Donal O'Grady: Puck-outs the winning platform as Déise suffer restart meltdown

Waterford lost eight of 12 first half puck-outs and of the four they won, two were turned over immediately
Donal O'Grady: Puck-outs the winning platform as Déise suffer restart meltdown

Limerick players, from left, William O'Donoghue, goalkeeper Nickie Quaid and Seán Finn combine to block the shot of Neil Montgomery of Waterford during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Limerick and Waterford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

At half-time in the All-Ireland final, the most amazing thing was that Limerick only led by three points. They had been completely dominant in that first period and Waterford didn’t display the manic pressurising energy levels that they needed to overturn the favourites.

The Treaty served up a complete collective team performance in the first period, full of energy and enthusiasm. They displayed a huge workrate, hunting in groups and never allowed any Waterford player to settle in possession. The expectation that they might be unable to maintain that awesome energy through the second half might have given some hope to their opponents at half-time.

However, their levels of energy and enthusiasm never dropped and, if anything, they actually went up a notch. 

The Déise were completely overwhelmed and the game took on the atmosphere of an exhibition game as Limerick’s skill, movement, and support play was imperious after half-time.

Waterford never looked like mounting a decisive comeback and the game was effectively over five minutes into the second half when Seamus Flanagan put Limerick seven points ahead.

Puck-out problems 

Waterford’s problems began at puck-out time. Limerick’s half-back-line completely dominated. Kyle Hayes, Limerick’s left-half-back (my man-of-the-match) gave a tour de force all through but particularly in that crucial first half.

He dominated under the puck-outs and set up counter-attacks, regularly joining in as he ran powerfully forward. Of the 18 Déise puck-outs in the first half, Stephen O'Keeffe struck 12 to his half-forward line. They lost eight of these and of the four they won, two were turned over immediately due to incessant Limerick pressure. O’Keeffe went short on six occasions but each time the following play resulted in Limerick possession. This was puck-out meltdown for Waterford.

On the other hand, Nickie Quaid only lost three. He picked out his targets easily and six points came directly from them. This provided a winning platform for the Treaty.

Limerick goalkeeper Nickie Quaid clears his lines ahead of Dessie Hutchinson. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Limerick goalkeeper Nickie Quaid clears his lines ahead of Dessie Hutchinson. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Limerick dominated the middle third in the first half. Waterford relied on seven Stephen Bennett frees to keep them in touch whereas Limerick scored 12 points from play to Waterford’s four. Limerick’s half-forwards constantly rotated, dropped deep into midfield, and defensively and offensively caused huge problems for their markers.

Waterford had done well against this line in the Munster final. It was obvious, however, from the time of Tom Morrissey’s first-minute point, that Limerick had learned more than Waterford from that occasion.

Waterford would have had to suffocate Limerick with concerted pressure to have any chance. Extra bodies would have to arrive quickly into midfield to harry and harass Limerick and to knock them out of their stride. These required tactics never materialised. Instead, they were put into play by Limerick.

The men in green had the time and opportunity to pick out short or long passes to on-running colleagues, free of any real harassment.

Quality ball

The puck-out situation was a huge positive for Limerick and their physical strength and support running brought huge pressure to bear on an overworked if gallant Déise defence.

The quality of the ball was so good into the Limerick attack that the defenders had no chance and they were on the back foot from the start.

Pressure needed to be brought on any Limerick player in possession and particularly those delivering long balls into Aaron Gillane. However, in that first half when the game was a contest, the Déise were unable to land a punch of any consequence on their opponents.

Limerick always had a three-on-two in their full-back line and always had plenty of bodies back in time of danger. Waterford needed goals but they were never allowed to create clear chances except for Jack Fagan's effort in the second minute.

I was concerned last Friday night when the Waterford team was published. Liam Cahill had deviated from a working formula and had promoted Neil Montgomery to start. Montgomery had been to the forefront of an energy-driven team display when he came on in previous games but he failed to make an impression as a starter.

Jack Fagan’s early shot which whistled wide would have given the Déise confidence. For the rest of the game they took on shots for goals when points would have been the better option. They spurned four good point opportunities in the last quarter when they had the chance to close the gap to three or four points, which might have exerted some pressure on Limerick. 

However, though they tried manfully, Waterford never looked like really troubling the Munster and League champions.  Stephen O'Keeffe’s outstanding double save kept them in it before half-time but they were up against a superb outfit giving their best display of the season.

No matter the question, Limerick would have had the answer.

This team has the ability to make this a golden era for Limerick hurling. They are favourites already to annex next year's title and I wouldn’t bet against them winning a four- or five-in-a-row.

Congratulations to Declan Hannon, the panel of players, John Kiely, and his backroom team.

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