The first of two seismic Sunday afternoons for GAA supporters comes this weekend as Limerick square off against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Hurling Championship decider.
The Treaty are going for four-in-a-row and five of the last six, while the Cats lifted the Liam McCarthy nine times from 2006-2015, an era in which only Tipperary (2010) and Clare (2013) denied Brian Cody’s dynamic winning-machine their crown.
It is of course a repeat of the final from 12 months ago, which Limerick edged by two-points, 1-31 to 2-26, but it is just a third meeting of these sides in the Croke Park showpiece since 1974 – with Kilkenny winning handsomely back in ’07.
For this century, then, it’s the conclusion of a trilogy. At the height of the Cody era, Kilkenny were four-in-a-row All Ireland winners (2006-2009) and they will be keen to stop Limerick emulating such a feat.
They will need everything in their power now to halt the champions, who appear to be peaking at just the right time.
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The most unusual stat to emerge this week was that both counties will not be staying in Dublin after the game, so no post-match banquet in the capital as per the All-Ireland final tradition.
Instead, they will exit the capital and head home to be amongst their own and, by hook or by crook, take in the aftermath of this Croke Park showdown. Where the real party takes place is anyone’s guess.
History edged by Kilkenny, though not on this stage
Limerick and Kilkenny have a storied rivalry, having met fifteen times in the championship. Kilkenny have emerged victorious on nine occasions, while Limerick have secured six victories.
The two powerhouses have faced off in nine All-Ireland finals, with Limerick clinching five wins compared to Kilkenny’s four.
Last year’s All-Ireland final saw Limerick emerge triumphant with a scoreline of 1-31 to 2-26, a truly gripping encounter that left fans on the edge of their seats.
This year’s Allianz League final helped to solidify Limerick’s recent dominance of the fixture as John Kiely’s men secured a convincing 2-20 to 0-15 victory over first-season Cats boss Derek Lyng.
Gillane’s the man to sign Treaty
Limerick displayed their scoring prowess all summer long, with Aaron Gillane leading the charge with an impressive tally of 3-42.
The would-be ‘Hurler of the Year’ may well cement that gong with another big game on Sunday. He raised two green flags in the semi-final win over Galway and was considered by many onlookers to be the standout performer – though the Man of the Match award evaded him
Play well on Sunday and Gillane will be a shoe-in to get the highest personal accolade in hurling.
Outside of the Patrickswell ace the likes of Diarmuid Byrnes (1-19) and Seamus Flanagan (4-09) have been major contributors on the scoreboard.
Double threat gives Cats extra lives
Kilkenny possesses a formidable attacking force of their own and it has a star duo at the front of it.
TJ Reid has already tallied 2-66 in the Championship run and he’s aided and abetted by Eoin Cody’s running tally of 4-21.
The major goal-threat doesn’t there, with Martin Keoghan hitting 5-09 in this campaign to date. Limerick’s rearguard will have to be on high alert – though to be fair, they usually are.
Pulsating encounter could require extra-time
The hurling championship this summer has been simply outstanding. The round robin phase in Munster produced one epic encounter after another in an almost unbelievable fashion.
Both teams possess the skill, determination and hurling savvy that could make them champions come Sunday evening in Croke Park.
Limerick’s bid for four-in-a-row brings with it a pressure all of its own. Back in early late April-early May, the champs appeared to be flailing as they lost to Clare and were held to a draw by Tipperary.
A one-point Gaelic Grounds win over Cork to complete the round robin ignited their season and they had slender revenge over the Banner county in the Munster decider,
At one stage in the semi-final, Galway led Limerick by six-points but Henry Shefflin saw his team wilt in the spotlight.
Kilkenny too were asked major questions in Leinster, but they found their way to the final. Galway were the opposition there and, in what would be a reversal of their later game against Limerick, they battled back from the brink of defeat to seemingly put one hand on the cup only for Cillian Buckley striking a sensational goal for a one-point win at the death.
The All-Ireland semi-final with Clare was a grinding battle and it was a one-goal game at the final whistle. Limerick deserve to be favourites but this emerging Kilkenny side has shown enough under Lyng in his first season to be considered a massive danger.
This will be a much closer battle than the League final here in the spring and it would be no shock if there’s a score in it coming down the stretch.
At 10/1, the first drawn All-Ireland final since Kilkenny and Tipperary in 2014 is the call. It’s worth recalling, of course, that was the third straight year the hurling decider ended level, while there was precious little between these teams 12 months ago and seeing them go beyond the 70 minutes on Sunday would be no sort of shock.