Limerick to shade classic final against champions Galway
Bench could prove the difference at Croke Park
Galway v Limerick
Sky Sports Arena & RTE2, 3.30pm Sunday
Limerick bid to end 45 years of hurt. Galway bid to become only the third county in over 30 years to defend their All-Ireland title. Both sides needed mammoth efforts to overcome their semi-final opponents and only one can lift Liam McCarthy. It’s been an incredible hurling championship this year and while no one wants it to end, it looks like it’s going to end with yet another classic.
Galway have been the form side of the championship, going unbeaten through Leinster and the All-Ireland series, and the only team to have beaten them in 2018 are today’s rivals.
But Limerick have undoubtedly been the story of the summer. They finally gained promotion from Division 1B with that win over Galway in March and while Galway were clearly depleted that day, the win ignited a spark in Limerick that has yet to be put out. It signalled a ‘coming of age’ of sorts for a team who had spent far too long in the second division.
While they lost their league semi-final to Tipperary after extra-time, they carried that form into the championship. Wins over Tipperary and Waterford, along with a draw with Cork, had the Treaty in pole position in Munster but they failed to fire against Clare in the final round and were destined for the back-door route.
A clash with Carlow a few weeks later provided the perfect opportunity to get back on track, which they followed up with momentous victories over Kilkenny and Cork. The last time Limerick beat Kilkenny? The 1973 All-Ireland final – Limerick’s last taste of glory.
Galway have taken a more straightforward route to this stage but after breezing through the round-robin stages of Leinster, they struggled to cope with the rise in intensity that the Leinster final brought. A replay was required to see off Kilkenny but the worrying aspect of that result was how they let the Cats back into the game when leading by 12 points after 33 minutes.
Kilkenny reduced the deficit to a point midway through the second half and although Galway pulled away, that performance will have been a sticking point for Michael Donoghue.
It’s more worrying, however, that they repeated it in both games against Clare. They led Clare by nine points after 16 minutes in the drawn encounter and again in the replay, they allowed Clare back in after storming to a nine-point lead following an early Jonathan Glynn goal.
Second-half wonder goals from Peter Duggan and Shane O’Donnell had Galway on the ropes but the champions did what champions do from there and ground out an impressive victory. In the end, it was 2017 Hurler of the Year Joe Canning who carried the Tribesmen over the line as he has done many times, exemplified by a 69th-minute sideline cut from under the stand.
This year will go down in history as one of, if not the greatest ever championship. That won’t matter to the losers though and All-Ireland Finals are for winning. The middle third is going to be key to this encounter and both teams possess equally strong but different midfield partnerships.
Galway have gone for strength and size with David Burke and Johnny Coen while in Limerick, they have the balance of the skill and ability of Cian Lynch coupled with Darragh O’Donovan’s workrate. Limerick’s style of dropping their midfield and half-forwards deep is likely to counteract Galway’s greater physical strength, as the middle of the field is likely to become congested.
That will allow huge space for the forward lines, Limerick’s in particular as their own half-back line will drop deep to cut out Galway’s space. While the Galway full-back line has been extremely solid this year, Limerick will want to deliver quality ball in front of their forwards, rather than battle in the air with Daithi Burke.
Seamus Flanagan, while a big man, will look to move Burke out of his comfort zone and along with Aaron Gillane and Graeme Mulcahy, can cause huge damage. Limerick will be hoping they can stay in the game for 60 minutes before looking to the bench where they hold serious firepower.
Galway have struggled at times in front of goal this summer, relying heavily on Joe Canning and Conor Whelan, and while Johnny Glynn notched a crucial goal against Clare, Galway will need to see more of him, Cathal Mannion and Conor Cooney.
Mannion was in imperious form against Kilkenny in the Leinster final replay but has failed to fire since and Cooney has yet to hit last year’s heights. Galway will need all of their forwards to be hitting form on the big stage.
While Galway have the experience of winning a final, this Limerick team have the fearlessness of youth coupled with significant success at under-age levels. They have yet to be fazed by any occasion and it would be a huge surprise were they not to fire today.
In the last four years, three finals have been won by four points or less and it’s likely to be a similar scenario today.
Draw or either team to win by one to four points
3pts 10-11 Paddy Power
Limerick to lift the cup
2pts 6-4 Sky Bet
Limerick to win All-Ireland
1pt each-way 14-1 May 11
Subs to make the difference for Limerick
A hallmark of this Limerick team’s journey to the All-Ireland Final has been the use of their bench and they are likely to have a huge impact again today.
While many have hailed this Galway side as the best fifteen in the country, Limerick have the best 26 (and beyond) in Ireland at the moment. Shane Dowling has been one of the stars of Limerick hurling over the last number of years but has now had to settle for the super-sub tag, something in which he has revelled.
Dowling, along with clubmate Peter Casey, are generally the first two from the bench to be called by John Kiely, closely followed by Pat Ryan and none of the three would look out of place in the starting line-up.
Casey in particular is hailed as one of the bright young guns of Limerick hurling and was in top form for Na Piarsaigh in their run to the All Ireland Club Final. The Limerick bench contributed 2-6 against Cork so don’t be surprised if they make a big impact once again.
Aaron Gillane has had a huge amount of chances in front of goal this year but has so far failed to convert so it’s worth taking a chance on the Patrickswell man to raise a green flag this time. He missed three gilt-edged chances against Cork in the semi-final (two with the boot) and if Gillane can hold onto the hurley this time, expect him to make no mistake.
Padraic Mannion is the short priced favourite for Hurler of the Year and while the wing-back has struggled to get scores on his last few outings, if he finds space to go forward, he will make no mistake in front of goal.
Limerick subs to score over 3.5 points
3pts 5-6 Paddy Power
Aaron Gillane to score a goal
1pt 3-1 BoyleSports
Padraic Mannion to score over 0.5 points
1pt 13-8 BoyleSports
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