GAA Expert & Columnist
Jamesie O'Connor: Can Kilkenny stop this Limerick juggernaut?
Watch Limerick vs Kilkenny live on Sky Sports Arena from 5pm on Saturday
Last Updated: 24/07/19 10:19pm
Sky Sports hurling analyst Jamesie O'Connor looks ahead to the All-Ireland semi-final meeting between Limerick and Kilkenny.
All-Ireland Hurling Championship semi-final weekend is almost upon us, and even if it has half the drama of 2018, we're in for a treat. Galway, Clare, Cork and Limerick served up a truly magical weekend 12 months ago.
With both games going to extra time, there was an electricity about it. We can only pray for a repeat.
Limerick are All-Ireland champions and they dismantled Tipperary in the Munster final. There's maybe a sense out there that if they reach those levels again, there's nobody good enough to stop them.
But Kilkenny aren't just anybody - these are the aristocrats of hurling. The Cats have cast iron self belief.
No matter how good or bad they are on paper - they're still Kilkenny. There's a mystique that surrounds the black and amber jersey. Brian Cody is still going to be patrolling the sideline. That in a way brings its own fear for the opposition. These guys are not going to roll over.
I fancied Cork to beat the Cats in the quarter-final, but Cody's side turned it into a dog fight. The big names stood up, and the leaders gave a big performance when it was needed.
Kilkenny have enough experience, nous and hurling ability to do a job on Saturday.
Limerick can't rock up and expect Kilkenny to roll over. They will have to deliver a performance to win it. That's what makes it a 50-50 contest. It's by no means a foregone conclusion.
"The Treaty might have to be six points better than them to beat them by one"
The Cats have an aura about them
Can Limerick buck the trend of Munster champions?
I don't think you can get away from the fact the Munster champions have a deplorable record in All-Ireland semi-finals in recent times.
Munster title - a poisoned chalice?
Only two Munster winners (Tipperary in 2011 and 2016) have won their subsequent All-Ireland semi-final this decade.
But the Treaty have already lost twice this year. I think that's a real factor, because when you taste the bitter pill of defeat like they did against Cork, it's a reality check. It's just a visceral reminder of the work you put in, and how high the stakes are.
There's no safety net now. If they don't get the job done on Saturday, that's it - they're dead and buried.
In 2019, they've already won the National League and Munster Championship. But for their legacy, they'll view the year as a disappointment if they don't retain the Liam MacCarthy Cup. That's the standard they set themselves.
Can Kilkenny stop this Limerick machine?
The Treaty work the ball through the lines, Cian Lynch has been providing that link role in the middle of the field, the hal-fback line sit back.
They dominated the middle third, but that's been a traditional strength of Kilkenny's. Cody fully believes that you have to win the battles in the middle third. That's where they shut Cork down and denied the Rebels possession when you need to win a game.
If TJ Reid is fully fit and performs, we all know the damage he can do.
Adrian Mullen has had a good year, and Colin Fennelly has shown flashes of form.
You have to stop the dominance of that Limerick half-back line, and then ask questions of their rear-guard - Tipp showed that there are maybe a few chinks in that armour, and nobody else has been able to put them under any real pressure.
The Premier certainly could have got a couple of goals in the Munster final, and that for me is the key. Kilkenny will need to find the net - they're probably going to have to get ball into the edge of the square. But if they move the sliotar in there, they can cause issues.
I still fancy Limerick to get through. I think they're better than last year.
They've got a strong bench to call upon, Seamus Flanagan would be an automatic starter in most counties. We all know the impact of Shane Dowling. Darragh O'Donovan was a starter last year and can't get back into the team.
They present a formidable challenge for the Cats and I think they'll get over the line.
Sky Sports' live GAA coverage continues next weekend, with the All-Ireland Hurling Championship semi-finals down for decision.