When thinking of hurling rivalries, one’s mind immediately thinks of the historic big three. Kilkenny, Cork, and Tipperary.
The sheer thought of one of those tandems going head to head sends your mind racing back to historic games from an era gone by. However are we in the midst of another rivalry for the ages brewing? It has been percolating in the shadow for 125 years.
The very first meeting of Kilkenny and Limerick took place on 30 October 1898 to decide the destination of the 1897 All-Ireland crown. Limerick came out 3-4 to 2-4 winners to claim the first All-Ireland title for the treaty, leaving The Cats to wait until 1904 to grab their first of many.
The two sides had to wait until 1933 for their first championship clash of the century, with the 1911 final being awarded to Kilkenny after Limerick refused to play over disputes about the location. In front of over 45, 000 people at Croke Park in, a record attendance, Bennetsbridge man Jonah Dunne scored a crucial goal to secure the first victory over Limerick in a championship clash ever, and the second of four All Irelands that decade. In the decade Kilkenny contested a total of seven All-Ireland finals, while Limerick was in four. Three of those finals were against each other, with the title coming back to Noreside twice (1933-35) and Shannonside(1936). Although Limerick did turn over the decade winning the final over their familiar rivals by two goals in 1940.
It would be over 30 years before they met again, once again at the final stages with Limerick winning in 1973, their last Liam McCarthy until 2018. This was the first final appearance of one Mr. Brian Cody, who captain the Kilkenny minor team to All Ireland victory. They did have a chance to make it back-to-back trophies though, unfortunately for them Kilkenny got revenge for the previous year’s defeat with Eddie Keher scoring 1-11, in a 3-19 to 1-13 win.
While The Cats certainly kicked on in the following years, Limerick had only made it to three finals by the time they next came up against the Black and Amber in 2005. Losing to Galway in 1980, Offaly in 1994, and Wexford in 1996, the side were a long way from the side we have come to know. After Pad Joe Whelan left his managerial role following the end of the National League, Joe McKenna took over for the championship. With Brian Cody well and truly in his flow and about to embark on a string of final successes not seen since Cork in the 40s, Limerick succumbed to a five-point defeat.
See also: Kilkenny v Limerick All Ireland Senior Hurling Final (02/09/2007)
Two years later, for the first time since 1974, both sides met in the final. Leading them now, was Limerick’s top scorer in that 1974 defeat Richard Bennis. Kilkenny charged ahead going 2-2 up, which proved to be a mountain too big to climb despite an Ollie Moran goal in the second half, and it was the fourth final loss for The Treaty since 1973.
In a first Championship match outside of Croke Park, Limerick met Kilkenny in another quarter-final in Semple Stadium. Henry Shefflin hit the back of the net twice, while Aidan Fogarty and Colin Fennelly got one each, to see Brian Cody’s side advance on a 4-16 to 1-16 win. For the first time at the semi-final stage, Leinster champs Kilkenny met defeated Munster finalists Limerick, with Richie Hogan and Owen Larkin goals securing a 2-13 to 17-point victory. the two sides met also in 2017 in the preliminary stages, with Kilkenny coming out on top once again.
See also: Limerick v Kilkenny, All Ireland Senior Hurling Semi-Final 2019
In 2019, both sides met for only the second time at the semi-final stages, with Limerick coming into the encounter as reigning and defending All Ireland Champions. Kilkenny pulled off one of the shocks of the season when they managed to claim one of the most famous victories of the Brian Cody era with a one-point defeat of Limerick. It was vintage Kilkenny. However, there was no doubt that Limerick were by far the strongest side in Ireland and had blown their chances of a second All-Ireland title in a row.
The last meeting was in 2002 and was a final for the ages, Brian Cody’s last game at the helm ended in a spirited defeat to a team who secured their third consecutive crown. Both sides somehow seemed to put in their best performances of the season in almost unbearable heat as Croke Park welcomed more than 80,000 people for the showpiece event for the first time since 2019. Gearoid Hegarty powered through the Kilkenny back-line in the early stages as the Treaty scored the first 1-03 without reply. John Kiely’s men continued to pick off their points, however, and despite exhausting everything they had as individuals and collectively, the Kilkenny players were left to ponder coming so close, but yet so far.
Keep an eye on Scoreline.ie and an ear on KCLR as another chapter gets written into the history books. Kilkenny and Limerick meet once again in the 2023 decider, and the question for now is, will the cup be going Shannonside or Noreside?