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all-ireland final Why Hegarty is the key man in the middle for the Treaty

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Gearóid can win piggy-in-the-middle battle for Limerick today

Gearóid can win piggy-in-the-middle battle for Limerick today

Gearóid can win piggy-in-the-middle battle for Limerick today

EVEN though the buzz around the games has been missing, the 2020 championship has been really worthwhile.

Point scoring has gone off the Richter scale and hitting a wide is now rare due to the unbelievable accuracy of modern-day players .

It is no surprise Limerick are contesting their second final in three years. Even before the lockdown, they were motoring.

And they have already bagged the other two big trophies this year – the league and the Munster title.

The big question is where did this Waterford side come from?

Great credit is due to their rookie boss, Liam Cahill, and his coach, Mikey Bevans.

Even in winter conditions, they have brought flair and excitement back into the Waterford game.

They have reverted to basics. The players are enjoying their hurling because they can express themselves by playing the game to their own individual strengths, while still managing to perform within certain parameters.

Limerick are now a better team than they were when they won the All-Ireland two years ago. They have absorbed the lessons from last year’s semi-final defeat by Kilkenny and improved their game accordingly.

They are not nearly as predictable and have more options when they attack. Goalscoring is the only part of their game they have not perfected. The points keep rolling and, some day, the goals will come too.

Kyle Hayes’s move to wing-back has tightened up their defence. While it has reduced their pace in attack and lessened their goalscoring threat, it has given them the option to create an overlap, which makes it easier to score from their half-forward line.

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Gearoid Hegarty scores his side's first goal of the game against Waterford during the league

Gearoid Hegarty scores his side's first goal of the game against Waterford during the league

Gearoid Hegarty scores his side's first goal of the game against Waterford during the league

In some respects, Waterford are ahead of schedule, but they have the ability to challenge Limerick’s dominance in the middle third.

No other team is, potentially, as strong under their own long puck-outs. Jack Fagan is courageous and excellent in the air, as is Austin Gleeson.

The Déise need to win primary possession in this area of the field – which, of course, is where Limerick link man Gearóid Hegarty can do most damage – and slow down the Treaty’s superb counter-attacking game.

Reduce

It would also put the Limerick defence on the back foot and reduce the number of energy-snapping battles or rucks on the ground, which, in turn, would help the younger, lighter, faster Waterford players run at the Treaty’s defence.

This is easier said than done, but I feel it is Waterford’s best chance of success.

The problem for Waterford is that, unlike Limerick, they are not yet battle-hardened, and there are inconsistencies in their forward line.

Apart from Stephen Bennett, who is having a terrific year and using his strength and hurling brain to keep the scoreboard ticking over, most of his colleagues have only performed sporadically. Gleeson has tremendous skill – but, for Waterford to win, he has to show leadership and a strong mentality.

If the Déise cannot gain the upper hand in the half-forward line, their inside-forward line will suffocate. The Waterford defence will be depending on how hard their midfield and forwards work.

The Déise half-back line has a mixture of personalities. Kevin Moran will spend the afternoon in a dogfight with the excellent Hegarty, and Calum Lyons has been a revelation – his work rate and willingness to drive forward has been an inspiration.

Tadhg de Búrca is having an unbelievable season. His link-up play with Jamie Barron is a feature of Waterford’s game. Kieran Bennett will operate as a defensive midfielder, which facilitates the link between De Búrca (inset) and Barron.

However, Limerick are not as dependent on individual players.

It would be marvellous for Waterford to win their first title since 1959. Though their relatively youthful team is blessed with pace, they may find the Limerick game-plan so energy-sapping, that they may not last the distance.

At times during the year, Limerick have looked complacent. But, today, I expect them to bring their A game to Croke Park and get the job done.

VERDICT: Limerick

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