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Analysis: Scoring struggles hurt the champions as Limerick see All-Ireland dream slip away

The title holders lost out by a point to Kilkenny on Saturday night.

A tough night at the office for Limerick's John Kiely on Saturday.
A tough night at the office for Limerick's John Kiely on Saturday.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WITH THE WAVING of an umpire’s arms in front of the David End on Saturday night, Limerick’s 2019 championship exit was confirmed.

After a frantic and rollicking evening of hurling, Darragh O’Donovan’s sideline cut was judged to have flown wide deep in injury time. It transpired to be an officiating error, Limerick deprived of the opportunity to land the ’65 that should have been awarded and could have sent the game into extra-time.

John Kiely’s post-match composure was admirable. It was not an incident he tended to dwell on or complain about but there was a neat symmetry between Limerick’s last shot veering off target and an issue that hurt their prospects throughout that game.

“We probably struggled a little bit with our efficiency in front of goals,” was the verdict of the manager that had seen Limerick lift three major hurling trophies in the last 12 months.

“They had eight wides, we had 15. You only need one of those, but that’s just sport.”

If you discount that late O’Donovan effort, it leaves Limerick with 17 points and 14 wides recorded on Saturday night. They did notch two goals, Aaron Gillane’s bullet from a penalty and Shane Dowling’s stunning piece of improvisation to ignite a late charge, but were thwarted in their search of a third when Eoin Murphy denied David Reidy.

But the shooting statistics will be a source of irritation for Limerick when they pore over the footage of this game. That they were only a point in arrears at the final whistle of the game will wound them even more.

Saturday night saw Limerick raise their lowest number of white flags in their six championship ties in 2019. 

Scoring totals have been a shining feature of Kiely’s reign. They may have had a tentative start in his maiden season two years ago as they only had two outings. But since then Limerick have played 14 championship ties and cleared the 20-point barrier on 10 occasions.

Aside from this loss to Kilkenny, the exceptions for Limerick were the 19 points they knocked over against Cork in May, the 16 they hit in last August’s All-Ireland final – a game that did yield their second highest total of goals in a championship tie under Kiely – and the 15 they struck in their poorest recent performance against Clare last summer.

John Kiely’s Limerick championship record

2017

  • 2-16 v Clare 
  • 0-17 v Kilkenny

2018

  • 1-23 v Tipperary
  • 0-28 v Cork
  • 2-26 v Waterford
  • 0-15 v Clare
  • 0-27 v Kilkenny
  • 5-22 v Carlow 
  • 3-32 v Cork
  • 3-16 v Galway

2019

  • 1-19 v Cork
  • 2-24 v Waterford
  • 1-28 v Clare
  • 0-21 v Tipperary
  • 2-26 v Tipperary
  • 2-17 v Kilkenny

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Nickie Quaid and Mike Casey dejected after the game Nickie Quaid and Mike Casey dejected after Sunday's game. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

This was a slip from the high offensive standards that Limerick have set. They entered the game on a wave of good form in 2019. In their Munster campaign Limerick averaged 23.6 points over five games and surpassed 20 points on four occasions. Rewind back to their league winning run in the spring and Limerick’s points total average in the three-game knockout stage run was 21.6 points.

Their starting forward line malfunctioned in front of goal on Saturday night. When you remove Gillane’s 0-3 from play, the other five attackers combined for 0-4. It was a paltry total considering their dazzling form elsewhere this summer. Gillane, aided by his free-taking role, had chalked up 2-40 in Munster but Gearoid Hegarty (1-6), Kyle Hayes (1-7), Graeme Mulcahy (1-9), Tom Morrissey (0-12) and Peter Casey (1-11) had all sparkled in the province as well. Taking on Kilkenny’s rearguard, they could not manage to maintain that impressive form.

Limerick’s failure to trouble the scoreboard operator in the early stages on Saturday was particularly costly. They only bagged two points in the opening quarter, through Gillane and Mulcahy, with five wides notched in that time frame and Hayes denied on another occasion by a hook from TJ Reid.

Kilkenny began the game in powerful fashion, their relentless style seeing them race eight points clear. Limerick gradually found their rhythm as the match wore on. Nine of their 14 wides had arrived in the first half and they did win the second-half scoring battle by 1-8 to 0-9 as their marksmanship improved.

But that early deficit proved too great to overcome. The problems the Limerick forward line endured was a testament to Kilkenny’s defensive prowess. Take out their win over Carlow and Brian Cody’s side had shipped 20.6 points on average in championship outings this summer.

Here Kilkenny’s defence successfully stifled an attack that has been in sublime form when lifting All-Ireland, league and Munster crowns since last August. 

And that was a vital factor in determining the outcome of this battle to reach the Liam MacCarthy Cup decider.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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