We’ve gone through some of the weekend papers to see what they’re saying ahead of today’s All Ireland semi-final.
ENDA MCEVOY, IRISH EXAMINER
“Unlike last year against Clare there’s been no hype on Shannonside to weaken focus, no wearying lacuna between provincial final and All-Ireland semi-final to sap legs. They won’t make the mistake of trying to play the occasion here and they shouldn’t make the mistake of trying to combat Kilkenny’s aura. For Kilkenny possess only the remnants of an aura.
It’s a day of musts and needs, the musts and needs that come with the territory for any team taking on Kilkenny. Must start well. Need to avoid bad wides. Must stay iron-focused from first whistle to last. Need to prevent runs being made through the heart of the defence. Et cetera.
But the bottom line is that, give or take one’s adjective of choice to sum up their display in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the Green and White have produced three decent performances in a row this summer. When was the last time that happened? The 1994 championship?
Add in last season’s exploits and they’ve produced five decent performances out of six over the course of successive championships. When was the last time that happened? Certainly they’re a better, more streetwise proposition than they were two years ago when they started brightly against Kilkenny in Thurles but lost their way thereafter. Ignore, by the by, anyone who claims they “should have won” that match; after 20 minutes of the second half Limerick trailed by 11 points. No room there for ifs or buts.
Clearly Limerick boast plenty of cutting in the full-back line, where Richie McCarthy and Tom Condon possess the requisite boldness for Kilkenny and anyone else too. Whether Paudie O’Brien and Gavin O’Mahony do also may become an issue; against Kilkenny, the first priority for a half-back line is to stop the sliotar going through.”
Some other observations.
To hold that Limerick were impressive in the quarter-final and Wexford a mile off the pace are not mutually exclusive assertions, but it goes without saying that Paul Browne will not sashay in tomorrow for a goal the way he did a fortnight ago; the Wexford defenders no longer had the legs to get to him. By the same token, David Breen will not be allowed trundle through as he twice did in the first half at Semple Stadium. Cillian Buckley is good in the air and, even if out-fielded by Breen, is mobile enough to turn and retrieve the situation.
Practice ought to have made Limerick’s shooting, if not perfect, then at least serviceable. But it’ll have to be a bit more than serviceable here. No repeat of the four wides in the opening seven minutes against Cork. No repeat of the nine wides of the first half against Wexford.
Shane Dowling has grown into the player we assumed Declan Hannon would become. It will be interesting to see if Hannon, without the pressure of the frees, can atone for his misfire 12 months ago, for the underdogs cannot prosper by Dowling’s output alone. Add this to the lengthening list headed Limerick Needs.
On which note, they averaged 24 points against Tipp and Cork. They’ll need — that pesky word again — more than that here.”
In sum, while Limerick fans cannot forever keep waiting for jam tomorrow, as of now they look one scoring forward and an exceptional wing-back away from a MacCarthy Cup.
Kilkenny’s days of whoosh have come and gone. But they’ll probably find another gear in the closing stages, because they’ll be made to, and that will do. They have their own needs too.”
JOHN FOGARTY, IRISH EXAMINER
“Shoulders will be plentiful but if Kilkenny consider that Limerick are just fire and brimstone then they are mistaken. Their mobility and ability to create and take scores is something the Cats have yet not faced in a Limerick side.
Kilkenny have rarely traded on their name but it’s not there anymore. The fear they engendered in the opposition has been replaced by respect.
A side that fashioned 50 scores in just over 70 minutes against Wexford, Limerick have broken their age-old stereotype. Here is a gilt-edged opportunity to break Kilkenny but it may just be out of their reach due to a lack of depth. Kilkenny by two.”
TONY CONSIDINE, IRISH EXAMINER
“A sign of a good management team is to admit mistakes when mistakes have been made. It was hugely honest of TJ Ryan to come out after the defeat by Cork and say he had worked the team too hard in the week leading into the game. That honesty can be seen in their play.
Limerick return to Croke Park tomorrow and the venue has not been a happy hunting ground for the county in recent times. Last year I don’t believe hype was the issue. Hype did not cost Limerick a place in the All-Ireland final. The players simply didn’t perform against Clare. Players missing simple frees in front of goal should not be happening on All-Ireland semi-final day.
