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Limerick see off Galway as Joe Canning is stretchered off

Shane Stapleton gives his instant reaction to Limerick’s 0-27 to 0-24 win over Galway in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final.

BY SHANE STAPLETON
Limerick perform with such assurance that their games are beginning to feel humdrum.

That’s not an insult, that’s simply the way of it just now as teams play with extra men back in the hope of stifling them.

Should you go man-on-man against John Kiely’s brigade, they will pick you apart and put up a big tally.

Should you post a sweeper in front of your ‘D’ as Waterford and now Galway have, you will find it difficult to break them down. Limerick are the team that can beat you any way you like it.

Shane O’Neill has an intimate knowledge of the opposition and knows better than most that they needed a spare man back, once again Padraic Mannion.

It did limit the impact of Graeme Mulcahy and Aaron Gillane, yet the lack of athleticism in that outnumbered Galway attack meant that they could not sufficiently put pressure on Limerick in the middle eight as they worked the ball upfield.

Conor Cooney and Joe Canning were largely bypassed from open play, Davy Burke was withdrawn at half time after having little impact, in-form Cathal Mannion came off injured on 24 minutes, while their half-back line was sundered.

Poring over the statistics of the game, it becomes clear that this was a three-point hammering. Galway scored just 0-10 from play, just half of what the victors returned.

Limerick claimed ten contested aerial balls to two, while only Brian Concannon and Conor Whelan of the starting Tribal forwards even finished the game (for one reason or another).

How often has a team credited their clawing on in the game to the knocking over of sideline cuts? Four times, Canning cut over beauties; Fintan Burke, who made an impact off the bench, swung over another.

An assault on a powerful team such as Limerick cannot be built on sidelines. Galway, to their credit, never gave in and were always within striking distance, though it never seemed as if they had the power to chin Kiely’s team.

Limerick will keep going and going, and their athleticism is summed up in how Gearoid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey and Kyle Hayes — their erstwhile comrade in the half-forward line — drive this team forward.

It goes without saying that they are a supremely skilful team, are coached well and play for each other, but they also wear teams down.

In the final minutes, Aidan Harte took a short puckout from Eanna Murphy and delivered it to an opposition player in Peter Casey, who in turn fed Adrian Breen to score — 0-25 to 0-23.

Two minutes later, Murphy sent a restart slightly high to Adrian Tuohey, who should have put his hurley up to it instead of his hand. Morrissey collected and did the needful — 0-26 to 0-24.

One minute later, Harte came across the 21-yard line and hit a tricky low ball to Sean Loftus who was quickly turned over by Hegarty for a converted free — 0-27 to 0-24.

Perhaps it was sloppy play from a Galway side that, unlike Waterford, is now carrying players who are slightly the wrong side of the hill.

They threw away a Leinster title, just about saw off 14-man Tipp, and bravely hung in for long spells here.

It was a step too far against a more vibrant Limerick side that dethroned them two years ago. Manager O’Neill may need to refresh his starting line-up for 2021, but the solutions are not so obvious.

Evan Niland came on and scored 0-2, including a pressure free from long range to level the game in the 65th minute.

Concannon, Loftus, Fintan Burke and Conor Whelan will remain key men who can drive the team on for the next five years.

A lead of 0-7 to 0-3 was just what they would have hoped for, but the Treaty rattled off seven of the next eight points to lead on 25 minutes. There was a sense that the green giants could step on the gas whenever it was required.

Seamus Flanagan — and Hayes with the rebound — could have found the net, while David Reidy also had an effort beaten away by Murphy, and it may be some small concern that they have found the net in just one of four championship games this season.

Still, they are averaging 0-30 per game (with the goals against Tipp converted to points), and their system means perceived weaknesses are rarely exposed.

Waterford have given them their best game this year, and their thrilling win over Kilkenny suggests we could have a final to savour on the horizon.

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