Champions Galway face a young and hungry Limerick side in what promises to be a hugely exciting clash for the All-Ireland title on Sunday. Resident GAA expert Kieran O'Connor previews the game...
"I expect Galway to start fast, they will want to build up a lead in the first half, as they know that Limerick have the stronger bench. Limerick will do their best to stick with Galway and if they are still in it with 10 minutes to go it really is anybody's game."
Galway v Limerick
Live on Sky Sports Arena
It has been one of the best Hurling Championships in recent memory with the new round robin system proving to be a huge hit. Yes, there were some teething problems but the quality of the games has ensured that this system will be here to stay. It has left us with two teams left that, on paper, look to be the strongest 15 in the game, Galway, taking on the strongest panel in the game, in Limerick.
Positive injury news for Galway
For Galway, it appears as if their recent injury concerns are easing. Daithí Burke came through the semi-finals against Clare looking relatively comfortable. Gearóid McInerney is winning the battle to be ready for action Sunday. At the time of writing, there was still a little question mark over John Hanbury's ankle but the word is he will play. All in all, Galway look strong and will be once again looking to likes of Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney and of course Joe Canning to fire them to victory on Sunday.
Can Limerick rise to the occasion?
These types of day are now familiar for Galway, who reached the finals in 2012, 2015 and last year, but the same cannot be said for Limerick. It is the Shannonsiders' first final appearance since 2007 and will be interesting to see how a young side who have had a huge amount of success at underage and club level respond to being on the biggest stage of them all.
Throw in the fact that this hurling mad county has not won the All-Ireland since 1973 and you have a huge weight on some young shoulders come Sunday. No matter what happens from here, the future for Limerick looks very bright with the likes of Graeme Mulcahy, Aaron Gillane and super sub Shane Dowling all starring for them this year.
The big question is of course. Has this final appearance come a little early for this Limerick team? Can they challenge a Galway side that looked so dominant last year and at times this year? In many ways this Limerick outfit are reminiscent of Galway in 2012. That year Galway were in their first final in seven years and a young team came up against a wily Kilkenny side. That game was a draw and Kilkenny ran away with the replay. A lesson for Limerick, they must win on Sunday; a draw and Galway would be heavily fancied to win the replay.
Can Limerick win this? Yes, of course. Their epic semi-final victory against Cork will have left them full of confidence and ready to go at Galway. Will they win? Probably not. Despite all the positives for Limerick, they are playing a very settled Galway side, a side that has come through their building period and are the current All-Ireland holders.
Galway's full back line is by far the strongest that the Limerick forwards will have faced and we all know how dangerous Galway's forwards are with Joe Canning once again proving this year why he is the best hurler in the country.
An entertaining encounter is on the cards
I expect Galway to start fast, they will want to build up a lead in the first half, as they know that Limerick have the stronger bench. Limerick will do their best to stick with Galway and if they are still in it with 10 minutes to go it really is anybody's game. The way this year has gone the draw at 9/1 is a tempting bet and while I do expect Galway to win the smartest bet could be backing Limerick on the handicap of +2 at 5/6.
The overs on the game stands at 51.5 and that seems about right. The All-Ireland tends to be a high scoring event. 61 points in 2016, 62 in 2014. Adding to that, is the fact we have seen some extremely high scores in some of the games this year. Backing overs at 5/6 looks the way to go and is better value than over 2.5 goals at 8/15.
Our hurling final preview last year tipped up a sideline cut to be scored at 5/2. No luck of similar value this year as it's 4/9 but it is however definitely one to put in to any accas you are doing on the match. With Joe Canning around and Limerick fond of going for it too it looks highly likely one will go over the bar.