BY NIALL SHERRY
Eggs can wait as Easter clash beckons
Allianz Hurling League Final 2023
Sunday, 9th April @ 2pm
Páirc Uí Chaoimh
Kilkenny vs Limerick
>> SHERRY SAYS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW
Kilkenny will make the 150km journey to Páirc Uí Chaoimh to tackle Limerick in this year’s Allianz hurling league final. Our opponent’s journey is slightly shorter, but once both teams arrive, the difficulty in the Cats task will be immense.
Hurling heads will regularly be heard talking about John Kiely’s Limerick in glowing terms and rivalling the great Kilkenny teams of the last 25 years. There is no doubting that this is a ‘generational’ Treaty team, and many wouldn’t bet against them being spoken about as glowingly as Brian Cody’s winning teams in years to come.
But how they will be judged in the fullness of time is a matter for another day. The immediate attention switches to the banks of the river Lee for Sunday’s league final which pits the Cats against the Treaty.
Derek Lyng will take charge of our senior hurlers in a final for the first time, and the fact that the Emeralds man has delivered this appearance in a decider is a sure sign of the progress that has undoubtedly been made since Mr. B Cody departed. Listen, when you reach a final, in any competition, you want to win it, but with championship hurling on the horizon, the Kilkenny manager will be keen to test his nous against the best team around for the last couple of years.
I’d imagine that if our boys can stick with this Limerick side for 60 minutes, it will set up an interesting finale.
Both sides come into Sunday’s final with identical records, 4 wins and one defeat from five group games. Limerick lost their opener to Cork, while the Cats came up short at home to a resurgent Tipperary at UPMC Nowlan Park.
The semi-finals saw Sunday’s finalists record 6-point wins over Cork and Tipperary respectively, the teams had had taken their scalps in the group stages.
This year’s Walsh Cup and Allianz league has provided the stage for a young man from Galmoy to showcase his undoubted talent at senior level. Yes, step forward Billy Drennan. Not only given a chance at this level by his former U20 manager that guided Billy and his teammates to last season’s All-Ireland title, but the softly spoken attacker has also been given the placed ball responsibility in the absence of the legendary TJ Reid.
Drennan has not let anyone down in the scoring stakes during this year’s league campaign, registering 2-65 in a devastating debut season at senior level. The placed ball duty has contributed 1-52 of this impressive total to date. Billy appears to be totally relaxed with the responsibility thrust upon his shoulders and seems to take it all in his stride. Sunday will be another test in the Galmoy player’s journey, and I think it’s safe to say, it could be the most difficult this season.
Kilkenny have given many players minutes during the league. Alongside Billy Drennan, we have seen the likes of Timmy Clifford, Gearoid Dunne, David Blanchfield and Des Dunne settle into senior hurling.
As per usual, the county side had been deprived of the Shamrocks Ballyhale contingent in the first couple of months of the year. Recently we have seen this years captain Eoin Cody, Richie Reid, Darragh and Ronan Corcoran integrated into the panel, while we still await the return of Adrian Mullen and TJ Reid.
The semi-final win over the Rebels saw Danesfort’s Richie Hogan start a Kilkenny game for the first time in almost 3 years – the former All-Star hitting the first point of the game, a sight that was roundly cheered at UPMC Nowlan Park. When you add a sprinkling of stardust to any panel, the performance levels go up a notch, the competitiveness of training increases, in essence, everything improves. Speaking to the media in the aftermath of the Cork win, manager Lyng alluded to the improving squad depth.
“We want a competitive squad. I think a lot of lads [against Cork] put their hands up again. And that’s what we asked them, grab the jersey when you have it. And you know, we’re seeing that competition coming through with the lads coming back. And that’s exactly where we want to be.”
The Cats attack has also had a lively Martin Keoghan causing havoc amongst opposition defenders. The Tullaroan man has been getting through a mountain of work, pulling markers all over the place and raising the green flag now and again. One of those joining Keoghan in the Kilkenny attack has been Paddy Deegan. Normally operating in a more defensive role, the O’Loughlin’s man has been mightily impressive in adding a bit of muscle to the black & amber forward unit.
