The Kilkenny minor hurlers face their biggest challenge of the season on Sunday in what will be the biggest day to date in the career of most of them.
Opponents in the All-Ireland final in Croke Park, mighty Limerick have swept all before them, beating Tipperary, Cork, Waterford and Galway en route to the final.
Kilkenny bounced back well from their opening day collapse against Dublin, and having clinched the Leinster title they erased any doubts over the quality of the team.
Manager Pat Hoban is proud of his players, yet he is under no illusions of how tough the challene is going to be against a red hot Limerick team.
“Limerick are very good,” he insisted. “They’re strongest around the middle of the field, with a very good running attack in their midfield and half forward line.”
Limerick’s annihilation of Galway in the semi-final is also something which has pressed on the minds of all Kilkenny supporters. Mr Hoban is no different.
“That day Limerick were really strong, especially in the midfield and half forward line, and they got the scores early and put the game to bed.
“I heard the Galway minor manager, Matty Murphy, being interviewed before the match and he had talked up his team. We played them earlier in the year and that match was a draw, so we aren’t any better or worse than them.”
Two years ago, Limerick strolled through the under-16 All-Ireland tournament, claiming the title at their ease. A number of those players backbone the current minor panel.
While two years at this age level can make a huge difference, both physically and mentally, it is still something that can have an effect when the teams enter the fray on Sunday.
“The under-16 title I suppose does lay down a marker. We know this Limerick team have been touted as special for a number of years. They are going to be trying to back up all that promise with a win.
“Two years makes a massive difference at this level. Physicality, personality and everything changes a huge amount. You don’t even know what teams were on the field two years ago.
“When you win, you can use it as an advantage, but I won’t be getting too bogged down about it.”
This Kilkenny minor team is the first one to reach an All-Ireland final since the successful side of 2010, but many of this squad have played in Croke Park on numerous occasions.
A large number of the current panel played with either Kilkenny CBS or St Kieran’s college in this year’s colleges All-Ireland final in April, so big game experience will not be lacking.
“To be fair, Croke Park on All-Ireland final day is a different scenario,” Mr Hoban reminded. “It is one of the biggest sporting occasions of the year, and a huge amount of people watch it.
“But we just have to approach it like any other game. If you go changing things or bringing in different things because of an All-Ireland you’ll probably get distracted.
“They are young lads, but a good number of them have played in colleges All-Irelands before. You would hope that those experiences would stand to them.”
The last time the counties met in the All-Ireland minor final was in 1984. The game ended in a draw (1-14(L) to 3-8). Limerick won the replay by 2-5 to 2-4.
Limerick have shown promise all season, with their manager Brian Ryan using a large amount of players as he learned various things along the road.
They have averaged almost 26 points over their previous four games, an outstanding scoring rate for any side. They won each game by an average of eight points. Their half forward line is spearheaded by the tenacious Barry Nash, while their midfield duo of Ronan Lynch and Robbie Hanley have been orchestrating their strong running game.
Their style is somewhat similar to that of Kilkenny pair Luke Scanlon and Conor Browne, two lightning sharp midfielders who thrive on running at the opposition.
Limerick’s excellent record this year has led to them being installed as 4/9 favourites for the title. They are out to turn promise into achievement.
Kilkenny are out to be party poopers, if you like. They are all fired up. There is no fear.
“If you lose then people will focus on that,” Mr Hoban said. “Limerick will definitely have a lot of pressure on them from their supporters.
“All the hype will be about them. They’ve won the under-16 title and they’ve won all their games easily this year. They are definitely the favourites, but we have no fear.”