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Analysis: 5 key questions that will shape today's All-Ireland hurling final

The42 analyst Tommy Dunne breaks down some key factors to look out for in Croke Park this afternoon.

THIS ALL-IRELAND hurling final is a mouth-watering prospect. Limerick will have a huge appetite to win it and are in terrific form at present. They’re totting up big scores and varying their styles of play to good effect so far this season.

They’re facing a Galway side looking to go back-to-back. They’ve got huge experience, physicality and presence all over the field. This match-up throws up areas that will be very interesting in the context of shaping this final.

Jason Flynn and Richie English Jason Flynn and Richie English compete for possession Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

1. Can Limerick keep up their impressive scoring rate?

Limerick’s scoring rate has been phenomenal this year and it’s far higher than it has been in recent seasons. John Kiely’s side have been hitting around the 0-25 mark most days but can they produce that against a team of Galway’s quality? If they can reach that figure, I think it’s very likely they’ll win the game. They also have a significant goal threat.

The variation in Limerick’s game means they can play it short but also go very direct. A lot of their good forward play in the semi-final against Cork revolved around Aaron Gillane and Graeme Mulcahy – two key players in the full-forward line. They’re not huge physically but their assets are their speed, accuracy and vision, although they are reliant on good quality ball going inside.

The reason Limerick are scoring so much is they’re able to supply them consistently with deliveries they can win out in front. They’re not going to win too much ball over the heads of Daithi Burke, John Hanbury or Adrian Tuohey so Limerick will need to create space and put the ball into the right areas for Gillane and Mulcahy to forage and do damage.

29 minutes 11 seconds - Dan Morrissey delivers a good ball inside that Gillane wins and immediately picks out Mulcahy. The Kilmallock man clips over a great point, but it all stems from Morrissey’s quality pass.

29:50 - Sean Finn puts a ball over Flanagan’s head into the corner.

1

Flanagan uses his strength to hold off Damien Cahalane near the touchline.

1.3

Mulcahy arrives on the scene and fires it over the bar.

1.4

31:14 - Nicky Quaid sends a long puck-out into the corner. Gillane takes it from the sky and passes back to Byrnes who finds Mulcahy for his third score of the day.

38:10 - Notice the amount of space Dan Morrissey has to pick out in front of Gillane.

2

The Patrickswell ace wins possession and raises the white flag.

2.1

Limerick will try to do this to Galway and move their backs around, creating pockets of space to try and feed Gillane and Mulcahy. They are flyers and are almost impossible to mark if the ball goes into space in front of them as they’re so quick and are extremely accurate.

Conor Whelan and Sean Finn Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

2. How will Limerick cope with Galway’s physicality up front?

This will have a major bearing on the outcome. Jonathan Glynn has been one of the best forwards in the country this summer but Galway have options everywhere in the attack. Joe Canning, Conor Cooney, Joseph Cooney, Conor Whelan and Cathal Mannion – a lot of these fellas will have a size advantage over their direct opponents.

Glynn vs Mike Casey is one battle worth watching out for. Micheal Donoghue will expect Glynn to win that battle if he gets a good supply of ball. If Glynn wins a couple of early high balls and Galway get a few scores, do Limerick have a plan B? Have they a bigger man to play full-back? That’s something I’d be watching out for.

Now, Casey is a fine hurler and very good on the ground, but if you’re giving up five inches to your direct opponent he’s going to try and capitalise on that. The Na Piarsaigh man might handle Glynn for a white but Limerick need to have a second option ready to curb that threat if it goes wrong.

Jonathan Glynn scores a goal Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The other interesting one is Canning vs Declan Hannon. I think Canning will start at centre-forward and it should be a good dual. Joe is having a brilliant season. He was very influential against Clare and is still Galway’s primary playmaker.

Hannon is a ball-playing centre-back who is having a terrific season – as is the entire half-back line. If Canning starts drifting and picking up deep ball, Limerick have a decision to make? Do they have Hannon follow him or will he play a deeper role and let a midfielder try to limit Canning’s influence?

The Limerick forwards may not create as many chances as they have done in previous games. The Galway backs are the best in the business. Burke, Gearoid McInerney, Tuohey and Padraic Mannion are savage players. How will Limerick cope with Galway’s defence? If the Treaty can get some joy up front, they’ve a great chance of winning.

Bill Cooper and Gearoid Hegarty Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

3. Who’ll win the puck-out battle?

Limerick had a good variation on their puck-outs the last day. It’s going to be a really important part of the game and both teams will have done a lot of work on each other so it’s hard to know what to expect.

Both James Skehill and Nickie Quaid have long puck-outs in their lockers, but they’re accurate on short ones too. It’ll be interesting to see where the first few puck-outs in the game go.

I’m going to focus on Quaid, who had a terrific game against Cork in the semi-final. The brilliant save he made on Seamus Harnedy at the end was a match-winner, but allied to that his puck-outs were outstanding. He’s central to Kiely’s strategy.

1:25 - You’ll notice a constant theme here is how Limerick open up pockets of space for Quaid to pick out. A gap is left for Darragh O’Donovan to run into and Quaid picks him out. The midfielder is very pacey and he collects before firing over a score.

2:17 - Another long puck-out, this time to Hegarty who is another favourite target of Quaid’s. He’s a huge, strong man and very good in the air. Hegarty fetches the long ball and tags on a brilliant point.

