John Horgan column: It’ll be Limerick or it’ll be Cody

John Horgan column: It’ll be Limerick or it’ll be Cody

TJ Reid of Kilkenny embraces supporters after his side's victory in the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kilkenny and Clare at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

SIMILAR words are probably uttered every year when the countdown to the All-Ireland senior hurling final is nearing completion.

The words might be, ‘this is a final with fascinating potential’.

Some finals measure up to that expectation, others don’t but one way or the other, All-Ireland hurling final Sunday in Croke Park is one of the great occasions in Irish sport, in fact, it is the greatest.

Reaching the final is no easy matter, the road has become a lot more hazardous for those who set off on the journey in the provinces.

It’s a far more competitive environment now, more so than ever and it takes an exceptionally very good team to lift the old trophy.

Retaining it is even more difficult as so many have found out and putting three together requires something extraordinary and only truly great teams can achieve that.

Over the past 50 years, Cork in the ‘70s, did it, Kilkenny did four and Limerick now find themselves just 70 minutes away from doing the three again but standing in their way is hurling’s most successful county.

But more importantly, that county is managed by the greatest of them all, one Brian Cody.

Twenty two years since he managed Kilkenny to his first title, he is still around and still doing the business, seeking title number 1.

Many would say that if Limerick are downed on Sunday it will be his greatest achievement, of which there are so many.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the best game of the year or any year for that matter was the Munster final between Limerick and Clare.

It had everything that a sporting occasion could offer and much more and when Limerick had swung it their way in the end the belief and the hope of many was that they would meet again on All-Ireland final day.

Kilkenny, however, ensured that wasn’t going to happen and they were awesome in their demolition of that same Clare team, without John Conlon, who ran Limerick so close.

That Munster final was starkly contrasting to the Leinster final involving Kilkenny and Galway and, despite their victory, the Cats remained behind their Munster rivals in the pecking order of All-Ireland contenders.

But you never, ever dismiss them easily and here they are again on final day in exactly the way they want it, underdogs again, not, however, to the same degree as they might have been against Clare.

Limerick’s Aaron Gillane and Kyle Hayes celebrate after the Galway game
Limerick’s Aaron Gillane and Kyle Hayes celebrate after the Galway game

That, of course, was based very much on Clare’s display in that epic Munster final.

The current Limerick team are, in many ways, very similar to the Kilkenny team that won four-in-row.

They are rarely beaten on the biggest days as the past few years have shown, they have a squad of players that Kilkenny had during that four- year period of dominance and we all know how important the depth of your squad is.

LImerick have a similar balance to what that great Kilkenny team had, no weak links and if you have you are quickly replaced.

Four of the Limerick starting forwards were no longer part of the game against Galway a fortnight ago at the conclusion, all called ashore and replaced by players, maybe not as good as the ones that they came in for over 70 minutes but certainly not that far off either.

Similar to that great Kilkenny four-in-a-row squad under Cody’s watch, John Kiely puts a huge emphasis on what happens behind closed doors at the Gaelic Grounds.

The Ennis Road stadium is where so much happens, the management making their mind up on certain selections, just like it was in Nowlan Park previously and, of course, still is.

Big calls are made based on those training sessions, A V B games of great ferocity and maybe it’s understandable why they are no longer open to the public like they used to be in all counties in the past.

Limerick are favourites on Sunday and a glance through the daily newspapers tomorrow and Sunday you will find most pundits giving them the nod.

A lot of them gave Clare the nod too and we all know how that turned out.

As in all major games now, free-taking will play a major part in determining who wins the trophy.

Missed frees from advantageous positions can cost you very dearly as Cork found against Galway with Patrick Horgan not on the field at the time Limerick and Kilkenny have near flawless free-takers, Diarmuid Byrnes' long-distance efforts being so crucial for Limerick and Aaron Gillane doing the job nearer the goal.

TJ Reid is one of the great free-takers from long or short distances of this or any other era and he has proved that over and over again.

In the Mail on Sunday, Offaly star of the past, Michael Duignan described Reid as the best hurler he had ever seen.

There might not be too many dissenting voices in that regard.

John Kiely is so similar to Cody, he calls all the shots on the field and off it too and discipline is of paramount importance.

Nobody will ever again match Cody’s achievements but If Limerick win on Sunday, Kiely will move that bit closer and will be out on his own in second place.

Yes, there is some fascination attached to Sunday’s final, the two of them going head to head with so much on the line.

Kilkenny and Limerick will be the envy of all others when they stand to attention for our national anthem.

To the 64 thousand dollar question, who will emerge victorious?

If Limerick reach the standard of that Munster final against Clare again, they will be in the driving seat.

But there’s a different animal in their opponents corner this time, the county that thrives more than all others on the biggest day of all.

And, of course, there is the Cody factor and his proven formula for a successful ending.

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