Sunday 22 April 2018

Cats crave a sign but Limerick to claim cup

All-Ireland U21 HC Final Kilkenny v Limerick (Thurles, Today 3.0, Live TG4)

In this, more than any other recent season, how Kilkenny must crave not just the cup but the promise that comes with an All-Ireland U21 title.

They've been spoiled by the years of sustained senior excellence under Brian Cody.

But now, for only the second time on Cody's 19-year watch, they have endured two full seasons without lifting Liam MacCarthy. This summer they exited without even reaching the quarter-finals.

All of which signals the need for signposts of substance in Semple Stadium.

A first U21 coronation since 2008 would certainly lift spirits. Even what the senior boss might term a "serious, savage" display that ends in valiant defeat would offer a modicum of confidence.

Are Eddie Brennan's young Cats ready to deliver?

It's really hard to be definitive, if only because since Kilkenny overcame Dublin by five points in late May, they have been utterly untested.

Hence the subsequent winning margins: ten points against Westmeath, 12 against Wexford in the Leinster final, a scarcely credible 52 against poor, hapless Derry three weeks ago. Everyone shared in the massacre that day, with Shane Walsh (2-7), John Donnelly (1-7), senior player Liam Blanchfield (0-6) and Billy Ryan (2-0) leading the facile onslaught.

"That doesn't benefit anyone," Brennan admitted afterwards. It certainly doesn't help forecasters seeking a handle on Kilkenny's true worth when measured against Limerick's more rigorously tested form graph.

That's because they have already faced what could be deemed four proper tests and won them by 11 points (Tipperary), 13 (Clare), two (Cork) and four (Galway).

Aaron Gillane (0-37, 12 from play) has been Limerick's chief font of points but they, too, can boast a spread of scorers. They have accumulated eye-catching tallies with just the one Munster final exception, 0-16 against Cork.

Even though Kilkenny beat them in the 2014 minor decider, the Shannonsiders look the more likely winners.

ODDS: Kilkenny 7/4 Draw 9/1 Limerick 4/7

VERDICT: Limerick

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