BY NIALL SHERRY
PHOTOS BY INPHO
Cody vs Kiely promises to be epic
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final
Croke Park, Sunday July 17th (3:30pm throw-in)
Kilkenny vs Limerick
>> SHERRY SAYS FINAL PREVIEW
The scramble for tickets has been mighty, the buzz unreal, the various parishes decked out in black and amber, but for Brian Cody and his panel, all eyes are now firmly focused on the job in hand. It doesn’t get any tougher than facing Limerick at headquarters. For the James Stephens bainisteoir it’s a 17th final, or nineteen if you count replays.
John Kiely’s side will arrive in the Captial hoping to make it three Liam McCarthy’s on the bounce, and a 4th title in five years. His seemingly invincible boys in green are overwhelming favourites with the bookies, and in many neutrals’ eyes, a shoe-in for title number 11, but rest assured, Kilkenny aren’t just turning up for the day out, they mean business.
Since our last title in 2015, when we defeated Galway, the Kilkenny faithful have only had one other trip to Croke Park with Liam on the line, and that ended with disappointment following a big defeat to Tipperary. Since the turn of the millennium, we have been somewhat spoilt. These days out had been such regular occurrences, and you got the sense that they would never end. While the regularity of All-Ireland final days out has lessened, the burning desire within players, management and supporters hasn’t.
Much has been made of Kilkenny’s direct route to Sunday’s final. People have been talking about the cats ‘waiting in the long grass’, having four weeks to prepare for the semi-final outing with the much talked about Banner. The game was over at half-time. Those weeks on the training pitch clearly helped the management team prepare their time for the challenge of tony Kelly and co.
Kilkenny held their pre-final media days last week in Langtons Hotel, or more accurately, outside, the city venue, due to the increased prevalence of Covid-19 across the country. When asked about injuries and player availability, it appears only Conor Fogarty would be a doubt for Sunday’s panel. At the time of writing, the Erins Own man is the most likely to miss out through injury.
So, what of Sunday’s opponents Limerick. Things happen in cycles. It appears that since the Treaty County ended their title famine in 2018 by beating Galway, it’s been their turn to be ‘top dogs’. Ending that 45-year wait by taking the scalp of the then reigning champions, has clearly invigorated the John Kiely’s side. Built on underage success, this team has been talked about in the same terms as the great Kilkenny sides under Cody.
Since that emotional day in Croker, Limerick have only suffered one defeat in championship hurling, and that was to Kilkenny in 2019’s semi-final. Unfortunately, the Deise hi-jacked our final bid that day, but it remains that Brian Cody is the last bainisteoir to outwit the Galbally man on the sideline.
When asked about the opportunity to gain revenge for that 2019 semi-final defeat, Kiely was bullish in his response “We can’t change the past, by God we can influence the future.” When trailing to Henry Shefflin’s Galway last time out, the Limerick boss looked to his bench and sent on a trio of David Reidy, Cian Lynch and Peter Casey. While the latter two players didn’t significantly influence the result, Reidy weighed in with an impressive 0-3, and his manager was quick to reference this at the final whistle.
“He’s exceptionally consistent in what he does coming off the bench for us, it’s something we value highly in the group,” Kiely said of the Dromin-Athlacca club man.
“There’s a huge amount of acknowledgement and significance given to that in the group, and that’s why fellas are aware of how it important it is to the group as a whole, and why they’re happy to lay that part for us. Long may that last.”
Obviously, Cian Lynch and Peter Casey are crucial to the Treaty cause and their recent domination of the senior championship. Getting these two talented players on the pitch for some minutes following spells out with injury, will have been vital for Kiely. I think we all expect both protagonists to feature for longer in Sunday’s decider.
From an attacking point of view, Limerick ack a mighty punch. The likes of Gearoid Hegarty, Aaron Gillane, Seamus Flanagan, Tom Morrissey, Kyle Hayes and Graeme Mulcahy have the ability to cause problems for any defence. Gillane in particular is an impressive and consistent flag raiser. The Patrickswell man hit 0-8 in the semi-final win over the Tribesmen, and in doing so, became his county’s top scorer, edging him ahead of Shane Dowling with 11-193 racked up in 29 games for the Treaty.
