Sunday 18 August 2019

Limerick's powerful bench press looks likely tie-breaker

John Kiely. Photo: Sportsfile
John Kiely. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Much has happened since Limerick lost to Cork by seven points in the Munster round robin 10 weeks ago, but John Kiely won't have forgotten it.

They were outscored by 1-17 to 0-9 over the final 40 minutes, a differential that in no way flattered Cork. Graeme Mulcahy, Seán Finn, Nickie Quaid and Kyle Hayes were about the only Limerick players who came anywhere close to reaching the required level, with many of the others looking as they might struggle at Joe McDonagh Cup level.

Of course, as they have since shown, it wasn't the real Limerick, but if it happened once, it can happen again.

Cork's pressure game completely unhinged Limerick, raising questions about their ability to cope when Plan A is restricted. It's a test they will have to pass this evening if they are to become the first team from the county to reach the All-Ireland final in successive years since 1973-'74.

Kilkenny will bring an even harder version of the pressure game than Cork did in exchanges which will ultimately decide the outcome.

Limerick will win if their systems withstand the onslaught, so the early battle for control will be fascinating. That's when Kilkenny will try to disrupt everything that has taken Limerick so far over the last 18 months.

Kilkenny have a reputation for being at their best in the second half, but the groundwork is often laid earlier on. It's their containing phase, the period when they raise doubts in opposition minds and exploit them later on.

Limerick will try to avoid being sucked into a war of attrition, instead working towards keeping their supply lines clean and plentiful.

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Just as tennis players don't like to rely too heavily on their second serve, Limerick want to avoid being forced away from the game-plan that has served them so well most of the time.

Kilkenny are more adept at surviving when the flow is against them. There has always been a great flexibility in how they play, so if they knock Limerick out of their stride and take charge of the agenda, they won't let go.

Kilkenny have already seen off one Munster contender, but this one is different, not least in terms of the depth of the squad.

Indeed, this could prove to be the tie-breaker, with Limerick's greater range of options off the bench providing the impetus for a narrow win.

Verdict: Limerick

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