Michael Kiely

Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald acknowledges the Deise supporters at the final whistle last Saturday. photo: Michael Kiely

Waterford 0-25; Limerick 0-17

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A game that could have gone either way for an hour emphatically settled thanks to a storming finish by a superior Waterford side at a sunny Semple Stadium last Saturday evening.

Both teams played to a much higher standard than in the drawn game, but Waterford improved most on their previous performance, proving that there’s life in the Déise dog yet.

Stung by the criticism they and he had received during the week, Davy Fitzgerald’s chosen XV (showing two personnel changes, namely Tony Browne and Gary Hurney) started like they meant to go on, and finished with a flourish to win with eight points to spare in front of a disappointing crowd of 15,374, but not disappointed.

For the most part, however, it was a much closer contest, Limerick making the most of their first-half chances to stay in touch on scant possession.

Waterford led by three points to no score after the first few minutes and that was as big as the gap got at any stage before the break, by which time Limerick trailed by 0-10 to 0-8.

Indeed, with 12 minutes of the 70-plus remaining their lead was still just two, but when Waterford kicked for home Limerick had no response.

Though Eoin Kelly accounted for a dozen of the winners’ tally, all but three of those coming from placed balls, John Mullane was the undisputed man-of-the-match, scoring six scintillating points from play, three in each half, with strong supporting roles from Shane O’Sullivan and Seamus Prendergast among others.

Kelly’s free-count included a pair directly attributable to Mullane’s constant menace, which saw three markers try in vain to put a stop to his gallop.

Waterford co-captain Stephen Molumphy, though named at left-half-forward, was playing as a deep-lying centre-forward, dragging his marker Brian Geary out around midfield and creating space in behind.

Kelly was hovering in and beyond the left corner, and, having converted a nerveless free in the first few minutes, he popped over a sweet point off his left after a good claim by Hurney, and then set up Molumphy for a fine score on the opposite side.

Despite Limerick having the wind behind them, Waterford, registering four of the first five scores, were dominating the puck-outs and harrying and hustling all over the field.

Mullane, who scored four points in the stalemate six days earlier, signalled his intent after four minutes when, within seconds of Declan Prendergast foiling Denis Moloney, he latched onto an O’Sullivan delivery and bore down on goal only to see Brian Murray produce a fine point-blank save.

In the ninth minute Hurney, starting at full-forward, took down a long ball but couldn’t control the sliotar sufficiently and the chance went west.

Soon after Mullane jinked free to send over his first before Seamus Hickey replied. After good work by Seamus Prendergast, Mullane clipped over an absolute pearler from the most acute of angles on 11 minutes. James Ryan then scored a lovely point from the centre of the park, a sector which was being otherwise dominated by O’Sullivan in particular and his midfield partner Kevin Moran.

Nip and tuck

On the quarter-hour Kelly made light of the stiff breeze to fizz over a free from halfway, immediately followed by a long-range Niall Moore effort for the Shannonsiders.

Almost straight away Seamus Prendergast, fed by Molumphy, shortened his grip and lofted over a sweet angled point from the left, but Paul Browne hit back in kind from the opposite flank as the proverbial nip and tuck continued. And when Moore broke through the centre and tapped over it was back to a one-point game.

On 20 minutes Jamie Nagle, selected in the corner but operating at right-half forward, found Mullane who led Damien Reale a merry dance before slinging over a superb point from the right sideline.

James Ryan soon raised his second white flag following a scrappy passage of play as the exchanges around the Waterford half-back division became a vital battleground.

Kelly missed a free from distance and both Kevin Moran and Richie Foley required treatment as no quarter was asked or given; the tension epitomised by the first of several confrontations involving Mullane (now tormenting Denis Moloney) and his provocateur-in-chief, Limerick captain Mark Foley.

In the 25th minute Clinton Hennessy saved a ground shot from Paul Browne, but the same player should have done better than shooting tamely wide after he’d collected the Waterford ‘keeper’s untypically-careless clearance and sped into the danger area.

Tony Browne, hurling a heap of ball at left half-back, felt a heavy challenge from fellow veteran Ollie Moran, but Kelly couldn’t find the range from the resultant free.

Kevin Moran blew Seamus Hickey over the line with what looked a fair-enough shoulder and was unlucky to be booked by Offaly referee Brian Gavin. Niall Moran split the posts from the placed ball and the teams were level on eight points apiece with seven minutes to go to half-time.

The Waterford full-back line was watertight, with Eoin Murphy and Noel Connors shoring things up either side of the unspectacular but solid Declan Prendergast. At the other end Gary Hurney wasn’t getting much change out of Stephen Lucey either (albeit with limited supply) but his fellow frontrunners were doing plenty of damage.

On the half-hour mark Molumphy went on a marauding run at the heart of the Limerick defence only to be unceremoniously flattened by Geary, whose crude body check earned a yellow card as tempers flared. Mullane’s name also went into the book as he reacted to some heavy-duty provocation from any number of Limerick men. Geary’s mouth was bleeding as he went off for a bit of first-aid, but Molumphy came off worst: a lame leg meant he hobbled through what was left of the half, and didn’t reappear on the resumption, being replaced by Dan Shanahan.

In the meantime, with three minutes of injury-time added, Kelly, switched to centre-forward, had missed a relatively straightforward free, and also sent in a speculative crossbar scraper that Murray batted out for a 65 which the Passage clubman pointed.

