It's crunch time in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship as reigning champions Limerick face off with a red-hot Kilkenny side at Croke Park on Sunday.
Limerick are warm favourites as they bid to claim a fourth title in five years, but Kilkenny's brand of intense, hard-working and hard-hitting hurling should make Sunday's contest a gripping one.
Limerick v Kilkenny, All-Ireland senior hurling championship final
Croke Park, Dublin
15:30 Sunday 17th July
|How to watch||Sky Sports Arena|
|Odds||Limerick 4/9, Kilkenny 9/4, Draw 10/1|
A high standard is being set by the reigning champions, however, Kilkenny memorably stopped them in their tracks in the 2019 Al semi-final as they chased back-to-back wins in hurling's most prestigious competition.
It was Kilkenny's sublime intensity that caused problems on that occasion for the Munster side, who probably possessed more individual quality but couldn't cope with the Cats' pressure and were wasteful in shooting with 15 wides.
They might not acknowledge it, but it's widely believed that Limerick have been hugely motivated by that key loss for the years that followed. They would now likely be seeking a fifth All-Ireland title in a row had they not stumbled at the penultimate hurdle in 2019.
Their chance to banish the ghosts of that loss has come and temperatures will be high in more ways than one at Croke Park on Sunday as Ireland prepares for a heatwave.
Limerick, out to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup for a third successive year, have been pretty much unstoppable in the championship in recent seasons.
Victory over Galway earlier this month in the All-Ireland semi-final made it a fantastic 15 games unbeaten in this competition, although they were pushed hard in securing their final berth by three points.
It feels as though Limerick time their run to peak for the closing stages of the All-Ireland series, and that was evidenced in last year's final when delivering a devastating performance to beat Cork by a whopping 16 points.
Managed by John Kiely, the all-conquering Munster side scored 3-32 - the highest winning score ever achieved in an All-Ireland Senior Hurling final.
They haven't been operating at the same electrifying level in this year's championship yet have still been finding the answers to all the hard questions.
Limerick scored at least 30 points in each of their first three games in the Munster championship but drew with a talented Clare side in their final game of the round-robin series and were brought to extra time in the final by the same rivals.
However, they pulled out more in the additional 20 minutes to claim their fourth Munster crown in succession, the first time a Limerick side has managed to run up such a sequence since 1936.
We are clearly dealing with an exceptional outfit who are worthy favourites to add to their rich haul of silverware.
Despite facing a major task, Kilkenny are entitled to enter Sunday's tie with a fair deal of confidence after dismantling Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final earlier this month.
Those rivals didn't play to anything like their best on the day, but the Cats were particularly ruthless in the first half and looked full value for their 12-point margin of victory.
It's questionable as to whether we really saw the best of Galway when Kilkenny recorded a five-point win in the Leinster final. However, if taken literally, that form bodes well for the title chasers given Limerick were really tested by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.
They have the benefit of being coached by arguably the greatest manager of all time in Brian Cody, and can call on the magnificent TJ Reid in attack, while Mikey Butler has made an excellent impression in defence this season. The Cats are quite the team.
Given the proven quality and big-game experience within the Limerick camp, if the reigning champions play to their maximum potential then Kilkenny will need the performance of their lives to get a result.
Limerick -3 at 1/1 looks a solid selection, while over 27.5 Limerick points has appeal at 4/5 considering they scored 0-30 and 3-22 in their last two All-Ireland final appearances and have notched some impressive tallies over the course of the 2022 season.
Aaron Gillane has been in outstanding form and is particularly dangerous when Limerick feed a high diagonal ball towards his path. There could be goal opportunities for him if Kilkenny leave space between their half and full-back lines while pushing up to pressurise the Munster side's attack.
Odds of 7/4 about Gillane scoring a goal at anytime look more than fair as he attempts to cement his Hurler of the Year credentials with a strong final showing.