They now have a second chance, and they have the players to capitalise and atone.
Their midfield pairing is the strongest in the country. They dovetail very well. James Ryan has a massive presence on the field and Paul Browne hurled out of his skin against Wexford. Tomorrow they are squaring up to the leading contender for Hurler of the Year – Richie Hogan. His contribution must be limited if the Shannonsiders are to have any hope.
Further forward, I am somewhat concerned that the Limerick front six have yet to click. Dowling, Hannon, O’Grady, Mulcahy and Downes are hugely talented individuals, but as a unit they must deliver.
David Breen has a phenomenal work-rate and was the forward I was most impressed with against Wexford. His aerial ability will be crucial. We know how powerful Kilkenny are in the air and Breen is Limerick’s strongest forward in that department so expect Quaid’s puckouts to rain down on the right flank of attack.
I expect Declan Hannon to line out at centre-forward, and what a battle it will be with Brian Hogan.
The big ask for Limerick is whether or not their defence can cope with the Kilkenny forwards. The Kilkenny forwards are relentless in applying pressure. They have the ability, as we have seen too often in the past, to end a game in a five minute spell.
Let’s call a spade a spade here: this is Limerick’s D-day. The maturity is there. They have the experience. They have been to Croke Park in August before. They have endured the hurt of losing an All-Ireland semi-final. They have failed to emerge from Division 2 of the league for the past two years.
The want to put an end to that streak of what ifs and maybes. They have been so close and yet have no cake. They want a performance, they crave a result. They have played in tighter games than Kilkenny this summer and that will stand to them.
I rarely go against Kilkenny when Croke Park is the venue. They have not, however, been the force of old this summer. I have not been convinced.
Limerick, fed up with moral victories and hard luck stories, won’t let this opportunity pass them. They can’t.
I believe they will come through.
SEAN MORAN, IRISH TIMES
“Kilkenny might be on the march again but teams no longer quake at their approach. This will be particularly true of Limerick who have had just fleeting contact with Kilkenny in the modern era. As a county though, they see themselves as heirs to a tradition which always saw tomorrow’s opposition as rivals not superiors.
Some of this fearlessness was visible when the counties met in 2012 and Shefflin neutralised what could have been an irretrievably good start by Limerick.
Two years on and TJ Ryan’s team have matured. They brushed aside a typical Limerick managerial crisis as late as May, beat Tipperary in Thurles for the first time in over 40 years and in the quarter-final put the summer’s favourite team Wexford to the sword.
But question marks arise from two sources: this stage last year and the Munster final. On both occasions Limerick blinked under pressure and whereas the pressures of last year’s defeat by Clare won’t be repeated – inexperience and the weight of expectation and favouritism the seizing up in Cork last month is a more topical concern.
Shane Dowling will need to revert to the dead-ball competence that apparently had him on a par with TJ Reid and Patrick Horgan. In play he’s been impressive and wisely has been moved out of full forward, as if you’re a big young hurler used to taking the ball high you don’t want JJ Delaney as your dance partner.
Firing on all cylinders, Limerick can make a go of this. The dynamism and aggression of David Breen and Graeme Mulcahy can test Kilkenny’s defence.
They’ll need their centrefield exhibiting the same energy and to stop the leaks in the half-backs. But even if Kilkenny are a fading collective they still have exceptional talents. Reid and Richie Hogan have been delivering this year and the Leinster champions can also call on a powerful, experienced bench. It mightn’t add up to another All-Ireland but it will do for tomorrow.”
NICKEY ENGLISH, IRISH TIMES
“I’m very close to taking Limerick to win this but ultimately it was just too hard to get it over the line even if I can in certain circumstances see myself being wrong. This may well come down to whether Limerick can bring their ‘A’ game to Croke Park – but even if they do, will it be good enough?
I said before the Munster final that Cork and Limerick might well be the two best teams left in the championship and Limerick went on to impress against Wexford in the All-Ireland quarter-final but there are still aspects of the Munster final that have to be a concern.
It spooked me because Hannon and Downes were ultimately replaced and Downes was also replaced against Wexford and although I believe there’s a big match in him, Limerick will need it tomorrow – because if Kilkenny are vulnerable in this area, they will have to be tested.