With a total to date like this, placed balls are a constant source of joy for Gillane. Some 64% of his tally are from this vital art. But don’t be fooled, Gillane is also just ahead of Ahane’s Tom Morrissey as the leading scorer from play in the John Kiely era, with 9-73. Will this be a job for O’Loughlin’s Mikey Butler, who has shown in his fledgling inter-county career to date, that he is more than capable of nullifying the oppositions main threats.
Kilkenny however, will know that the likes of Tom Morrissey, Kyle Hayes and Gearoid Hegarty will also need special attention as they too, like to raise a green flag. Like with all attacking units, restricting the supply of good ball going into the forward line will be key as the Cats bid to halt the Limerick machine.
This will mean that the likes of Adrian Mullen, Cian Kenny, Mikey Carey and others will have to suffocate the Limerick system. In fact, players from 8-15 will all play an important role in this strategy. Look how TJ Reid, Eoin Cody and Mossy Keoghan chased and harried against Clare. This non-stop work ethic will again be demanded and required.
Gillane’s club mate, Diarmaid Byrnes is normally trusted with long-range frees and ‘65’s. Indeed, the wing-back notched 0-6 from placed balls in their last-four win at headquarters. As per usual, Hegarty, Hayes the ‘unit’ that is Seamus Flanagan contributed to the scoring total. Huw Lawlor and co. Take note.
Around the engine room, Limerick will look to the like of William O’Donoghue and Darragh O’Donovan to control proceedings and provide the necessary platform for their much-vaunted attack. Brian Cody will no doubt have been formulating the best way to disrupt and dictate in this important zone. The form of Ballyhale’s Adrian Mullen in a deeper roving role could be huge on Sunday. His work rate, and scoring accuracy from distance will be needed if the Cats are to prevail.
Mullen’s club mates, TJ Reid and Eoin Cody showed against Clare, that they are very much up for the fight in returning their county to the pinnacle of senior hurling. Twice Young Hurler of the Year Cody, had been having a relatively quiet inter-county season prior to the bashing of the Banner, but his appetite was clearly back in an exciting display at Jones’s Road earlier this month. The stage is once again set for Eoin to excel.
Like Gillane and Byrnes, TJ’s ability to keep the score board ticking over from free’s will provide a base for his team to build on. His all-action display against Clare was a timely reminder that class is permanent. One of the stand-outs in that game, was his skill in plucking the ball from the air. Timing is everything. Something maybe less spoken about was his tackling and turnovers.
The Treaty boss spoke about the number of times his side coughed-up possession in their semi-final victory, and no doubt Brian Cody will want his charges to stalk their opponents and force the turnovers. Kilkenny scored 1-14 from such positions against the Banner and will need to be equally as aggressive in the tackle this weekend.
The role of captain Richie Reid will be of significance to the Cats. Richie’s ability to read danger and sweep in front of his full-back line has been one of the many reasons why the Noresiders are beginning to fire again. Once the Shamrocks man has the ball, he rarely wastes possession, and we’ll need to make the most of every time we get our hands on the sliotar.
Standing behind our defensive unit will be All-Star goalkeeper, Eoin Murphy. The Glenmore man’s ability to vary his restarts will hopefully see Kilkenny come out on top in this area. We all know that should Murphy’s shot-stopping be required, he won’t be found wanting. Will Limerick push-up on our puck-outs and make the keeper go long? It promises to be a fascinating aspect of the final.
Mossy Keoghan was been a real goal-getter this season. While he endured a frustrating first period against Clare, he scored a major just before the interval, but was immediately replaced by Walter Walsh. Walter, as usual was heavily involved in all that was good about Kilkenny in the second half against Clare. At this stage, no one is second guessing what Brian Cody will do.
Sunday’s final has the potential to be a real classic. All the talk is about a possible 3-in-a-row for the Treaty. Let’s hope our lads empty the tank and leave everything on the Croker pitch. The underdog is primed for a crack at the favourite. Someone tell Liam, it’s time to come home. Number 37 please.