On Sunday it will be an all Munster affair as Limerick and Waterford will face off in the all Ireland hurling final. Limerick are going for their second all Ireland title in three years after finally making the breakthrough in 2018, John Kiely’s men are the form team in the championship winning their four games to date against Clare , Tipperary , Waterford and Galway. While Waterford have already lost to Limerick in this years Munster final that won’t count for much on Sunday as they have bounced back with wins over Clare and Kilkenny including a scintillating second half display scoring 2-16 from play against the cats, having not won a championship game for the previous two years Liam Cahill has got the Deise motoring again and they will be hoping to win their first all Ireland since 1959 on Sunday.
Former Offaly hurler Michael Duignan is a man who knows all about playing in All Ireland finals he’s played in minor , u21 and senior finals for the faithful county. He collected celtic crosses in 1994 and 1998 also winning an all-star that year. He talks about the experience of the big day
“a lot of it comes down to your personality I was lucky enough to play in four finals I remember seeing an interview that Colm O’Rourke had done prior to me coming onto the Offaly scene where he was talking about enjoying the occasion and looking up into the crowd I tried to enjoy that side of it but i was very lucky in that whatever sort of DNA I had I never noticed the crowd once the match started whether there was 5 people at a match or 80 thousand the crowd never bothered me. I played in a minor final as a young lad which was unusual for Offaly it was the first minor final that Offaly ever played in that was a new experience that we took very well we went on and won it but the senior didn’t come until 1994 and we had been around a few years at that stage so we were an experienced enough squad we played the majority of our matches in Croke park so it was the same routine it was up sunday morning spa hotel tea and a sandwich bit of a puck around and then into Croke park while it was a big occasion we had a fairly laid back squad and we were able to handle it and it was all about trying to concentrate and perform on the day “
The build up to an all ireland final can be tough for players to stay away from the hype and focus on getting ready for the match , Michael says the fact he wasn’t living in Offaly benefitted him in the lead up to the big day
“I left Offaly at 18 and I was living in Dublin and for the ’98 final I was living in Naas so I wasn’t around much but I was on the road with my job and meeting a lot of people it was discussed everyday but I was lucky I wasn’t in one of the towns in Offaly and listening to it from every neighbour family member and friend I was a bit detached from it in that way which I think was definitely a help to me personally as the years have gone on the hype before finals has got bigger particularly for Waterford now because they haven’t won since ’59 but I think the panel we had was fairly grounded and if you weren’t you’d be grounded very quick because we had some very strong leaders on the team that made sure nobody got too big for their boots which I think was important “
But the majority of the experiences Michael has spoken about will be taken away for this years final. In a year like no other there will be no huge build up no scramble for tickets no bus journey to Croke park and no supporters in the stadium
“The build up for this final has been very quick with only two weeks between the semi final and the final i think that’s an advantage to Waterford because they don’t have too much time to think about it they would have been back training a couple of nights after then they are into the week of the match the hype will still be big enough in Waterford but they have a bit of experience too they were in the final in 2017 and Liam Cahill would have been involved in minor and u21 all irelands with Tipperary i think we seen it across the board with no crowds in hurling and football there has been a few surprises but for both teams on sunday I don’t think there will be as much nerves because when you run out in Croke park to 80 thousand people there is a ferocious noise “
Limericks star forward Aaron Gillane has scored 2-34 in this years championship including 0-27 from frees but the Patrickswell man is a doubt going into the final took a heavy hit against Galway and was kept overnight in the mater hospital as a precaution he has missed some training since and Limerick selector Donal O’Grady has described it as 50/50 whether he will make it in time for Sunday.
