Tomorrow, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 4pm, (Ref: Michael Wadding, Waterford)
Latest from the medics and management…There had been much debate about to what extent Brian Cody would take the scalpel to his Kilkenny team in the wake of the hiding they suffered against Galway. He has done just that with only two-thirds of his team remaining intact. One of the changes is enforced with centre-back Brian Hogan injured and there is a huge chance for newcomer Kieran Joyce to excel. The midfield has a more powerful look to it with Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly both returning while the familiar faces of JJ Delaney and Aidan Fogarty are named in defence and attack respectively. Paddy Hogan, Cillian Buckley, Noel Hickey and TJ Reid are all consigned to the bench.
KILKENNY: 1.David Herity (Dunnamaggin); 2. Paul Murphy (Danesfort), 3. JJ Delaney (Fenians), 4. Jackie Tyrrell (James Stephens); 5.Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan), 6.Kieran Joyce (Rower Inistioge), 7. Richie Doyle (Barrow Rangers); 8. Michael Fennelly (Ballyhale Shamrocks), 9. Michael Rice (Carrickshock); 10. Eoin Larkin (Capt.) (James Stephens), 11. Richie Power (Carrickshock), 12. Henry Shefflin (Ballyhale Shamrocks); 13. Colin Fennelly (Ballyhale Shamrocks), 14.Richie Hogan (Danesfort), 15.Aidan Fogarty (Emeralds).
Limerick have made just the one change with Declan Hannon set to lead the line in attack instead of Brian Geary.
LIMERICK: 1. Nickie Quaid (Effin); 2. Stephen Walsh (Glenroe), 3. Richie McCarthy (Blackrock), 4. Tom Condon (Knockaderry); 5. Wayne McNamara (Adare), 6. Donal O’Grady (Granagh-Ballingarry), 7. Gavin O’Mahony (Kilmallock); 8. James Ryan (Garryspillane), 9. Paudie O’Brien (Kilmallock); 10. Shane Dowling (Na Piarsaigh), 11. Declan Hannon (Adare), 12. David Breen (Na Piarsaigh); 13. Graeme Mulcahy (Kilmallock), 14. Niall Moran (Ahane), 15. Sean Tobin (Murroe Boher).
Checking the odds…Clearly the bookmakers are expecting a Kilkenny backlash as they are installed at 1/9 favorites with Limerick at 13/2 and the handicap is Kilkenny (-8) at evens.
Clues from the form guide…Pre-match illusions about Kilkenny’s form were thoroughly smashed by their Leinster final performance against Galway. Prior to that Brian Cody’s side had looked awesome against Cork in the league final and Dublin in the Leinster semi-final, but the standards Galway set in the provincial decider demonstrated the levels of intensity, application and movement that are required to prise apart Kilkenny.
Limerick have motored nicely during the season displaying rapid improvement. Concerns over their fitness levels during the league have been eradicated, they were hungry for scores and ruthless in their execution against Antrim and Laois, and then when they were challenged seriously by Clare, they responded in style. That was a vital success for an emerging team.
This game is unchartered territory for both teams in the sense that they last met in championship in the 2007 All-Ireland final and the complexion of both sides has changed vastly since then with only ten players – eight from Kilkenny and two from Limerick – having featured at some stage during that encounter.
The game breakers are…The Kilkenny backlash has been spoken of this week as a fait accompli but can that be guaranteed? Certainly the structure of their team should be improved with JJ Delaney anchoring the challenge at full-back while Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice dovetail together effectively at midfield. It will be interesting to see how Kieran Joyce settles in to the heart of the defence but he has an excellent pedigree from his time in the underage ranks and captained UL to a Fitzgibbon Cup title in 2011.
Kilkenny’s Kieran Joyce. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
Limerick’s defence will face a side that carries a greater physical threat and is stronger in the aerial stakes. The effect to which James Ryan and Paudie O’Brien can get a foothold in midfield will also be important. They can take confidence from the fact that half-backs Gavin O’Mahony and Wayne McNamara are in marvellous form while an attack where Shane Dowling, Niall Moran and Graeme Mulcahy are all in flying form, is further boosted by the introduction of Declan Hannon.
Gazing into the crystal ball…The knee-jerk reaction is to presume Kilkenny will emerge like a whirlwind here, determined to prove they are still a powerful force after their provincial final shock. Their team does look stronger but the level of young talent Limerick possess, the shrewdness of John Allen’s management and the growing self-belief that courses through their squad, means they deserve to be regarded highly.
Limerick have already proved this summer they can go toe to toe with the best as they pushed Tipperary to the wire. Yet a test of this magnitude may come too soon for their youngsters and the return of Kilkenny’s big guns in critical sectors can sway the result in their favor.