny)

8 July 2023; William O’Donoghue of Limerick during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Limerick and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It will be a new look for Limerick in the final barring a miraculous recovery for Declan Hannon who missed the All-Ireland semi-final. William O’Donoghue filled the gap and while it took some time for the Shannonsiders to adjust without their captain, the Na Piarsaigh man got to the grips with the game. Outside him, Byrnes and Hayes appear to be the best wing backs in the game, both finding their incredible form at the right time.

Like Limerick, Kilkenny are expected to start with two of the three that began in last year’s final. Richie Reid appears to have mirrored his game on that of Hannon as a dip lying playmaking centre back while Paddy Deegan will look forward to a battle with Tom Morrissey. The new man in will be David Blanchfield and he looks tailor made to take on Gearoid Hegarty

Nonetheless, this is one area that Limerick appear to have a clear advantage despite the enforced change.


Midfield

Darragh O’Donovan, Cian Lynch (Limerick) v

Adrian Mullen, Conor Fogarty (Kilkenny)

If Hannon misses out, the All-Ireland winning partnership of 2018 will be reunited for the second game running. After struggling with injury for the past 18 months, Cian Lynch showed glimpses of his best in the second half against Galway. Again it was Darragh O’Donovan who was the dominant midfielder on show adding to an incredible 2023 where he is third in the HOTY betting.

Mullen, like Lynch, has been battling with injury but his importance to the Cats won’t have gone unnoticed as he made a sparkling return against Clare in the semis. Conor Fogarty, more of an industrial midfielder produced one of the key moments with a block early on and he will be desperately needed to curb Lynch and O’Donovan.

Again it’s an area that Limerick hold the edge.


Half Forward Line

Gearoid Hegarty, David Reidy, Tom Morrissey (Limerick) v

Tom Phelan, Martin Keoghan, John Donnelly (Kilkenny)

Of the starting half forward lines from the 2022 final, it is only Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey that remain in situ in their favoured position for this Sunday. Hegarty was the man of the match in the 2022 final, en route to winning a third All-Star on the bounce. He has yet to find his best this time around but the performance against Galway was arguably his most impressive of the year so far.

On the opposite wing, Morrissey was incredible even when Limerick were at their lowest and will be key once more. David Reidy has come into the side at #11 and grown into the role where he now looks set to start a first final.

21 May 2023; Tom Morrissey of Limerick celebrates after scoring a late second half point during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Tipperary and Limerick at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kilkenny’s wing forward line, although players will shift between positions, is completely different to last year. Martin Keoghan has taken his goalscoring exploits out to centre forward, still chipping in with five green flags. John Donnelly’s industry and point taking ability makes him a real weapon on the wing while Tom Phelan has been a serious find for the Cats. Not the flashiest player but so important to Lyng’s outfit where he will be tasked with curtailing one of Limerick’s free flowing wing backs whilst also chipping in at the other end.

Forward units are fluid but as they’re named, this could be a dominant area for Limerick.


Full Forward Line

Aaron Gillane, Seamus Flanagan, Peter Casey (Limerick) v

Billy Ryan, TJ Reid, Eoin Cody (Kilkenny)

For Limerick, Aaron Gillane has been the star man in their run to a fourth successive All-Ireland final. The Patrickswell man has plundered 3-13 from play to go with 29 frees in his six outings this summer. Alongside him, Seamus Flanagan hit four goals in the provincial campaign and has a pendant for producing his best in Croker. Peter Casey has been in and out of the side but looks nailed on for the final following an impressive outing against Galway.

If Gillane is to miss out on the hurler of the year award, it is likely to go to Kilkenny captain Eoin Cody who is the finalists top scorer from play with 4-21 in seven games. Billy Ryan in the other corner bagged a goal in last year’s final and is a dangerous player between the lines. TJ Reid, who will roam all over the field is one of the greatest players of all time and will finish the game as the championships leading scorer overall as he bids for an eighth All-Ireland medal.

The firepower in both lines is startling and hard to argue against either one deciding the game.

8 July 2023; Aaron Gillane of Limerick celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Limerick and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Replacements

Declan Hannon (potentially), Colin Coughlan, Richie English, Cathal O’Neill, Conor Boylan, Graeme Mulcahy, Adam English, Oisin O’Reilly (Limerick) v

Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan, Cillian Buckley, Cian Kenny, Padraig Walsh (Kilkenny)

What both teams possess are real options off the bench despite their injury concerns. With Declan Hannon back in training, should he be kept in reserve he will bring huge experience to the game if called upon. Colin Coughlan made his debut in the 2021 final while Adam English got a first taste of Croke Park experience a fortnight ago. Graeme Mulcahy started last year’s final while Richie English is an All-Star defender.

For the Cats, Walter Walsh looks the best poised of the replacements to actually be named from the start. He will cause huge problems whenever unleashed, as will Padraig Walsh who began last year’s contest from the start. Cillian Buckley and Richie Hogan are seasoned All-Ireland winners while Cian Kenny was another to start the 2022 decider.

Both sides have match winners among their bench.


Overall

While Limerick were heavily favoured for the 2022 title, this year’s game looks a lot closer on paper and in the eyes of the public. Kilkenny have shown their bounce back ability to reach the final once more despite strong efforts from Galway and Clare.

But Limerick, after a sluggish start, seem to be approaching something like top form and if they can find it in Croker, there is no stopping them.


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