“Gillane would be a massive loss because he has that X factor about him I think if he is fit you could see Seamus Flanagan dropping to the bench i think they might go back to their original full forward line I think Flanagan was brought in to do a job on Daithi Burke for his physicality but their preferred full forward line had been Gillane Casey and Mulcahy but Gillane has that aerial ability and he can score goals the other lads are interchangeable but if he doesn’t start that would give Waterford a big boost”
Austin Gleeson was long touted as the next big thing in Waterford , an outstanding minor he burst onto the senior scene in 2014 with an outrageous goal against Cork in semple stadium since then we have seen lung bursting runs , points from distance , sideline cuts and exquisite goals. He was the young hurler of the year and the hurler of the year in 2016 since then he has come in for a lot of criticism as Waterford underperformed but they are back on song now and Gleeson was at his brilliant best against Kilkenny as he fell to his knees at the final whistle after knocking over four brilliant points. I asked Michael for his opinion on the criticism Gleeson has got and where he feels the Mount Sion mans best position is
“ I don’t think the criticism of him has been fair often if you look at the marquee players in any county if its Tony Kelly, Joe Canning , Patrick Horgan , TJ Reid is probably different in the his form never dips but if you look at Joe Canning particularly in the early part of his career whenever Galway lost they blamed him but he was being judged at a different standard than any other player because if a normal player went out and scored 2 or 3 points from play people would be saying he had a great game, it’s the same with Austin Gleeson now he’s set that sort of standard for himself all players who have that sort of greatness about them they get judged off a different standard than your normal player we seen glimpses of him return to his best but then he was just immense in the second half against Kilkenny and Waterford will be looking for that for the whole game on Sunday. I think giving him a loose role is a little bit dangerous because depending on the type of player you are you can drift along in games and I think that happens to him at times so I would probably like to see him in a more defined role at 11 or 9 so that he’s in the middle of it I don’t think he is suited to being on the fringes and picking up loose ball I think he’s better off in the thick of the action “
One of the features of limericks play has been their half forward line of Tom Morrissey ,Gearoid Hegarty and Cian Lynch they scored 0-12 against Galway and if Waterford are to win they will have to close down this Trio a lot better than Galway did
“If Waterford do push up on them then Limerick will play more direct into the full forward line in the munster final Mulcahy scored 4 points and Casey got 3 so they have two ways of playing and that’s what makes them so dangerous if you play a sweeper like Galway did then the Limerick half forward line will drift out and get on the ball that’s the dilemma for Liam Cahill , I think Cian Lynch is a phenomenal player but he’s a big loss in midfield Darragh O’Donovan and Will O’Donoghue are quite similar i think the dynamic of Lynch with one of them would be better but Lynch is awesome wherever he plays”
Tadhg De Burca has been in great form all year his role will be key in the final and in the forwards Stephen Bennett and Dessie Hutchinson have been lively. Michael explains how he thinks Waterford will approach the game and about some of the potential Matchups
“I think Waterford will be trying to keep it fairly tight at the start they will be dropping players back De Burca will be picking up ball and trying to work it out , against Limerick in the munster final they started to go long with a lot of their puckouts and Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon and Kyle Hayes were unbeatable in the air that day. I think they will start off with De Burca probably trying to sit in front of the full backline and they maybe as the game develops go with a plan B if they have to. Sean Finn will probably pick up Hutchinson he tends to do the man marking job, Jack Prendergast tends to go out the field and that will suit Barry Nash because he plays a lot of his hurling in the half backline, Stephen Bennett has been incredible but I don’t think you’ll see Limericks half backline changing for him and if he goes inside Dan Morrissey will probably pick him up. I think the transition will be key and how quick both teams can do it Diarmuid Byrnes Declan Hannon and Kyle Hayes can all score from play and we seen with Waterford too De Burca and Shane Mcnulty got up from corner back to get a point Waterford had twelve different scorers that’s the modern game you need to have shooters everywhere it’s not like the old days where you had a couple of forwards who were doing all the scoring”
Whatever happens on Sunday Michael thinks both teams would be popular winners but he’s backing the treaty county to shade it.
I’m really looking forward to it whatever way it goes limerick have only won two all Irelands in the last 50 years so I think they will be popular winners as well but I think everyone in the country would love to see Waterford breaking the hoodoo. I think Limerick will win because they are the best team it’s as simple as that if you look at their record they won the all ireland in 2018 they lost to Kilkenny in 2019 they’ve won two munsters two national leagues and they are back in the final this year they are so consistent they have savage players a savage bench and a great manager while Waterford have a lot of that too I just think Limerick are that step ahead of them I think it will be tight but I expect limerick to squeeze home by 3 or 4.