THREE-in-a-row seeking Limerick run-up against multiple winners Kilkenny in an eagerly anticipated All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park today (throw-in 3.30pm, available to view on RTE Two/Sky Sports and listen to on RTE Radio One/Live 95).
It what is the 135th edition of the championship, not a great deal of commentators would have predicted this showdown.
Yes, Limerick were odds-on to be find themselves at the top-table, but Kilkenny were a neglected 9/1 in the betting at the start. And while John Kiely’s side remain favourites to complete a first-ever three-timer for the county, shrewd observers give Brian Cody a worthy chance of winning his 12th All-Ireland as Cats manager.
Table-toppers Kilkenny have won a staggering 36 All-Irelands, while Limerick have ten on the mantlepiece.
Unlike the past two seasons, Limerick fans will be in situ at the Jones’ Road venue in a few days’ time as the chances of a fourth All-Ireland triumph in just five seasons is a distinct possibility.
Once again, Adare’s most famous son Declan Hannon will lead-out the reigning champions on the hallowed turf, followed by a plethora of familiar faces such as Seán Finn, Mike Casey, Barry Nash, Diarmuid Byrnes, Will O’Donoghue, Kyle Hayes, Gearóid Hegarty and Aaron Gillane, the county’s new top championship scorer of all-time.
Limerick came through Munster unbeaten (to secure a fourth win on the bounce), albeit after a couple of ferocious tussles against next-door neighbours Clare, whereas Kilkenny didn’t in Leinster but still managed to secure another provincial title, with defeat of Galway in the final.
The Cats have plenty of familiar names too in their starting pack, such as the ageless TJ Reid (34), Adrian Mullen, Martin Keoghan, Eoin Cody and Mikey Butler, who held the no less a figure than Clare’s Tony Kelly scoreless from play in the semi-final.
Our controversial loss to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2019 is an itch that has not yet been scratched, while many of us will neither have forgotten the physicality of the same opposition that cost us the All-Ireland Final back in 2017.
The final has the potential, yet again this championship spring/summer, to bring the curtain down on another brilliant season, most probably with a memorable win for the defending champions to underline their status as modern-day kingpins.
Colm Lyons of Cork’s Nemo Rangers will referee the decider, his first.
Verdict: Limerick, after a tight encounter.