Shannonsiders have done remarkable things over the last five years or so, but Kerry in Killarney is a whole new ball game
Limerick are that most wonderful of things: the overnight success story, years in the making.
For some time now they’ve gone about their business with very little heed paid to them by those of us outside the county. Sure now and again we’d hear the odd despatch, noting their progress in the league under their inspirational manager, Billy Lee.
For the most part, though, they’ve been fairly fleeting interruptions to our regular programming. Division 3 and 4 football really doesn’t get its due, as we’re sure the footballers of Limerick know all too well.
That hasn’t stopped Limerick crawling their way up the ladder, though, step-by-step, slowly-but-surely, over the last three or four seasons.
Gaining two watershed promotions in the last three years has been the real measure of the progress made and nothing that happens on Saturday afternoon is going to change that.
All the same it feels like a significant moment in the development of this Limerick side to qualify for a Munster final, to get their chance to shine in front a national audience, on live television, in front of a healthy attendance in Fitzgerald Stadium.
Up to now – their league final appearances in Croke Park notwithstanding – Limerick’s games have been played off Broadway and off television.
Neither their history-making penalty shoot-out victory over Clare in the quarter-final nor their quite comprehensive semi-final victory over Tipperary were broadcast on live television / streaming.
For a lot of people their clash with the Kingdom this weekend will be the first time they’ve gotten to see them, which is a bit of a shame and not just because Kerry are likely to win this one comfortably.
Limerick deserved a little of that spot-light up to now. They deserved to be seen at their best against opposition in and around their own level. Playing Kerry in Killarney for developing counties often feels akin to having to face off against a pack of ravenous lions in a Roman amphitheatre.
And, yes, the home supporters are just as bloodthirsty – metaphorically speaking we hasten to add – as their Roman counterparts. The Kerry fans will want their team to put on a show, will want them to bear their teeth and show Limerick just what they’re all about.
To be fair, that’s what Limerick want too. Not that they’ll want to be cut asunder, more so that Kerry show them the respect of not holding back, that in experiencing what a Kerry can do, they’ll at least learn from the experience.
Remember too, Limerick have a pretty decent record against Kerry in Munster finals. They’ve never suffered a humiliation of the sort Cork suffered last year, for instance.
In a way what does any of that matter? It’s ancient history at this stage. This is an entirely new team to the last time Limerick faced Kerry in a Munster final in Killarney – in 2010 Kerry ran out 1-17 to 1-14 winners – and those teams were a lot more experienced than this Limerick side. Even so they’ll want to put their best foot forward this weekend.
A performance on the level of that which Cork gave a couple of weeks ago would probably have to be a success from Limerick’s point of view. Whether they’ll get it is another thing, but they’re sure as hell going to give it their all.
The one worry you’d have for them is they don’t quite seem to have the firepower required to operate at this level. Take their first half total of 1-3 against Tipperary in Semple earlier this month, that’s not encouraging.
To be fair to Limerick they upped their game considerably in the second half to run out 2-10 to 0-10 winners and, probably, could have and should have won by more but for kicking some poor second half wides.
Full-forward Josh Ryan – a big strong man, sure to be picked up by Jason Foley we’d imagine – Cillian Fahy, who lines out at midfield, and Robbie Burke are all quality performers, but this is a whole other level to anything they’ve experienced throughout all they’ve experienced.
Their win over Clare in Ennis was impressive, but Clare, perhaps, have peaked. Tipperary, meanwhile, are a shadow of the side which claimed the 2020 Munster title and this year were operating a division below Limerick in Division 4 (albeit that they won promotion).
Kerry are a side with eyes firmly fixed on Sam Maguire and after flattering to deceive a little against Cork, will have things to work on and improvements to make. Does anyone imagine David Clifford is going to be held as effectively again for a second game in-a-row?
Who in the Limerick rear-guard is capable of clamping down on him? Brian Fanning the full-back? One of their star performers admittedly. Or Seán Dea? A very solid operator in the corner.
Iain Corbett – an All Star nominee – is obviously a fine footballer a centre-back. Their goalkeeper Dónal O’Sullivan is a really top-notch operator. For the most part, though, there just isn’t the same level of quality that Kerry have to draw upon.
Jack O’Connor has oodles and oodles of talent to select from. So much so, as we saw in Páirc Uí Rinn, that he can afford to leave three All Star and All Ireland winning footballers on the bench.
The impact David Moran, Paul Murphy and Paul Geaney made once introduced around two thirds of the way through against the Rebels was obvious. Something tells us O’Connor will do the same again, hold them in reserve.
Maybe Geaney might start, Tony Brosnan probably needed to do a bit more with his chance against Cork, but even if that’s how to plays out, Brosnan off the bench is still likely to make a significant contribution.
As ever, one should always expect something of a curve ball from Kerry in terms on selection. Now that we know Dara Moynihan has been ruled out due to injury, is there a chance for somebody else to come in in his stead?
Or will Stephen O’Brien – close to man-of-the-match last time out – retain his place? You’ve got people like Killian Spillane, no doubt, chomping at the bit and even guys like Dónal ‘Down’ O’Sullivan on the wider panel itching to make their mark.
No matter what way you look at it, no matter what combination of players the Kerry management team go with, no matter who they hold in reserve, this is likely to be a fairly straight-forward afternoon for the Kingdom.
And, probably, it’s set to be Limerick’s most significant set-back to Kerry in a Munster final in quite some time. They’d be doing well to keep it to the twelve-point margin Cork managed in Páirc Uí Rinn truth be told.
Kerry should win this one pulling up with quite a bit in hand.