Waterford 0-11; Limerick 1-8
A classic this may not have been, but somehow this rain-soaked Munster semi-final provided a finish which frayed the nerves, trimming many a finger tip inside the ‘Field of Legends’.
That the Deisemen found themselves hanging on against a Limerick team whose ultimate attitude was alien from their first half effort could have been scarcely envisaged at the interval.
That they added only two points to their tally in the second half was equally unforeseen from a Waterford perspective and they remain alive in the provincial competition largely due to Limerick’s profligacy in front of goal.
Come full-time, it was abundantly obvious which manager was the happier after a match containing more rough edges than a shoddy Leaving Cert woodwork project.
Justin McCarthy cut a relaxed, largely satisfied figure while Davy Fitzgerald, riled by the treatment his son had received from a Munster Council official, was visibly emotional during his post-match comments.
Both were put through the wringer by their teams during this patchy affair which bore all the hallmarks of a Waterford cakewalk a half-hour into proceedings.
Indeed, the 2007 champions could have been out of sight had referee Diarmuid Kirwan awarded what appeared a stonewall penalty when Eoin McGrath was felled by Damien Reale in the 28th minute.
A goal then would have put Waterford six points up and the momentum of that score could well have led to an even more sizeable lead at half-time. But Limerick rode their luck and went in just two goals down when they ought to have trailed by considerably more.
The star of the opening half was John Mullane, sporting the latest in hamstring injury protection. The De La Salle attacker led the Limerick defence a merry dance, landing four superb points from play as he once again filled the role of emotional leader on the paddock.
While Mullane was taking a succession of backs to the cleaners, Noel Connors hurled Donie Ryan out of the game, so much so that Ryan was replaced at half-time.
Limerick were living off crumbs, with Andrew O’Shaughnessy adrift from the action and Ollie Moran, as he was all game long, completely anonymous at centre-forward.
Niall Moran, who hit some very poor wides, eventually got his team off the mark after 11 minutes, by which time Waterford had 0-3 on the scoreboard.
By the time Seamus Hickey added a second, they still trailed by three points and for much of the first half, Limerick were just hanging on in the tie.
Critically, Waterford failed to land a killer blow, despite Seamus Prendergast playing on his toe-tips while Eoin Kelly’s delicate wrist work had created a couple of decent openings.
As the second half loomed, Limerick returned to the fray while an angry cloud over Thurles emptied its contents onto an immaculate playing surface.
Supporters on the exposed stand seating made for cover like gazelles fleeing a starving lion as Waterford passed the Limerick men and onto the pitch.
After Fitzgerald’s charges spent a couple of minutes pacing in Old Testament-like conditions, Limerick eventually returned and the action resumed. And whatever words had been uttered by McCarthy at half-time clearly had the desired effect.
Two minutes in, substitute David Breen led the Shannonsiders’ fightback, slamming the ball into the Killinan goal after a jinking upfield run by wing forward James Ryan (also of WIT).
Two minutes later, Niall Moran tapped a free between the posts to reduce the margin to just two points. Waterford, unable to maintain possession, were reeling but an Eoin Kelly free in the 46th minute broke Limerick’s momentum – but only temporarily.
James Ryan added another point on 50 minutes after a glorious crossfield ball from Niall Moran while Moran himself reduced the arrears to the minimum as the game entered its deciding phase.
Had Limerick adjusted their shooting radar they would have been home and hosed, with poor striking from Mark Foley and Seamus Hickey to name but two letting Waterford off the hook.
With five minutes remaining, O’Shaughnessy picked an opportune time to open his account to bring the sides level for the first time in the match. By now it was all Limerick; the Deisemen reduced to a pale imitation of their first half effort.
On came Tony Browne and Gary Hurney as Waterford sought to stem the green-tinted tide but again it was left to Mullane to lead his county, felled in possession with less than three minutes left on the clock.
Eoin Kelly duly converted the free, his sixth in total and Waterford led once more. But Limerick piled forward and it was only fair that they got another crack of the whip thanks to James Ryan’s last minute point.
While Justin looked pleased and Davy was a mixture of anger and relief, one felt the happiest man leaving Semple was Mr Brian Cody C/O Nowlan Park. They’ll meet again at the same venue next Saturday and they’ll surely provide a better contest than this.
Waterford: Clinton Hennessy; Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, Noel Connors; Kevin Moran, Michael Walsh, Richie Foley; Shane O’Sullivan, Stephen Molumphy; Seamus Prendergast, Ken McGrath, Jamie Nagle; John Mullane, Eoin Kelly, Eoin McGrath. Subs: Dan Shanahan for Eoin McGrath (44 mins), Gary Hurney for Ken McGrath, Tony Browne for Shane O’Sullivan (both 65 mins).
Scorers: Eoin Kelly (0-6f), John Mullane (0-4), Seamus Prendergast (0-1).
Limerick: Bryan Murray; Damien Reale, Stephen Lucey, Mark O’Riordan; Stephen Walsh, Brian Geary, Mark Foley; Donal O’Grady, Seamus Hickey; James Ryan, Ollie Moran, Niall Moran; Andrew O’Shaughnessy, James O’Brien, Donie Ryan. Subs: David Breen for James O’Brien (30 mins), Denis Moloney for Stephen Walsh, Donncha Sheehan for Donie Ryan (both HT), Paul Browne for O’Shaughnessy (68 mins).
Scorers: Niall Moran (0-4; 0-2f), David Breen (1-0), James Ryan (0-2), Seamus Hickey and Andrew O’Shaughnessy (0-1 each).
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).