Preview: All Ireland SHC Final - Kilkenny v Limerick
Sunday July 17
All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final
Kilkenny v Limerick, Croke Park, 3.30pm
At a press briefing last week the decorated Kilkenny manager Brian Cody acknowledged the considerable task that awaits at Croke Park.
“The greatest challenge a Kilkenny team has had in a long, long time," is Cody's assessment.
Despite all of Limerick's brilliance and consistency, Kilkenny still believe that the Liam McCarthy Cup can be hoisted. That is why so much intrigue surrounds the decider.
Three Championship games in 2017, 2018, and 2019 involving the counties brought plenty of drama. Kilkenny won two of those contests and they will hit GAA headquarters adamant that the green and white scalp can be taken.
Since losing to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park in 2017, John Kiely has frequently accepted that significant lessons were learned during that campaign.
Even in the 2018 adventure which culminated in ultimate glory, Limerick had to demonstrate real survival instincts at various stages. Nickie Quaid's intervention against Cork in the penultimate round perfectly illustrates the margins between success and failure.
In recent months Limerick have been tested severely. Clare thundered into a Munster final for the ages, but Limerick survived. It was a furiously celebrated win simply because of the hard earned nature alone.
Last time out Galway posed stern questions too. Limerick, though, found the answers reeling off three late points to prevail. The impact made by Limerick's substitutes, including the splendid David Reidy, mattered deeply.
That has been a feature of this glorious era for Limerick. The depth of Kiely's panel means options are available when Limerick need to finish with a flourish.
On the same weekend, though, Kilkenny blitzed Clare delivering a remarkable performance. Adrian Mullen was razor sharp, while Ballyhale Shamrocks colleague TJ Reid remains an influential figure.
Reid's free taking was critical in the Leinster showpiece, but his relevance to the Kilkenny cause endures. Limerick will be completely aware of the threat Kilkenny's potent forward line carries.
Eoin Cody is another Kilkenny attacker that has enjoyed productive moments this year, but at the opposite end of the field the Cats will need to be extremely diligent.
Aaron Gillane was clincial and classy against Galway, while Kyle Hayes contributed handsomely also.
Despite a late cameo in the Galway triumph, Cian Lynch is a doubt and Limerick supporters will trust the polished Patrickswell craftsman recovers in time.
Kiely was impressed with how Kilkenny dealt with Clare. "A very devastating performance, we know how difficult it is to beat Clare," Kiely says. "For Kilkenny to have done what they did was a serious stamp of authority. "They were devastating in terms of their ruthlessness and their efficiency on the ball and obviously in the tackle as well.
“They’re Leinster champions. They beat Galway in the Leinster final and we knew how hard it was to get the better of Galway in the finish.
"Kilkenny’s performances have been incrementally getting better as the season has gone on. It’s going to be a huge challenge."
Cody's respect for Limerick is deep: the way Kiely's team has stayed so ambitious and eager to glean more trophies.
During the past two years Cody has integrated a raft of emerging players into the Kilkenny set-up.
“They’re All-Ireland champions the past two years, we have seven or eight players who haven’t played in an All-Ireland final," Cody says. "Even though we played in one a few years ago. But that’s how new our team is.
“That has to be an advantage for them, the fact that we do have that inexperience against their great experience. Again, that doesn’t bother me either because they’re the players we have. I have great faith and trust in them and they showed last weekend why I should have."
Kiely has similar sentiments about his own panel too. Kilkenny versus Limerick, it promises to be tasty.