How do All-Ireland final pairing Kilkenny and Limerick stack up and which county holds the aces?
A fascinating All-Ireland final awaits this Sunday as Limerick and Kilkenny do battle for the biggest prize in hurling.
It has been three years since their last meeting of any kind as the best managers in the game come head to head for the fourth time.
Brian Cody has two wins to John Kiely’s one with Kilkenny coming out on top either side of Limerick’s memorable win over the Cats in 2018, en route to winning the All-Ireland final.
Undoubtedly, the provincial champions have been the best teams in this year’s competition, with an intriguing tie in store.
Predicting eithers line up is futile with Cody always good for a surprise on All-Ireland final day, while John Kiely has an array of options with the returns of Cian Lynch and Peter Casey.
Nonetheless, we look through the teams and see which side holds the aces
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.
Full Back Line
Sean Finn, Mike Casey, Barry Nash (Limerick) v
Tommy Walsh, Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler (Kilkenny)
Six of the players that have redefined what the role of an inside back requires. Sean Finn is still the best pound for pound defender in the game and seems to be peaking at the right time such was his semi-final performance. Barry Nash is a game changer from corner back and one of the HOTY favourites while Mike Casey’s return has been nothing short of spectacular.
On the other hand, Mikey Butler is another in the HOTY debate after putting the shackles on Tony Kelly. In the other corner, Tommy Walsh is living up to the expectations that the name brings while Huw Lawlor is a teak tough full back who has had an interesting battle with Aaron Gillane before.
Some of the best in the game but Limerick do have the edge here.
Half Back Line
Diarmaid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Dan Morrissey (Limerick) v
Mikey Carey, Richie Reid, Paddy Deegan (Kilkenny)
One of the most familiar looking trios against a new look Kilkenny outfit. Byrnes, Hannon and Morrissey were the key to Limerick’s success in 2018 and have been reunited after Morrissey filled the gap at full back in the past two seasons. Byrnes is second favourite for Hurler of the Year while Hannon is peerless at centre back.
Mikey Carey is somewhat of a late bloomer, but anyone in UL circles will have known his quality while Paddy Deegan has become one of Cody’s most trusted servants. At centre-back, Richie Reid is arguably the main cause in their change of style that sometimes mirrors Limerick.
Both will have their hands full but can be the key launchpad with Limerick’s experience giving them the advanatage.
William O’Donoghue & Darragh O’Donovan (Limerick) v
Conor Delaney & Adrian Mullen (Kilkenny)
The Kilkenny midfield unit is consistently changing but none the less effective as they showed in the All-Ireland semi-final. Adrian Mullen popped up with five from play and has hit 0-25 during the course of the championship. Conor Delaney will start beside him, while Cian Kenny will also drift out. Either have the ability to cause trouble with huge engines in reserve.
William O’Donoghue and Darragh O’Donovan are an All-Star duo but it is fair to say they haven’t hit the heights of 2021 just yet. However, getting a stop on the Kilkenny duo could go a long way in helping Limerick to victory on Sunday and both will be rearing to show just why they are regarded as the best in the business.
Very close call and could go either way.
Half Forward Line
Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes, Tom Morrissey (Limerick) v
TJ Reid, Padraig Walsh, Cian Kenny (Kilkenny)
The quality here for both sides is off the charts, and that is without a double Hurler of the Year in Cian Lynch who is an injury doubt. Kyle Hayes had his best game in the #11 jersey since the All-Ireland final in 2018 last time out and is a nightmare for defenders with his explosive running style. Outside of him, Tom Morrissey and Gearoid Hegarty haven’t been up their exceptionally high standards but have peaked on All-Ireland final day over the past two seasons. If they do so again they will take some stopping.
There is no doubting that TJ Reid, who approaches his 35th birthday, is still Kilkenny’s go to man. The Ballyhale Shamrocks clubman has won it all, including seven All-Ireland titles, as well as five All-Stars but continues to come up trumps for Cody’s men. Padraig Walsh hasn’t started every game at centre forward but is a menace there and very accurate while Cian Kenny will show up all over the park.
Again very close but on their day, Limerick are better stacked here.
Full Forward Line
Aaron Gillane, Seamus Flanagan, Graeme Mulcahy v
Billy Ryan, Martin Keoghan, Eoin Cody (Kilkenny)
Aaron Gillane has been the standout player in the country this year and he is favoured to win the Hurler of the Year award after amassing 3-40 (22f). Seamus Flanagan showed exactly what he is capable of with 0-8 from play in the Munster final while Graeme Mulcahy has worked tirelessly without really troubling the scoreboard.
Martin Keoghan is the only Kilkenny forward guaranteed to stay in the full forward line with Cody and Ryan often dropping out. But none are in any way ineffective, all playing their part in helping Kilkenny to 17 green flags in the championship alone.
Still, if Limerick’s men hit their heights, then they are unmatched with the possibility of Peter Casey further solidifying that.
As has been the case since John Kiely’s arrival, Limerick’s bench has been one of the keys to victory. This year they have had a number of injuries which has forced others to step up. After making his championship debut, Cathal O’Neill has shown glimpses, as has Conor Boylan who has settled into his role after a couple of years watching on. Limerick could well have Cian Lynch and Peter Casey to call upon while David Reidy was the matchwinner in the All-Ireland semi-final. Richie English and Colin Coughlan are superb defensive replacements if needed also.
But Kilkenny have their strongest squad in years with multiple All-Ireland winners in Walter Walsh, Cillian Buckely and Richie Hogan to call upon, with the former particularly impressive in the semi-final. Richie Leahy has shown his class against Limerick before while Alan Murphy was a scoring star in the 2014 minor final when the teams met. John Donnellan is also a very useful option to Cody.
With Limerick’s injuries, it’s hard to pick between the teams.
The Limerick players have done it all when it comes to the game. Each of the starting fifteen are All-Stars with nine having multiple. All possess numerous Celtic Cross medals and they seem to perform better as a team which makes them favourites on paper for any game they contest.
Kilkenny have been slowly building through the year and come into the game flying with some in the form of their life. Their squad depth is also of the highest order with real game changers to choose from.
But the nod has to go to Limerick who have gone undefeated for almost three years in the championship.