He then nailed a free just before the short whistle after Mark O’Riordan saw yellow for a pull across Seamus Prendergast’s wrist, with Niall Moran having missed one for Limerick.

Superb scores

Not long after the change of ends the otherwise ineffective Andrew O’Shaughnessy knocked over a close-in free which he’d won himself to reduce the deficit to the bare minimum, before Nagle racked up two Waterford wides, the second shot from way out after selling a clever dummy.

Shanahan was in the thick of the action straight away, working back around midfield where the powerful O’Sullivan continued to hold sway, winning ball and linking well between defence and attack.

A Kelly free from the centre of the pitch put Waterford two to the good once more and he repeated the feat from a little further out a minute or so later.

Waterford centre-back Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh was becoming increasingly influential but Limerick weren’t prepared to lie down. David Breen, scorer of the only goal of the drawn game and one of three personnel changes from Justin McCarthy’s published team-sheet, whipped over a fantastic point from right on the far sideline on 45 minutes and when Richie Foley fouled Niall Moran on the other wing O’Shaughnessy cut the gap to just one again.

A couple of minutes later came arguably the score of a game graced by quality strikes. O’Sullivan out-jumped Seamus Hickey to seize a long clearance from ‘Brick’ Walsh and on landing turned and lashed an uplifting score between the posts.

Shanahan threaded a low ball forward to Mullane who finished unerringly, and Shanahan and Eoin McGrath (on for Nagle) combined to create another opportunity for Mullane who pointed with aplomb off his left.

Donal O’Grady replied from a similar position just before he was withdrawn, while Seamus Prendergast was shown a yellow after connecting with Mark O’Riordan beneath a dropping ball.

O’Shaughnessy pointed the subsequent free, and another after the tenacious Niall Moran was fouled, but from the puck-out Shanahan made a great catch and was fouled by Foley, and Kelly duly dispatched the placed ball.

Davy Fitz’ sent on Aiden Kearney for Richie Foley, with Browne reverting to his more familiar right half-back role to pick up the more troublesome of the Morans.

Mullane jinked free delightfully after being found by O’Sullivan to score his sixth, but ’07 young hurler of the year Hickey responded with a great point off his stick while on the run.

Seamus Prendergast passed to Kelly to hit a beauty straight and true from the right wing, before Niall Moran split the posts from the other sideline soon after.

Running battle

With Hennessy’s puck-outs in mind, Justin McCarthy withdrew Foley – thus ending his running ‘third-man’ battle with Mullane – and switched Seamus Hickey onto Shanahan in the hope of shoring up that aerial avenue of attack.

With two points separating the teams and an hour gone, Thomas Condon was introduced for O’Riordan and immediately set his sights on Mullane, a clear Limerick target throughout, with something of a rutting contest ensuing between the two.

A great block by Eoin McGrath out the field saw the ball break to Mullane who was met with a terrible high challenge by Condon who was lucky to stay on the field and Kelly punished the offence further by pointing the free.

‘Brick’ was lording it at this point, bursting out of defence time and again and finding men in space. One such lay-off inside to Seamus Prendergast in space enabled the big Ardmore man bisect the uprights to stretch Waterford’s lead to four with just over five minutes left.

Condon fouled Mullane again to give Kelly an easy free and his 10th point, while at the other end Breen burst through but was denied by a combination of Connors, Browne and Declan Prendergast, with the ensuing 65 coming to nought.

The older Prendergast athletically fetched a hand pass from ‘Brick’ and turned to send an inspirational point through the Town End uprights. Seconds later he struck another massive score after winning a 50-50 ball in midfield.

With Browne departing to a deserved ovation, replaced by James Murray for the last few minutes, Jack Kennedy – who came on after Kevin Moran was forced off with an ankle injury in the latter stages – was released by the busy Shanahan down the right, and the Ballyduff Lower man cut back in onto his left to arrow over a lovely point.

Niall Moran got Limerick’s last score of this year’s Munster championship before Hurney caught a huge Hennessy puck-out to draw a foul from Lucey, who was booked, and Kelly – who made several celebratory points to the critics – completed Waterford’s account. Seconds later he sprinted to the dugout to embrace Ken McGrath. The joint-captain and inspiration was on crutches, but Waterford walk on with hope in their hearts.

Limerick: B Murray; D Reale, S Lucey, M O’Riordan; D Moloney, B Geary, M Foley; D O’Grady (0-1), S Hickey (0-2); P Browne (0-1), J Ryan (0-2), N Moran (0-5, 2f); O Moran, D Breen (0-1), A O’Shaughnessy (0-5f). Subs: E Foley for O’Grady (47), G Mulcahy for Foley (58), T Condon for O’Riordan (60).

Waterford: C Hennessy; E Murphy, D Prendergast, N Connors; R Foley, M Walsh, K Moran; T Browne, S O’Sullivan (0-1); J Nagle, S Molumphy (0-1), S Prendergast (0-4); J Mullane (0-6), G Hurney, E Kelly (0-12, 8f, 1 65). Subs: D Shanahan for Molumphy (inj, half-time), E McGrath for Nagle (46), A Kearney for Foley (54), J Kennedy (0-1) for Moran (inj, 65), J Murray for Browne (70).

Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).