Powerful Limerick too strong for Waterford in NHL decider

There can’t have been too many quibbles from Déise supporters on the spin home from Croker on Sunday. In adding the League title to their Liam MacCarthy success, Limerick demonstrated the sort of lean and hungry look to their game that was, for so long, the exclusive forté of Brian Cody’s Kilkenny. While winning successive All-Ireland titles nowadays comes with much longer odds than once it did, all the more so in attempting to escape the Munster gravel trap, that Limerick are the team to beat in 2019 is, from this juncture, inescapable.

Austin Gleeson pictured as Limerick’s Declan Hannon receives the National Hurling League trophy on Sunday last

Austin Gleeson pictured as Limerick’s Declan Hannon receives the National Hurling League trophy on Sunday last

All-Ireland holders and now League champions, one can safely assume the post-match chat in the Limerick dressing room swiftly addressed the prospect of claiming provincial honours this summer. A team with three trophies on the sideboard prior to the All-Ireland series will have built up a serious head of steam and by then could take some stopping. And on Sunday last, the hurling world might just have caught sight of the senior code’s latest immovable object.

And as I sat in an atypical position for me on match day, scribbling observations from a perch in the lower deck of the Davin Stand, without the views of colleagues or radio commentary colouring my perspective one way or the other, Limerick’s quality was what struck me most.
Even taking the 16 wides they struck into account, some from positions that would bisect the uprights in another day, the crispness of their passing, their aerial combativeness and the inter-changing of their forwards hit me right between the eyes. John Kiely’s team may no longer bear ‘Sporting Limerick’ on their jerseys, but most of what they did on Sunday last was loaded with momentum.

Waterford, slow to rise from the blocks again at HQ, did superbly well to work themselves back into the contest to trail by just a point after 26 minutes. By then, one felt that Paraic Fannng’s men required the next score to further up the ante and raise the volume levels among the travelling support. Instead, despite the best efforts of an again excellent Stephen O’Keeffe, the silky wrist of Aaron Gillane brilliantly diverted Tom Morrissey’s deep ball into the Waterford net. Limerick led by four, extended that lead to five points by the half-time break and thereafter established a stranglehold on the contest.

And while the partisan in me longed to see Waterford’s attackers surging at the Limerick defence and posing major problems for Treaty goalkeeper Nickie Quaid, the objective hurling observer in me couldn’t avoid being impressed by a Limerick defence that only coughed up six points from play. There are those days when your team is beaten by a superior outfit and Sunday last was undoubtedly one of those days.

At no stage during the contest did a Waterford head drop. Tadhg De Búrca fielded several high balls superbly, with Shane McNulty again doing some tidy work down the right corner. Jamie Barron ferreted as best he could but didn’t get to impose his will on the game as he has over the previous three weeks. Jack Prendergast was a lively presence following his introduction while Stephen Bennett still landed three points from play, with a few bounces of the ball not working in either his or brother Shane’s favour. Limerick’s quality represented a considerable step up for Waterford on Sunday, yet with five minutes remaining at Croker, the Déise were still within two scores of salvaging something from a contest in which they had firmly played second fiddle.

Doggedness is a quality which served Waterford well this spring, both in victory and defeat. It’s something they’ll need to tap into once the temperature goes up a few notches come the Championship throw-in.

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