There’s also a big burden on Dowling because he missed frees he’d normally get in the Munster final and the unease ran through the team. TJ Reid won’t miss any tomorrow.
Then there is the fact that Limerick’s own half backs and in particular the wing backs – who were both replaced in the Munster final – haven’t been at the level they were last year. Even the last day against Wexford, Diarmuid O’Keeffe scored three points on Paudie O’Brien.
This is going to be a key area for them to close down. TJ Reid has been Kilkenny’s outstanding forward, playing in the half-forward line and Colin Fennelly has caused damage from centre forward.
There are a pile of possibilities in Limerick’s favour but doubts remain in the very areas where they need to succeed if they’re going to win and the probability is still Kilkenny. They have so much experience and craft when it comes to big championship matches in Croke Park and unless their opponents produce their best performance of the year, Kilkenny will reach the final.”
CYRIL FARRELL, IRISH INDEPENDENT
“If frustration could be channelled into the electric grid, the Limerick dressing-room after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Clare would have generated enough wattage to light up the county for the winter.
Losing a big game always comes with disappointment and regret, but it gradually wears off if the defeat was purely on its merits and simply down to one team being better than the other.
There’s a completely different feeling when you lose without coming anywhere close to performing to full capacity.
It eats away at you for a long time, especially when it’s a knock-out game as opposed to a provincial championship tie, when an early relaunch is available.
Limerick lost to Clare by seven points last year and by six points to Cork in this year’s Munster final, but, while the margins were quite similar, there was no comparison in their mindset afterwards.
Limerick bombed against Clare – there’s no other way of putting it. Hardly a single facet of their game came close to delivering to full potential as players who had done so well against Cork in the Munster final looked as if they were coming together for the first time.
Limerick’s defeat by Cork in this year’s Munster final was different. Yes, they lost but there were identifiable reasons, specifically a failure to convert more of their chances during their dominant spell in the first half.
Not that Limerick will be easily grounded. Their brand of hurling – direct and physical – is well-suited to testing Kilkenny, both down the wings and, even more importantly, through the middle.
Ryan won’t have Limerick playing off convoluted tactical systems, concentrating instead on their traditional strengths.
They struggled at times in the half-back line in the Munster final, with Paudie O’Brien and Gavin O’Mahony getting their angles wrong on a few occasions, allowing Cork to pick off some scores.
In fairness, they were much better against Wexford, but they’re back in against the very best now, so it’s an area Limerick must get right.
Up front, Limerick need to be more goal-minded. If the half-chance comes, they have to go for it. Taking a point is all very well but three points is much better.
Besides, goal chances are relatively scarce, so when they come along in any guise, you’ve got to be bold. That’s certainly the case against Kilkenny, who will go for goals off quarter-chances.
Kilkenny used to have the advantage of their reputation getting into opposition heads, but that’s not nearly as prevalent now.
So while Limerick know all about Kilkenny’s capabilities, they won’t be in awe of them as was probably the case when they clashed in the 2007 All-Ireland final and even in the quarter-final two years ago.
Richie Bennis once told me that there were around 16,000 people in Limerick who would get behind the team at the slightest sign of improvement.
There’s far more when things are going really well, so Limerick will bring a huge following to Croke Park.
I’d expect them to see a vastly improved performance on last year, which will underpin a massive effort.
Limerick are certainly not without a chance, but, when all the pieces are put together, Kilkenny’s picture looks a little clearer. It shows a narrow win.”
DAMIAN LAWLOR, SUNDAY INDEPENDENT
“Limerick are back at the same stage they were last year but there are subtle differences this time around.
For a start, they are better equipped because, crucially, there is nothing like the hype that surrounded the team 12 months ago, even if Limerick will bring their usual large haul of supporters with them.
They trained last Friday week and again on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon last and it was there that skipper Donal O’Grady proved his fitness - meaning that despite scoring 0-3 against Wexford, Thomas Ryan loses his place for today’s game. It poses a knock-on question, however: where will O’Grady line out? Declan Hannon is playing his best hurling at centre-forward. It would be a brave man who would move him away, especially when O’Grady’s mental strength and talent allow him to slot into a number of positions.
