Preview: All-Ireland Hurling Final - Galway v Limerick
Sunday, August 19
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final
Galway v Limerick, Croke Park, 3.30
By John Harrington
One of the most epic All-Ireland Hurling Championships in the history of the game seems as good as certain to provide a fitting climax.
Both Galway and Limerick have hurled too well this summer and have too many explosively talented players not to provide us with one last battle to savour.
And if we've learned anything from the Championship to date, there's a good chance this match will go down to the wire and be decided by a very fine margin.
In terms of form to date, it’s hard to split the teams.
Galway have combined devastating bursts of scoring with some inconsistency within matches, but it's surely relevant that they haven't lost any of their eight games they've played.
And while Limerick have arguably hurled with a great all-round vibrancy than Galway, their ledger is blotted by a heavy defeat to Clare and some naïve defending at times.
Winning All-Irelands back to back is no easy feat in this current ultra-competitive era, and there have been some signs that Galway are feeling the strain.
They haven’t been quite so dominant so far this year as they were when winning last year’s All-Ireland title, a theory backed up by their scoring statistics.
Last year they scored an average of 29 points per match and conceded 20, this year they’ve scored an average of 27 and conceded an average of 21 (this statistic doesn’t include the extra-time played against Clare in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final).
They’re still very much in the black in terms of their scoring average, but it’s a simple fact that they’re not playing quite as well this year as they did in 2017.
At times they’ve looked a little jaded collectively and have relied on Joe Canning in particular to get them over the line in tight matches, most obviously in both All-Ireland semi-finals against Clare.
The Banner County looked like the more energetic team in the closing stages of both the drawn and replayed matches, but they simply weren’t clinical enough and will surely feel like they let the Tribesmen off the hook.
If Galway’s energy levels aren’t where they should be on Sunday then that’s a frailty likely to be exposed by a hard-running, young Limerick team ravenous for success.
The physical conditioning of the Shannonsiders has been very impressive, and is a testament to their highly regarded S&C coach Joe O’Connor who previously worked with the 2013 All-Ireland winning Clare team.
Limerick have been finishing matches very strongly thanks to the impact their substitutes have made, and if they’re still with Galway with 15 minutes to go they’ll fancy their chances of winning this match.
Their bench scored 2-6 in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final victory over Cork and in men like Shane Dowling, Pat Ryan, and Peter Casey they have potential game-changers.
Galway have firepower on the bench too in the shape of Jason Flynn and, most likely, Niall Burke or Conor Cooney, but Limerick’s replacements look more impactful.
Injuries are also a concern for Galway coming into this game and may yet deplete the strength of their bench.
Gearoid McInerney is expected to be fit to start at centre-back but his preparations have been disrupted by the calf injury that ruled him out of the All-Ireland semi-final.
John Hanbury (ankle) has now emerged as an even more serious injury doubt for the final and if he’s ruled out his absence would weaken the Galway defence.
Another question for manager Micheal Donoghue is does he keep Joseph Cooney in defence after his brilliant display at wing-back in the All-Ireland semi-final replay or does he release him back to the forwards?
There are some obvious key battles that will go a long way to shaping the outcome of this match.
Joe Canning has been superb all year for Galway so Limerick need to find a way to shut him down.
His direction opponent, Limerick captain Declan Hannon, likes to sit deep and hurls a lot of ball from centre-back, but he’s definitely not a classic man-marker.
If Canning goes roaming, then there will be an onus on Limerick midfielders Darragh O’Donovan and Cian Lynch to pick him up.
Easier said than done, though, because they’ll have their hands full with Galway midfielders David Burke and Johnny Coen in what’s going to be another pivotal head to head.
Burke looked to be back to his best in the All-Ireland semi-final replay win over Clare, but Lynch has been electric this year so that battle will be worth the admission alone.
At either end of the field we’re going to have a couple of titanic tussles between the respective full-backs and full-forwards.
Mike Casey has been rock-solid in the number three jersey for Limerick, but he’ll be giving away a lot of size and height to Galway’s man-mountain full-forward Jonathan Glynn.
Will he be able to compete with Glynn under high deliveries? If he can’t, then it’s advantage Galway.
Limerick’s full-forward Seamus Flanagan has really impressed this year and bears more than a passing resemblance in the way he hurls to Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan.
He’s still very inexperienced though, and might have to learn a few lessons the hard way against rugged Galway full-back Daithi Burke who looks a good bet to win a fourth All-Star in a row.
Limerick centre-forward Kyle Hayes will also be at a disadvantage in terms of strength and experience against his marker McInerney, and when you compare the spines of both teams you have to say Galway look more robust and proven.
The Tribesmen also have the advantage of knowing what All-Ireland Final day is all about.
Many of them will be playing in their fifth, whereas this is new territory for all of the Limerick players and there’s every likelihood that one of two of them might suffer big-day nerves.
This Limerick team is very much a coming force and will surely lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup before they’re done.
But on Sunday they might come up just short against a more battle-hardened and ruthless team determined to write their legacy in stone by winning back to back All-Irelands.
GALWAY: James Skehill; Adrian Tuohy, Daithi Burke, John Hanbury; Padraic Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, Aidan Harte; Johnny Coen, David Burke; Joesph Cooney, Joe Canning, Johnny Glynn; Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney, Cathal Mannion.
LIMERICK: Nickie Quaid; Sean Finn, Mike Casey, Richie English; Diarmaid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Dan Morrissey; Darragh O'Donovan, Cian Lynch; Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes; Tom Morrissey; Aaron Gillane, Seamus Flanagan, Graeme Mulcahy.