Difficult tests await Kilkenny on the double

Difficult tests await Kilkenny on the double
With the exception of Michael Rice, it appears the Kilkenny mentors will have a full panel to choose from for Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final with Limerick.

With the exception of Michael Rice, it appears the Kilkenny mentors will have a full panel to choose from for Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final with Limerick.

At this stage of the championship all remaining teams want to head to Croke Park with a full squad. The Leinster champions will start as favourites, but that tag is irrelevant as the championship heads towards a conclusion.

This year Kilkenny have taken the shortest route possible (bar a replay with Galway) to the All-Ireland semi-final. It suits Kilkenny to have avoided the quagmire that is the qualifier road.

Last year was a chastening experience for Kilkenny. Numerous injuries and a tortuous route through the qualifiers eventually took their toll on the players.

I always felt that after Kilkenny lost to Cork last year a super effort would be made in 2014 to reclaim the MacCarthy Cup. So far everything has gone to plan. Perhaps the late rally by Galway was not in the script, but the replay clearly showed the gulf in class between the sides.

There were genuine expectations that Dublin would offer a real test to Kilkenny in the Leinster final. However, the Metropolitans played poorly and Kilkenny won another Leinster title at its ease.

Even if Michael Fennelly and Richie Power only make the substitutes bench for next Sunday’s clash with Limerick, it will be a bonus for Kilkenny.

Their availability offers wider options in both midfield and attack. The duo are strong and physical - just the type of players required to combat the challenge provided by the Shannonsiders.

Limerick come to Croke Park full of confidence after their demolition of Wexford. Like the Kilkenny game against Dublin, the question is how good are Limerick or how poor were Wexford?

Sadly, Wexford were hugely disappointing. The exertions of the qualifiers took their toll on their leg-weary players. Wexford are far better than they showed against Limerick, but the players still have a lot to learn.

Limerick’s collapse against Clare in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final was a big disappointment. They were also below-par against Cork in this year’s Munster final, but will have regained their confidence against Wexford, even if the opposition was poor.

The Shannonsiders are strong in many areas of the pitch, particularly the full-back line, but I am not so sure about its outer line of defence. With both wing backs substituted in the Munster final I expect the Kilkenny half-forward line to gain an upper hand here.

The midfield battle will be intriguing. The Limerick duo play with great energy, as was evident against Wexford, but I cannot see them getting the same space and time on the ball against the Cats.

Midfield is an area, though, where Kilkenny will need to control, as well as helping out the defence that may come under pressure during the course of the game.

It will be interesting to see what tactics Limerick adopt on Sunday. A running game is likely, as they may feel they have the pace to outwit the Cats defence. They will surely know that landing high balls down on the Kilkenny rear-guard won’t work.

There is great potential in the Limerick attack but they will not get the same space they enjoyed against Wexford. Still, the Kilkenny defence will need to be alert to every ball.

Kilkenny’s experience at this stage of the championship will be crucial. This is where the Cats should have the edge.

How well the Kilkenny defence copes with the Limerick attack though, could ultimately decide who wins this tie.

Our minors are improving with every outing, but they will face a stern test against reigning All-Ireland champions Waterford in Sunday’s curtain-raiser.

The Déise ended Kilkenny’s interests in last year’s championship, so that adds another dimension to Sunday’s tie. The sides have already met this year in challenge games, but the real test comes in Croker.

I was impressed by Kilkenny against Dublin in the Leinster final. If further improvement emerges next Sunday it will take a great performance from Waterford to prevent Kilkenny from reaching the All-Ireland final.