5 talking points as Limerick and Waterford do battle for the All-Ireland hurling crown

1. Waterford’s need for goals

Stephen Bennett brings a big goal threat for the Deise.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE PROSPECT OF Waterford winning the All-Ireland final without raising at least one green flag on Sunday appears unlikely.

If this final descends into a point-scoring shootout, then Limerick will prevail eight or nine times out of 10. Galway failed to trouble the net in their semi-final exit to the champions and never looked capable of out-pointing John Kiely’s side.

The Deise are the championship’s top goalscorers with six from four games. The only side that managed a clean sheet against them so far was Limerick, who defend the danger zone well with Declan Hannon as a sitting centre-back.

Waterford’s goal chances against Kilkenny largely arrived with their off-the-shoulder running game. They’ve clearly benefited from working with speed coach Martin Bennett. The first thought of the Waterford players is now to sprint past their man and look to create an overlap before spraying it into Stephen Bennett and Dessie Hutchinson.

Austin Gleeson, in his roaming role from 14, might be asked to stay closer to goal if Waterford are struggling to win primary ball up front. The Deise will be hoping one of that trio an unlock the Treaty defence.

2. Difficult in facing team you’ve already beaten

John Kiely is chasing his second All-Ireland title as senior manager.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

They say you learn more from losing, so it’s safe to assume Liam Cahill has spent much of the last two weeks pouring over the Munster final footage from almost a month ago. 

From John Kiely’s perspective, it’s never easy to play a side in the same season you’ve already beaten them. Tactically, do you stick with what got you over the line the last time or do you need to bring something new? That’s the question that faced the Limerick boss this week. 

Who has improved most since the Munster final? Waterford made the more progress by the time the All-Ireland semi-finals came around. That said, Limerick rarely looked in trouble against Galway. They rolled their sleeves up and did what was required when the game was there to be won.

Cahill will flood the middle third with bodies again and hope that Waterford can pack a better scoring punch than four weeks ago. They scored just 0-12 from play the last time out against Limerick, compared to 2-16 in the second-half alone against Kilkenny.

3. Liam Cahill’s impact on Waterford mentality

Dessie Hutchinson and Austin Gleeson epitomise the work-rate of the Waterford players.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He set his stall out early when Maurice Shanahan and Noel Connors were dropped from the panel without even getting invited to trials. Cahill was likely highly influential in Austin Gleeson’s body transformation and in post-game interviews he constantly refers to the Mount Sion star’s hooking and blocking stats.

It’s clear that Cahill’s philosophy is built on work-rate and honesty. That might sound very basic but the big difference in the Waterford team this year has been their hunger for work. After two losing seasons, they look like a side reborn.

Their mentality was tested against Kilkenny when they looked on the verge of a hammering and turned it into a spectacular victory. They work and tackle like dogs all over the field and play a modern style with a two-man full-forward line and their centre-back protecting the full-back line. In Tadhg De Burca, they’ve arguably got the best number six in the game.

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This time around build-up is far more muted in Waterford compared with 2017 for obvious reasons, but there’s a quiet confidence about this team. If it’s true that a team mirrors its manager, then it’s no surprise that there’s a steely focus about the Deise coming into this one.

4. Puck-out battle

Limerick huddle before the semi-final.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

One of the key battlegrounds will be the Waterford half-back line against Limerick’s half-forwards under Nickie Quaid’s puck-outs.

Much of Limerick’s good play goes through their trio of Gearoid Hegarty, Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey, who clipped 14 points between them in the semi-final. Calum Lyons, de Burca and Kevin Moran are more than capable of competing in the air and gaining a foothold here, however.

Quaid loves to aim for the run to the wing of Hegarty, while Jack Fagan will be one of Stephen O’Keeffee’s primary targets when he goes long. The Meath native fetched an incredible 10 puck-outs against the Cats, but many were caught in the zone where man mountain Kyle Hayes will occupy later today.

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The battle of Lynch versus de Burca will be fascinating. The Patrickswell man could press right up on de Burca, depriving him of the sweeping role he likes to play. If Lynch drops off and starts to unpick locks in the middle third, Cahill might sacrifice a forward to man-mark him. 

Limerick’s zonal set-up on puck-outs has worked a treat so far – they’ve scored 1-31 on opposition restarts and will offer a different threat to Kilkenny, who went man-to-man. Kiely’s full-forward line will sit off their men and allow O’Keeffe go short if he fancies it but they’ll pressurise the ball immediately if he does. 

5. Who leads the Hurler of the Year conversation?

Tadhg de Burca with Kyle Hayes have enjoyed fine campaigns so far.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

As it stands, Hegarty is the leading contender to succeed Seamus Callanan in winning the top individual prize in hurling. As ever, the outcome of final will heavily influence who lands the gong.

The St Patrick’s club man has helped himself to 0-13 in four games and looks better with each passing week. Already the player of the month for October, he brought his game to new heights in 2020, covering acres of ground with his long legs and tackling furiously.

Hegarty always gives the impression that he enjoys the physical battle as much as he does popping over scores. 

If Waterford were to win, de Burca and Bennett would be their leading candidates. A big final performance could land Cian Lynch his second prize in three years, while Aaron Gillane, Sean Finn, Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey are also in the running.

On a final note, we haven’t yet seen extra-time or penalties in the championship. Might that transpire on the last day of the season?  

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