“IT’S advantage Kilkenny there” joked TJ Ryan of his sideline battle with Brian Cody.
The Limerick manager might be giving up over a decade of inter-county management experience to his Kilkenny counterpart but Ryan continues to grow into the role.
After five years of Cork leadership, the Garryspillane man has taken Limerick back to the stage where they exited12 months ago.
“Every day is a school day and there is always something to learn,” he said of his own role.
But of his players, he is far more comfortable apportioning praise.
“I would back our team in battles all over the pitch, whether it is physicality, hurling, pace - I think this team has been around the block, a couple of years on the go and I think the experience of last year will stand to them and I thought we have hurled really well in all the games we have played this year in the championship,” he said proudly.
“The players definitely, from their point of view, just want to go and hurl and keep it as tight and to themselves and they have done that really well I believe all year.”
He continued: “They are a really intelligent, articulate, driven bunch of lads and they know what they are about. They are experienced now too and are in this a while together. The opportunity is knocking here now”.
“We are starting to play really well, the forwards are starting to move a bit better and hoping to put up a really good fight here. Around the pitch we have plenty of personalities and leaders, which is probably good.”
But Ryan is not forgetting the opposition are Kilkenny.
“I think we are on an upwards curve here but at the same time we are playing Kilkenny, who have been the best team over the past decade without a doubt with the best manager and some of the best players that ever hurled - we are under no illusions,” said Ryan.
“Our guys are good in the air and we have been winning some good ball but we are going up against the experts now so that will be tough. But at the same time I would be confident that physicality wise they are up to the level.”
While backing his charges Ryan is aware that Limerick do appear to have much to prove to some - albeit not to him.
“They definitely don’t have anything to prove to themselves or to the management or interval structures. Externally there is a still a bit of that going on. I referred to it briefly after the game against Wexford when I read one paper where the defeat in the Munster final was demoralising and a typical Limerick performance.”
He added: “Even the last day, how much of it was Limerick being good and how much Wexford being bad and that’s all down to opinion”.
“I believe we have a very good scoring unit and the danger can come from different players. When the game was there early on the lads stood up and there was a really good spread from the players - we need to go and do that again.”
He points out that Kilkenny are still hot favourites on Sunday.
“If you take last year out of Kilkenny’s form, its impeccable. This year they have been really good, they won the Leinster final and beat the Leinster champions comfortably enough and are back in semi-final.”
While Limerick are pretty much a settled unit, Ryan can only smile at the embarrassment of riches at the disposal of Kilkenny.
“They have a forward line and I would say if eight sat down to pick the Kilkenny forwards to start the next day that none of us might get it right. They have an awful lot of options and probably 10 fellas that could play on any given day. There is an embarrassment of riches there in that forward line. I have put three or four forward lines that could play but I don’t know”
“We have a real challenge ahead of us because Kilkenny are absolute masters at trying to get fellas free,” he warned of his defence.
Not involved last season, Ryan is anxious not to be too bogged down in the disappointments of the past.
“I don’t look back too much with this team about the history - we are trying to create our own history. This is a different team with a difference entity. Maybe Kilkenny (in the past) had that awe about them but this is a bit different from our point of view - we believe that this is a team going places and a team who has a lot to prove to a lot of different people and we feel that we can go and do that.”
But Ryan is aware that promise has to be followed by performance.
“We still have to go and do it - from this team’s point of view we just want to go and play. We really wanted to get back to Croke Park and we are back there now. Even Davy Fitz (RTE pundit) said the last day ‘Limerick are back there now, let’s see’”