3.2

Inside two minutes, Limerick have two points from two puck-outs.

You’ll see Quaid looking for Hegarty from lots of restarts today. He’ll have a height advantage over Aidan Harte and even Padraic Mannion. He’s a big weapon in their armoury.

8:08 – Quaid goes short this time to Diarmuid Byrnes who is loose around the 45.

4

Byrnes drills a beautiful 60-yard pass to Gillane and the corner-forward splits the posts.

4.1

Limerick are up and running early on with Quaid’s restarts central to their strong start.

10:14 - Another puck-out goes long, this time on top of Kyle Hayes who catches superbly. Nothing comes of it, but it’s another example of the targets Quaid can aim for on the half-forward line. Hayes is just 19 but he’s the same height as Glynn at 6’5″.

31:14 - Quaid goes long to Gillane, who recycles to Byrnes. The wing-back picks out Mulcahy and he pops over his third point from play.

35:52 - The crucial score of the game – Limerick’s first goal – arrives from a Quaid restart. The half-forward line vacates space on the wing and the ball is delivered into the pocket for Cian Lynch to run into.

5

Daniel Kearney spots the danger but Lynch as able to time his run and dispossess the Cork man.

5.1

Tom Morrissey pokes the ball into the corner, Flanagan picks it and shows good composure to spot Lynch’s run towards goal.

5.2

He drives it past Anthony Nash, finishing off a move that started with the goalkeeper.

43:50 -  Another long puck-out by Quaid leads to a point by Mulcahy.

The key thing is Limerick have options from their puck-outs. Quaid can decide what the best option is at that particular time. Hannon and Byrnes can come short for puck-outs, while he’s got options like Hayes and Hegarty for the long 50/50 deliveries. And at different times they can open up pockets of space for Lynch and O’Donovan to take a puck-out on the run.

4. How well can each team handle each other’s game plan?

Limerick handled the Cork threat really well in the semi-final. Cork’s main attacking plan involves creating a lot of space on the inside forward line and hitting diagonal ball into Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Harnedy, but Limerick were ready for it.

Galway will represent a different challenge but and how Limerick handle that will be an interesting aspect of the game. Galway don’t play as many diagonal balls but they do like to send in early deliveries into the full-forward line, particularly when Glynn is in there.

Kiely’s side cut out a lot of Cork diagonal ball with some good corner-back play and discipline from the half-backs.

5:53 - Christopher Joyce plays a diagonal ball towards Lehane but Tom Morrissey is very tight on him and wins it out in front. When the ball goes into the full-back line, Limerick’s wing backs are good at dropping deep to deal with the breaks.

8:30 – Colm Spillane goes long into Horgan but Casey is first to the ball and clears it.

10:33 - This is a good illustration of the wing-backs dropping deep. As Cork attack, Byrnes drifts back and cuts out a pass that’s intended for Luke Meade.

6

It’s a terrific piece of wing-back play.

6.1

Both Byrnes and Dan Morrissey took up some great positions to cut out those kind of deliveries inside.

11:08 - Eoin Cadogan’s diagonal ball is intercepted in the air by Dan Morrissey and Hannon clears. Once again it’s good positioning by Morrissey to help out his corner-backs.

25:24 - Meade tries to find Shane Kingston down the line but Sean Finn is very tight as the ball arrives.

7

Casey is right up on Horgan and Hannon comes back as an auxiliary defender to win the break.

7.1

You might see Limerick do similar against Galway. If the Tribesmen do go direct into Glynn there’ll be two key factors: 1. The initial 50/50 ball. Glynn is much taller than Casey so he’ll be expected to win it. 2. If the ball breaks to the ground, it’s a case of who’ll get there first – Galway’s half-forwards or Limerick’s deep-lying half-backs.

27:35 – Cahalane sends a pass down the Cusack Stand but Hannon is tight on Horgan and the ball breaks to O’Donovan, who clears after coming deep to help his defence.

5. Who will have the stronger impact from the bench?

Shane Dowling, Pat Ryan and Peter Casey were hugely influential against Cork. This trio will certainly feature at some stage in the second-half, while Galway don’t have quite as many impact subs. Donoghue does have a fairly settled 17 players and Gearoid McInerney’s return will make them stronger from the start.

Limerick might have an advantage in terms of confidence they have in their subs, but whether they leave it as late to introduce them will depend on how the game is going.

Kyle Hayes with Conor Whelan and Johnny Coen Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Conclusion

It’s a very hard match to call. So many factors are uncertain and it’s a whole new dynamic with Limerick being in the final in the first place. They have no real baggage and are playing a very free style with huge confidence. Their supporters have massive belief in them because of their form this season.

It all makes for an entertaining contest and usually these finals come down to efficiency and the ability to take chances when they present themselves. Both teams have been in strong form all season and that’s why it’s so tough to pick a winner.

You could say the Galway backs have the greater capacity to cope with the Limerick forwards than the Limerick backs have with the Galway forwards – but that’s uncertain in itself. It’ll be close but I’ll give Galway my vote because of the experience they have from last year.

I think Donoghue’s backs will have learned a lot from the Clare game where they coughed up a lot of chances. I suspect Gawlway will signficantly tighten up defensively and the chances Limerick end up scoring a good deal less than they did in their recent games.

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