To get over today’s massive hurdle, Limerick will need to replicate what they did in the Wexford game and attack Kilkenny from the start. Show no fear.
Limerick undoubtedly have enough pace and energy in their ranks to win but there are just too many variables that we can’t bank upon. Will they be consistent? Will they put away the chances they create?
There are a couple of guys to look out for on each side. Richie Hogan has been bossing it for Kilkenny all year long, ably assisted by TJ Reid whose career has reached another level.
David Breen, meanwhile, has put decent games back to back and it would appear he is playing with more confidence. Last year they had players who looked like they were overcome with nerves but Breen was one of the few to show anything up front against Clare and that cut and dash will be essential again this afternoon.
In the air it will be an intriguing contest. Limerick have the physical presence and the power to win their own ball but if they go down that route when launching their own attacks it could suit Jackie Tyrrell and JJ Delaney.
With Kilkenny you nearly always know what you get. They are in great shape again, their injury woes have dried up and they have a bench bursting with medals and quality. Yes, they remain very dependent on Richie Hogan and TJ Reid (who has scored 3-35 in this year’s championship) but so far it’s been more than enough to see them into the last four.
Kilkenny are 4/9 favourites to win today and are a safer bet. You just know they will still be there fighting at the end. They are in sixth gear right now, as TJ Reid says, and they believe that if they play to the levels they are capable of, few can match them. The only hope Limerick have is to hound them, win back ball and drive at them. Easier said than done.”
LIAM FENNELLY, THE SUNDAY WORLD
“Last year Limerick did not do themselves justice in the semi-final, and in the previous season they were undone by a couple of quickfire goals from Henry Shefflin before half time.
Limerick are now a more seasoned team and the occasion will not affect them, but aspects of the game will have to improve if they are to conquer Kilkenny. A tendency to spill possession without contact from opponents happens far too often. A good first touch is crucial against Kilkenny, because retaining possession is difficult enough given the intensity of their tackling.
While this Kilkenny team is not as good as the side that demolished Limerick in the 2007 All Ireland final, I believe they will have a bit to spare over the Munster side.”
DIARMUID O’SULLIVAN, THE SUNDAY WORLD
“Limerick deserve credit for the way they turned around the season after the disappointment of losing the Munster final. I’ve previously highlighted their poor shot selection and wayward finishing that day, but hitting 4-26 against Wexford shows that their forwards are back on song.
Limerick don’t have a good record in Croke Park but in fairness they haven’t played there too often in the last decade. They failed to get off the starting blocks in last year’s semi-final against Clare, but I’d expect a big improvement on that.
Cork exposed weaknesses in the Limerick half-back line and I expect Kilkenny to do likewise and reach a 13th final appearance under Brian Cody.”
EDDIE BRENNAN, THE SUNDAY TIMES
“The most frightening roar I ever experienced in Croke Park was before the 2007 All Ireland final. We were doing our warm-up when Limerick came on. It felt like the stadium shook. The Limerick support was massive and pumped up. I played in ten All Ireland finals and heard a lot of noise in Croke Park but I’ll never forget that roar.
Limerick are an experienced battle-hardened team now. They’ve reached a certain level and to get to the next level this is the type of game they must win. Are they good enough today.
Limerick will need goals. They created chances against Cork in the Munster final and couldn’t take them; the goals they scored in the first half of the quarter-final put the game to bed but they can’t expect the Kilkenny defence to be as accommodating as Wexford’s/
Limerick will perform but I can see Kilkenny winning by three points or less.”
DENIS WALSH, SUNDAY TIMES
“For every up-and-coming team, making progress involves a series of shifting thresholds. For Limerick, the targets they hit in 2012 and 2013 satisfied their basic needs: a feisty quarter-final defeat followed 12 months later by a Munster title. Now? Those targets are obsolete. Getting better, being better, must lead somewhere.
Limerick must win at this stage of their development. Defeat today and this will be a year without progress. That is the brutal truth. They can’t afford to cut themselves any slack. They can’t imagine for a second that an honourable defeat is permissible. Are they good enough? Probably. Must they play better than at any other time this summer? Absolutely.
Limerick need a collection of personal bests. Our hunch, though, is that Kilkenny will wear them down.”