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Limerick striving for a battle of equals but smart money still on the Cats

LIMERICK have been down this road before, facing into battle with Kilkenny and hoping or even believing that destiny was within reach.

They were the fairytale story of 2007, ambushing Waterford with a five-goal semi-final salvo. Kilkenny, in that typically ruthless, unromantic way of theirs, duly burst their All-Ireland bubble with an unanswered 2-3 inside ten minutes.

Two years ago, having advanced through the qualifiers, Limerick dared to dream once more, facing into an All-Ireland quarter-final against a Kilkenny team licking its wounds after a first half Leinster final horror-show against Galway.

John Allen's men were faster out of the blocks but couldn't quite sustain it. They trailed by just a point at the midpoint but three clear goals at the finish. Typical Kilkenny.

How much has changed since? Lots, and maybe not much at all.

Once more Kilkenny are favourites and deservedly so, as accumulators of a third consecutive league crown and another Leinster title - their first in three years.

Yet the gap between these two counties, or so it would seem, is narrowing.

That is partly because Kilkenny's invincible lustre has dulled; they are still favourites for Liam MacCarthy, no doubt, but their rivals for the main prize now treat them with respect rather than fear.

Equally, though, Limerick are now viewed as serious dark horses whose All-Ireland ambitions cannot be dismissed, even in this company.

Physically they have the personnel who can go toe-to-toe with the Cats. They have a dynamic midfield engine. And, even though Shane Dowling shot the lights out against Wexford (2-8 including 2-3 from play), the Na Piarsaigh marksman did so as part of an attacking ensemble, not a one-man band. Bar Kevin Downes, every Limerick player from midfield up scored a minimum of two points from play.

Still, this must be measured in the context of Wexford's fatigue-fuelled capitulation. TJ Ryan got his tactics spot-on and his players were in the zone; but Kilkenny with their dander up is a different kettle of piranha altogether.

Brian Cody has battened down his defence after they carelessly frittered away a ten-point lead against Galway (leaking 1-17 in the replay and just 1-9 to Dublin) while two of their mid-20s crew, Richie Hogan and TJ Reid, are now firmly established as their driving forces.

This duo aided by a stellar cast can propel them to another final after a blood-and-thunder contest.

ODDS: Kilkenny 4/9, Draw 10/1, Limerick 9/4

VERDICT: Kilkenny