In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely looks ahead to the All Ireland minor hurling final.
The All Ireland finals in September are in so many ways national days of celebration, days that reflect the true spirit and traditions of our country at its best.
Even if your county is not involved we can appreciate how much it means and the glory it bestows on a county. It’s 30 years since Limerick last won the All Ireland minor hurling title and they will face Kilkenny in what promises to be a most interesting contest.
Limerick has developed well over the past two years under Brian Ryan. They won back to back titles in Munster and lost in the semi final last year to Galway after some controversy over a score not given. I hold the opinion that losing that game has moulded a mental strength and determination within the team.
This is a good Limerick team but while Kilkenny have not been altogether impressive I still think they have enough players to make life difficult for Limerick. By any standards Limerick’s run to the final has been impressive. Beating Tipperary, Cork and then Waterford after a replay in the Munster final while blowing Galway away in a repeat of last year’s semi final provides them with grounds for victory in the final.
What we have seen in the development of this team is a culture change of how things are done under Brian Ryan and his management team. They have left no stone unturned in their quest to find and develop players. They never closed the panel and that approach has developed a huge honesty within the team.
They will know only too well that Kilkenny will in no way fear Limerick. They might have lost their opening game to Dublin but was the back door route more attractive option for Kilkenny? They made ten changes after losing to Dublin in that first round but ended up beating Dublin in the Leinster final some weeks later with a fair bit to spare.
The facts show that little separate the teams going into the game. Kilkenny have scored 7-78 from five games which included Carlow while Limerick has scored 7-105 also in five games. Both teams have scored 0-34 from frees. Kilkenny are averaging 0-22 per game while Limerick’s average is 0-25 per game. The Kilkenny manager Pat Hoban has not been slow to make changes when needed and lads were drafted in for the Leinster final that only joined the panel days before and since then his team have improved.
Kilkenny have ten players on their panel that played in this year’s All Ireland colleges final so we know these lads are not going to Croke Park to drink fanta.
Alan Murphy is the top scorer for Kilkenny with 3-40 scored of which 0-34 has come from frees. Liam Blanchfield has played at full forward for all games to date for Kilkenny and he will take careful watching. He has scored 2-11 and has been very well assisted by Sean Morrissey his club mate from Bennettsbridge who has scored 0-12 from play.
Limerick has improved over the last couple of years. The major factor for Limerick going forward is that 15 of this year’s panel are underage next year, this hasn’t happened by chance. In some of the games in this championship Limerick have taken control but then through lack of focus they have allowed teams back into the game. They cannot allow that to happen with Kilkenny.
Limerick blew Galway away in the semi final, they will have learned that they need to be much tighter in defence. Kilkenny have players that will exploit weakness and backs will need to close Kilkenny down with assistance from midfield and half forwards.
When this Limerick team are in full flow they can really turn it on. This is an All Ireland final and finals are won by doing the simple things well. This final will not be won by showboating where players go for glory and don’t pass to another player in a better position.
The Galway game was a non-event and Mattie Murphy was bluffing telling us that this was the best team he had trained at minor level. Limerick looked very good in that game but the poor quality of opposition must be taken into account.
Limerick is very strong in attack and that has caused so many teams problems this year. When the likes of Ronan Lynch, Cian Lynch, Barry Nash and Tom Morrissey are going well this team has a real spark about it. One young man that it is in superb form is Peter Casey and Kilkenny know that. Casey didn’t make the Ard Scoil Ris team but over the summer since joining the Limerick set up he has really blossomed. If he carries his current form from training to Croke Park then he could be a match winner.
Cian Lynch is the engine of the team in the way that he works up and down the field. He distributes the ball in a selfless way for the benefit of the team and he will have an important role to play on Sunday. Croke Park is the stage for him. Ronan Lynch has developed real form since the Munster championship and his sharpness from play and frees will be vital for the team.
Tom Morrissey loves the big arena and has scored some magnificent points this year. When close to goal he causes big problems for most teams. One of the top scorers Barry Nash has the ability to cut Kilkenny open, when he runs at defences he can cause real trouble. The South Liberties man is a proven goal getter and I feel he will deliver on Sunday.
How Limerick take care of the Kilkenny forwards could well decide the game. Kilkenny have some good stick men in this area but everything goes down the wing to Blanchfield. He is the man that makes the Kilkenny forward line tick. Paddy O’Loughlin is capable of minding him but he must not allow Blanchfield get the ball in his hand.
Limerick are a better team than Kilkenny, they have better balance and are stronger particularly from midfield on. They will have to make that superiority count and I think they will.
They are a great bunch of players well backed by their parents and management and on Sunday they will end a 30-year gap.