There was a tense finish here, perhaps more than it should have been, with Nickie Quaid coming out with the ball when the final whistle blew at the Gaelic Grounds, and Limerick and Waterford’s long-awaited clash in the second turned into a gripping match-half.
Limerick had established a commanding lead in the last ten minutes when two goals from Waterford reduced the gap to a single point. But they showed the composure of champions to see it home.
It was important for Waterford to take some of that with them in the event of defeat, having lost the 2020 All-Ireland final by 11 points and last year’s semi-final by an identical margin.
They will take solace in the way they fought back when the game seemed to have been taken from them. A run of seven unanswered points from Limerick saw them accelerate in the clear direction with Aaron Gillane rampant.
But commanding leads don’t really exist in slingshots, do they? Gillane struck his seventh in a row and his 13th overall, six from the game, in the 62nd minute to leave Limerick 28-0, 21-0. They had all the momentum and breeze, players like Tom Morrissey and Darragh O’Donovan propelling into the match. But then they had to dig deep into their character when their web trembled twice in two minutes.
First Stephen Bennett found space from 20 yards, two minutes later he helped build the second goal with an excellent stick pass to Calum Lyons, who served Jack Prendergast. He shot low past Quaid. Waterford had the opportunity to equalize and Limerick didn’t need a second invitation. Pat Ryan got a good result from the game and Diarmaid Byrnes landed a free, his fifth of the night, on top of the six he scored against Cork.
Limerick’s win is all the more commendable as they had already lost Cian Lynch to injury in the ninth minute, although the loss of Iarlaith Daly seemed to have a bigger impact on Waterford having done good policing until Gillane reached the point where he was in the left the field in the 29th minute.
Limerick held the smallest lead at the break, 0-14 to 0-13. With the game in injury time, Gillane shot over his seventh point of half-time to give them the lead for the first time in the game.
From there, after Daly was substituted, the Limerick forward scored three points from Conor Gleeson’s play-off and a free, which he won himself, by half-time. In the second half, Conor Prunty, who started on Gearóid Hegarty, was switched to Gillane but the Limerick forward was no easier to tame.
Waterford led for most of the first half and had a five-point lead when Calum Lyons scored his third point from play in the 17th minute, his second in a row after Waterford won the Limerick puck-out. They mixed it up well physically but Hegarty was still influential despite ending the first half with just a point from the game, winning Frees and feeling heavy for not winning more.
Referee Seán Stack did not endear himself to the home crowd, who vastly outnumbered Waterford, with a series of decisions against the All-Irelands champions, particularly over carrying over and throwing balls.
Limerick already had to test the strength of his squad in the championship and started in the full forward line without Peter Casey, who had been absent for many years, and Séamus Flanagan. The loss of Kyle Hayes added to that injury list. They brought in Conor Boylan in Hayes’ absence for his first championship start. It was the first time Hayes had not started since his championship debut in 2017. Boylan struggled to assert himself.
Waterford’s starting line-up had a few late changes. Austin Gleeson and Daly, both coming on for Tipperary, came on late on for Neil Montgomery and Carthach Daly. Lynch’s departure gave Cathal O’Neill an opportunity and he had scored within 60 seconds of arriving on the field and struck another later at half-time. O’Neill finished with three but also hit four wides.
Waterford had just one scoring chance in the first half when Mikey Kiely blocked a shot from Barry Nash before being intercepted by a typically solid Limerick defense. Kiely had the opportunity after good work from Jack Fagan as he captured the ball.
Stephen Bennett scored five points in the first half but did not report from the game for the second game in a week, while Gleeson’s five points total included a striking touchline hit from 55 yards. He also had a shot destined for the top corner which was brilliantly stopped by Mike Casey in the second half.
Limerick came out after the break and went four points ahead, but Waterford caught them again with Dessie Hutchinson to finish the game on five points. If there was one criticism of Waterford, it’s that they don’t use Hutchinson enough. But that’s a lesson for another day.
Goalscorers – Limerick: A Gillane 0-13 (7f); D. Byrnes 0-6 (5f); CO’Neill 0-3; G Hegarty, D O’Donovan, T Morrissey 0-2 each; P Ryan, D Reidy each 0-1. Waterford: Stephen Bennett 1-7 (1-6f, 0-1 ’65); A Gleeson 0-5 (3f, 1sl); D. Hutchison 0-5; CLyons 0-3; J Prendergast 1-0; P Curran 0-1.
Limerick: N Quaid; B. Nash, M. Casey, S. Finn; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; D O’Donovan, W O’Donoghue; G Hegarty, C Lynch, T Morrissey; G Mulcahy, A Gillane, C Boylan. Subs: C O’Neill for Lynch (inj 9); D Reidy for Boylan (51); Ryan for Mulcahy (57).
Waterford: S O’Brien; Gleeson C, Daly I, McNulty S; J Fagan, T de Burca, C Prunty; D Lyons, C Lyons; J Prendergast, P Curran, A Gleeson; Stephen Bennett, M Kiely, D Hutchinson. Subs: P Hogan for I Daly (inj 29); J Barron for D Lyons (50); N. Montgomery for Curran (67); C. Daly for De Burca (68); P Mahony for Kiely (72).
Referee: S Stack (Dublin)
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/limericks-green-machine-finds-extra-gear-to-drive-past-waterford-41581697.html Limerick’s green machine finds an extra gear to pass Waterford