Sunday might come too soon for Eoin Cody and Billy Ryan, but there will be others pushing to get a start and lay down a marker for the upcoming Leinster Championship. Another Tullaroan player, Gearoid Dunne has shown flashes of his ability, while Dicksboro’s Timmy Clifford isn’t afraid to put his shoulder to the wheel.
Against Cork, Erins Owns Conor Fogarty was influential in the engine room alongside Glenmore’s Alan Murphy. Murphy is also capable of firing over from distance, a quality which could be useful at Páirc Uí Chaoimh if Limerick lock things down in their defence. I’d imagine the middle third will be a hotbed of activity on Sunday, with both sides looking to take control of that vital sector. You’ll also see the likes of Paddy Deegan and Thomastown’s John Donnelly roaming round centre-field looking to provide the springboard for the Kilkenny attack.
In defence, the semi-final encounter with the Leesiders saw the return of O’Loughlin’s duo Mikey Butler and Huw Lawlor to the starting line-up. Both men played an important part in helping to quell the Cork attack, Lawlor operated from the number six berth with Tommy Walsh behind him. Another Walsh and Tullaroan man, Padraig has been deployed in the corner recently and this new role appears to be suiting the swash-buckling Sash man.
Behind the back six, is likely to be former All-Star keeper, Eoin Murphy. The Glenmore man’s all-round ability keeps him ahead of the chasing pack of netminders on Noreside. St Lachtains Darren Brennan, Lisdowneys Aidan Tallis and All-Ireland club winner and Sigerson Cup champion Dean Mason from Shamrocks are helping keep Murphy on his toes, like we said competition is good.
Derek Lyng’s starting XV on Sunday could be similar to that in the last four win over Cork, or he might look to shuffle his pack a little, probably depending upon the fitness and availability of TJ and Richie Reid and Adrian Mullen. Perhaps Lyng will take the longer view and introduce this trio from the bench, with the business end of the season approaching.
The Treaty will bring their now trademark physicality to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it will be up to Kilkenny to stand firm and match this. Carlow whistler Paud O Dwyer will need to have eyes in the back of his head and will need to have faith in his umpires and linesmen. The Palatine clubman will hopefully allow the final to flow but will need to keep a firm hand on proceedings.
So, what of Sunday’s opponents? Since John Kiely took the reins, the Treaty County is unbeaten in any final contested. From back to front they are a dangerous animal. Cian Lynch has made a successful return from injury and is looking sharp. His Patrickswell clubmate, Aaron Gillane returned to the squad mid-March and his placed ball accuracy will rival that of the Cats Billy Drennan.
The raiding wing-backs in the limerick team will take a bit of watching. Paddy Deegan could find himself clocking up the kilometres keeping tabs on Diarmaid Byrnes or Kyle Hayes. Should Gearoid Hegarty start on Sunday, it will take a fair ‘unit’ to try and contains the St Patrick’s man. Peter Casey has been in decent shape on the edge of the square, perhaps it could mean Huw Lawlor reverting to guard against this booming threat. Ahane’s Tom Morrissey will run all day and try to be the link man, so limiting his time on the sliotar will be important.
Captain and centre back Declan Hannon is a Rolls-Royce of a hurler and sets the tempo from the six position. Sean Finn and Barry Nash will look to get forward and trouble the score board, Nash in particular is a bit of a ‘wanderer’ and you would like someone in black & amber to engage the South Liberties man before he crosses midfield.
Depending on the fitness of some players, the strength of the bench could be one of Kilkenny’s key weapons. There might be a time in the second half when a little bit of something different is required, imagine a TJ Reid or an Adrian Mullen coming on to the Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch with about 15 or 20 left to play.
Sunday promises to be a fascinating encounter. Let’s bring the noise to Leeside and ruffle some Limerick feathers.