The tale of the tape as Galway face up to Limerick this weekend reads like middleweight versus super heavyweight.

The Tribe are in reboot mode, trying to find a potent mix of hurling and athleticism in the post-Joe Canning era. Losing an arm-wrestle to Kilkenny and falling over the line against Cork has buried them deep in the long grass.

Could we be in for a shock? An ambush? A Kilkenny 2019-esque performance to scramble the green machine's wiring?

Galway will fancy putting it up to Limerick, but it is difficult to see how they can impose their will in the way that the Tribe’s 2015-18 side did to the majority of opposition.

Limerick don’t simply go out and hurl, putting themselves at the mercy of an opposition’s game plan. It’s on their terms, pressing from all angles, and with a hint of Moneyball to how they move through the lines while taking care of the ball.

In knockout hurling at Croke Park at the latter end of the season, this massive cauldron can feel like a small, walled club pitch. Players are at their most intense, are dying for every ball, and any dallying will be met with physical contact. Time and space are endangered luxuries.

No team puts the squeeze on quite like Limerick, has the same power and ability to hunt in packs, or quite as regularly ends a period of playing with their fist pumping in your direction.

They are the biggest beasts in the jungle and play like a team that knows they will come out on top, even in a tight finish. It started against Kilkenny in the 2018 All-Ireland quarter-final, continued against Cork in the semi, once more in the final against Galway, and has been a recurring theme ever since — with the sole blip coming against Kilkenny in 2019.

When their own long famine ended in 2017, Galway were very much the team to beat, but the landscape has shifted since. One win in eight championship games at Croke Park since their Liam MacCarthy Cup success five years ago suggests they are not the same team.

Galway are missing New York resident Johnny Glynn (L) and retired Joe Canning

Nor how could they be? 6’5" Johnny Glynn was in a full-forward line alongside hurling’s answer to the Tasmanian Devil, Conor Whelan, and Conor Cooney. Canning floated from centre-forward, big Joseph Cooney was at his peak on the wing, with Cathal Mannion zipping from hither to yon. Jason Flynn and Niall Burke — two big, if not overly physical, attackers — came off the bench to drive Galway over the line in that final against Waterford.

It was a brilliant combination of steel and silk — an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove. Times changed as Glynn and Canning left, key men such as Gearoid McInerney, Davy and Daithi Burke added further miles to the clock, while the youngsters are still in the process of filling out their britches.

Whelan is one of the few players who, if we reduce the conversation to physical appearance alone, would look right at home in a green shirt on Sunday. He is perhaps more Limerick than Limerick themselves.

The Kinvara man needs his teammates to break even outfield so as to give him a chance for one-v-one raids on goal. Without a glut of green flags, it is difficult to see how Galway can win.

They will also need to play for 70-plus minutes, which was certainly not the case when Kilkenny broke their spirit in the second half of the Leinster final. Just four points scored from the 44th minute until the finish line, and only one from play through Cianan Fahy.

Limerick's Barry Nash tries to stop Conor Whelan during the sides' league clash in February

Jack Grealish’s early goal against Cork was a huge error by goalkeeper Patrick Collins, the second came when Whelan profited from Sean O’Donoghue losing the flight of the ball on 18 minutes. In between, they were massively outplayed but the Rebels returned only 0-03 from 1-11’s worth of chances. The form guide is worrying.

So now, a forward line led by players who previously tapped the ball over after a giant had won it for them must instead find a way to impose themselves on Limerick. Velvet alone won’t be enough.

Brian Concannon must return to the form of the 2020 All-Ireland semi-final when Galway pushed the Treaty close, Tom Monaghan and Cathal Mannion need huge games, while Grealish and Morrissey must hold their own as they orbit the space around Daithi Burke. New leaders must rise, and older ones have to roll back the years.

Can they do all of the above, especially given their poor record on this pitch since last climbing the steps? What makes it seem so unlikely is that this Limerick team is now clearly challenging Kilkenny 2006-10 as the best side of the modern era.

In that five-year stretch under Brian Cody, the Cats won 21 of 22 games and by an average margin of 9.7 points. John Kiely’s side have won 22 of 28 matches since the start of 2018, with two draws and four losses, and with an average winning buffer of 6.7 points.

Should they claim the All-Ireland title this season, this team will have claimed four in five years — with the only defeat of real consequence being to Kilkenny in 2019, which was their most recent summer loss.

What makes the latter’s run extra impressive is winning it twice in the round-robin provincial era and, being realistic, doing it through a Munster championship which is far more cutthroat than Leinster 2006-10.

This is what faces Galway on Sunday. Should they come of age on this day, against this green machine, it may herald a new era under Henry Shefflin.

Follow the All-Ireland Hurling Championship semi-finals this weekend, Kilkenny v Clare (5.30pm on Saturday) and Limerick v Galway (3.30pm on Sunday), via our live blog on rte.ie/sport or on the RTÉ News app. Watch live coverage on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player with live radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1

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