It’s difficult to take at face value how Limerick imploded down by the Lee

Inside Track with John McIntyre

By Jove, that was an unexpected horror show from the Limerick hurlers at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Saturday evening. Remarkably, it was the All-Ireland champions’ first defeat in a knock-out match in five years, making their eight-point loss to Kilkenny in the league semi-final something of a sporting bombshell.

The Shannonsiders – chasing a record-breaking fifth All-Ireland title on the trot this summer – have been tagged as unbeatable given their sustained period of dominance and consistency, but they were a pale imitation of their normal selves in surrendering their league crown down by the river Lee.

Frankly, Limerick were too bad to be true. Their play was riddled with unforced errors and some of their marquee players were really out of sorts. Cian Lynch – twice Hurler of the Year – was frequently turned over in possession, while some of their defending and shooting bordered on the shocking. They played like a team which had been out ‘on the town’ the previous night.

Apart from Cathal O’Neill and abrasive midfielder Will O’Donoghue, this was a match to forget for Limerick. Declan Hannon, Aaron Gillane, Lynch, and Gearóid Hegarty were all replaced, while multiple All-Star defender Seán Finn didn’t look physically right in his first start after a serious knee injury.

With all the speculation about teams’ shadow-boxing in the hurling and football leagues, we wonder did Limerick deliberate target a bad display to give them extra time (and motivation) for the championship or, perhaps, it’s the first sign that the wear and tear of the past six years is catching up on them.

Only time will tell, but Limerick’s eclipse will spark renewed optimism in opposition camps that the team’s best days are behind them. Kilkenny may have been typically goal-hungry last Saturday, but the All-Ireland champions’ normal defensive security was absent. It’s rare to see a Limerick back isolated one on one but it happened multiple times in the league semi-final, with Eoin Cody and TJ Reid exploiting that situation with first-half goals.

Pictured: Tuam’s Ian Murphy is about to be challenged by Sligo’s Hubert Gilvarry during Sunday’s Connacht Junior Plate Final at Dexcom Stadium. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

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