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Galway must improve from Cork win but even that may not be enough against relentless Limerick machine

Tempers flared during the Allianz League game between Limerick and Galway in February
Seamus Maloney

All-Ireland SHC semi-final: Limerick v Galway (tomorrow, Croke Park, 3.30pm, live on RTÉ2 & Sky Sports Arena)

THERE’S a school of thought that the best thing that can happen a team is to win without playing well. Survive and advance.

You’re still in the competition and you have some things work on. But part of Galway’s problem heading into tomorrow’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Limerick is that while they beat Cork in the quarter-final as arguably the second best team, that was more to do with Cork than Galway.

The Rebels were astonishingly wasteful in Thurles, especially in the first half which they finished five points behind when they should have been out of sight.

If they take a fraction of their glaring chances – even just in the first 10 minutes when they managed just one point from 10 shots – they probably win at a canter. Two of those chances should have produced goals, while at the other end glaring individual errors gifted two to Galway.

But Galway came through, and now they face Limerick, who don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And absolutely will not stop until you are beaten.

But this Terminator built by the Shannon, bidding to become the first county outside the big three of Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary to win three Liam MacCarthy titles in-a-row, isn’t invincible. It just sometimes looks that way.

Limerick’s last Championship defeat was three years ago when Kilkenny caught them in the All-Ireland semi-final.

That too was a case of a team shaking off a provincial final defeat with a narrow quarter-final win over Cork before scraping past a Treaty side waiting a month since a Munster final win.

Omens alone won’t be enough for Galway, but that Kilkenny template, tearing into Limerick from the start and staying alive deep enough into the fight to make the smallest margin count, looks like the most likely path to success for Henry Shefflin’s men tomorrow.

But the sounds coming out of the Limerick camp are ominous for Galway, and whoever emerges from Kilkenny v Clare this evening.

While the long break until the All-Ireland semi has worked against provincial champions in the past, Limerick manager John Kiely says it was “exactly what we needed” after their epic extra-time win over Clare.

“Our injury list is very tidy at this stage,” Kiely added. “Which means our sessions are probably the best they have been all season.” Just what the rest want to hear.

That injury list used to contain long-term cruciate victims Peter Casey and Barry Murphy, both of whom are now fully fit.

And then there’s Cian Lynch, the reigning Hurler of the Year who hasn’t featured since a hamstring injury forced him off just eight minutes into their second Munster round robin match against Waterford in April.

That Limerick were able to negotiate their way through Munster without him shows their strength. Plugging him back into a machine he’s so often made purr is an almost unfair luxury for Kiely. Having him behind glass to be broken in case of emergency could be even worse. Small things can turn matches like this. Cian Lynch is no small thing.

What turned the League meeting between the sides in February was Gearoid Hegarty’s red card at the start of the second half.

Galway were trailing by two when Hegarty saw the line and they scored the last seven points to take the win.

It was Galway’s second successive victory over Limerick, having beaten them in the League the previous May. But that was the high point of that season, the Championship ending in a Leinster semi-final loss to Dublin and the departure of Shane O’Neill after two seasons as manager.

The previous year his Tribe side came the closest anyone has to beating Limerick during their most recent Championship runs.

It’s a match Galway will look back on as a missed opportunity, an All-Ireland semi-final they lost by three points but saw Cathal Mannion off with injury in the first half and Joe Canning departing the same way with the contest there to be won.

Canning went off in the 69th minute, but that was a full 10 minutes before the final whistle was blown, and with the sides level.

Canning’s exit came after being concussed in a collision with team-mate Joseph Cooney but it was first-half incident involving the Portumna man that arguably made the biggest difference.

Despite what current Galway manager Shefflin said in his role as RTÉ pundit at the time, Gearoid Hegarty absolutely should have been sent off for his reckless strike across Canning’s back in the first half.

Discipline, on both sides, will be key tomorrow. If the personnel ledgers balance, the advantage looks to rest with the reigning champions.

While they got away with one against Cork, the good news for Galway is that they did improve from their listless display in the Leinster final loss to Kilkenny.

But another step up is required, the biggest in the game today, and it should prove to much, leaving Limerick back in the All-Ireland final.

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