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Long Limerick wait to go on

AND so, after the Lord Mayor's Ball, comes the official Munster final. Kerry and Cork entertained us over the course of two epic jousts ... but there was no cup on offer, only bragging rights coupled with a desire to avoid psychological scars and the 'back door' snake pit.

Ultimately it was Kerry who emerged, seemingly stronger, despite the handful of departures that followed their latest All-Ireland triumph. And their reward is unbackable favouritism to land their first provincial title in three years (hard to believe, isn't it?), at the expense of those perennially gutsy 'nearly men' from Limerick.

For so many reasons, it's easy to see why every expert pundit bar none has called this as Kerry's final to lose. Allied to the permanence of class is the Kingdom's current form, which looks in rude health.

Their path to the final (a routine Tipp opener followed by two examinations against Cork) should leave them far more battle-hardened than Limerick, who have qualified by virtue of an eight-point win over Waterford. Oh, and they're at home too.

There is also the minor detail of history, weighted oppressively against the men in green, who are seeking to become the first Limerick team to win a Munster final in 114 years.

Can Limerick buck these improbable odds and cause the shock of the championship? Well, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility but virtually all the cards will have to fall in their favour.

They've already received one timely boost with Paul Galvin's eight-week suspension. As we've seen time and again, Kerry minus their No10 terrier are a far less dangerous beast.

With Galvin out of the way, Limerick must then hope for a Cork-like dip from the opposition. Twelve months ago, it was Cork who pulverised Kerry in a Munster semi-final replay but their form went out the window for the final. Limerick had them in a vice-grip but, critically, loosened it sufficiently for the tottering Rebels to sneak an ill-deserved victory.

Suffice to say, Limerick must repeat that performance and then go some more: they must storm out of the traps and keep the pedal to the metal for the full 70 minutes. Then, and only then, might they cause an earthquake.

On a more practical level, Mickey Ned O'Sullivan will require another Herculean effort from his midfield mainstay, John Galvin. Seamus Scanlon may be the only All Star midfielder on view, yet it's not doing the Currow man a disservice to say that Galvin -- on his day -- can have a more profound influence.

If Limerick can establish a foothold around the centre, then the inside trio have the potential to test the legs of that ageing but still formidable Kerry full-back line. Stephen Kelly brings lightning pace; Ian Ryan and Ger Collins are accomplished finishers.

For all that, they will have to find another forward gear. Even though Limerick tallied 1-17 against Waterford, they also shot 11 wides. Perhaps as a consequence, it took them too long to put clear daylight between themselves and Waterford opponents who were reduced to 14 men after just 13 minutes.

The underdogs must be better here and they should be. Ultimately, though, it's hard to avoid the nagging doubt that Limerick have been playing Division Four opposition all through spring and again in early June, and that's hardly ideal for the quantum leap required to snuff out Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy in their current stellar form.

ODDS: Kerry 1/7, Draw 11/1, Limerick 6/1


KERRY: B Kealy; M ó Sé, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan; T ó Sé, M McCarthy, K Young; S Scanlon, A Maher; Darran O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, B Sheehan.

LIMERICK: B Scanlon; M O'Riordan, J McCarthy, A Lane; S Lavin, S Lucey, P Ranahan; J O'Donovan, J Galvin; P Browne, J Ryan, S Buckley; G Collins, I Ryan, S Kelly.