5 questions to ponder after an enthralling All-Ireland semi-final weekend

Can Cork take Limerick, will Cahill stay with Waterford and could Horgan kill two birds with one stone?

Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

1. Do Cork have the weapons to take down Limerick?

CORK ARE JUST 70 minutes away from ending their longest drought without the All-Ireland hurling title, but the challenge facing them is a formidable one. Cold analysis of Limerick’s win over Waterford won’t reveal many flaws in John Kiely’s team.

They’re an awesome outfit, with a well-oiled style of play complimenting their remarkable athleticism and skill levels.

Had it not been for the semi-final loss to Kilkenny in 2019, Limerick could well be chasing their fourth Liam MacCarthy Cup in-a-row. But no team is infallible. Kieran Kingston undoubtedly built this Cork side with the view of taking down Limerick.

He instilled the team with searing pace, summed up by Jack O’Connor’s running power, aided by workhorses in the middle third. To beat Limerick, goals are a necessity, and Cork have that in abundance even if they spurned a handful of opportunities to raise further green flags yesterday. 

They supplied the full-forward line with some quality deliveries and packed a serious punch off the bench through live wires Shane Kingston and Alan Cadogan. Limerick will be favourites but Cork’s eight-point defeat in Munster was the closest any side have come to them in this championship.

The Rebels are well capable of landing a knock-out blow. 

seamus-flanagan-with-conor-prunty-and-shane-mcnulty Limerick's Seamus Flanagan with Conor Prunty and Shane McNulty of Waterford. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

2. How crucial was Limerick’s devastating eight minute spell?

After 20 minutes on Saturday, Limerick and the Deise were deadlocked at 0-4 apiece. By the 28th minute, the Treaty were six clear.

The abundance of energy and intensity Waterford brought at the start of the game was always going to be difficult to sustain with such a powerful and ruthless Limerick outfit.

Six wides by the first water beak drained some life from Waterford’s challenge. Then Limerick reeled off scores in succession via two apiece from Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan, plus efforts from the sticks of Gearoid Hegarty, and Diarmaid Byrnes. 

That eight minute spell wasn’t as jaw dropping as their turnaround after half-time against Tipperary, but it was equally critical.

They won the second quarter 11-4 and never looked back. They led by eight at the interval and were 10 clear by the 43rd minute. Once clear daylight emerged between the sides, a Limerick victory looked inevitable.

liam-cahill-during-the-game Liam Cahill has been linked with a return to Tipperary. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

3. Have we seen the end of Liam Cahill in Waterford?

When Liam Cahill took charge of Waterford, they hadn’t won a championship game in two years. By the end of his second campaign in charge, they had racked up wins over Cork, Clare, Kilkenny and Tipperary. 

Ultimately, their championship ambitions in 2020 and 2021 were ended by this all-conquering Limerick side. There’s no shame in losing to a Treaty team in their pomp and credit must go to Cahill for turning Waterford into genuine All-Ireland contenders.

He shook off season-ending injuries to Pauric Mahony and Tadhg De Burca and got the best of so many key players, like Stephen Bennett and Austin Gleeson. During the 2019 season, there was endless debate about Gleeson’s best position following a series of inconsistent displays.

Cahill showed good man management to get the best out of Gleeson, using him in a variety of positions as he put together excellent seasons back-to-back.

Cahill’s comments about the regeneration required in Tipperary after knocking them out of the championship raised some eyebrows. He gave the impression he’s given some thought to the project facing the Premier County.

Liam Sheedy may well decide to throw his lot in for another year, but if he doesn’t and the position is offered to Cahill in the coming weeks, the pull of his home county will be a difficult one to turn down.

cillian-buckley-dejected-after-the-game Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley after the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

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4. Have this Kilkenny team an All-Ireland in them?

Six years have now passed since Kilkenny lifted the All-Ireland title. They’ve been beaten in two deciders since then, by nine points in 2016 and 14 points two years ago. 

Brian Cody continues to extract the maximum from this group of players and there was a beauty about their dogged refusal to accept defeat at the end of normal time yesterday. 

Yet by the time the ball is throw-in for the 2022 season, TJ Reid will be 34 and entering his twilight years as a Kilkenny hurler. Eoin Cody and Adrian Mullen are fine young talents, but Reid is the single biggest reason Kilkenny have continued to dine at the top table in recent years.

Multiple All-Ireland winners like Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan and Cillian Buckley made do with substitute roles this season it looks increasingly unlikely they’ll add another Celtic Cross to their collection. For all Cody’s greatness, another All-Ireland title looks beyond this group given the quality in Munster at present.  

5. Could Horgan kill two birds with one stone?

Patrick Horgan, Seamus Callanan, TJ Reid and Joe Canning were all born within 11 months of one another and made their debuts in the 2008 season. 

Horgan is the sole member of that iconic group without an All-Ireland title to his name. Canning became the first one to hand in his gun and badge a couple of weeks ago, signalling that the end is approaching for all four sharpshooters.

The Cork ace’s sole trip to the final arrived in 2013 when they fell to Clare after a replay and he’ll be well aware he may not have a better shot at landing the big prize.

Interestingly, Horgan’s 15-point haul against Waterford now leaves him just 16 points off Canning’s all-time scoring record. 

Landing that elusive Celtic Cross on the way to becoming the championship’s greatest scorer would be a stunning way to end the season. You wouldn’t put it past him. 

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Kevin O'Brien

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