However, despite the fact they had a numerical advantage after Waterford midfielder Tommy Prendergast was dismissed in the 13th minute, it was by no means an easy passage against the home outfit which hadn’t the forward strength to match their undoubted application.
The surprise from Limerick was that after a superb start garnering 1-2 inside nine minutes (all from Ger Collins), they failed to build on their advantage after Waterford lost Prendergast. Referee Syl Doyle made it clear it was for use of the elbow after appearing to fall awkwardly against his direct opponent, James O’Donovan. Just before that Conor McGrath had scored a second point for Waterford and then, in the 15th minute, Gary Hurney powered his way through the centre for an excellently taken goal.
After having moved Robert Aherne out from full-forward to fill the gap in the middle, Waterford remained competitive while Limerick waited 15 minutes for their next score. Interestingly, after having been heavily involved in the first quarter, midfielder John Galvin didn’t exert much of a control for the rest of the half for the favourites, but strong play from Stephen Lavin and Stephen Lucey in the half-back line helped to compensate. However, the worry for the Limerick boss Mickey Ned O’Sullivan was that his team was not imposing itself on the game.
To their credit, however, they still emphasised a greater scoring threat by hitting over four points without reply between the 24th (through Lavin) and the 30th minute (through the impressive Ian Ryan, who operated in the left corner after having been named at full-forward.
Elsewhere, James Ryan roamed to good effect from his position in the centre and while Kelly availed of his pace to set up some good moves, his finishing wasn’t the best.
Waterford, too, gained momentum from strong play at half-back, with captain Tony Grey in particular was quite effective in stages on the right and Eamonn Walsh also to the forefront on the other wing. The problem was that their inside players didn’t penetrate enough to put the Limerick defence under pressure. Hurney promised more than he achieved and it was left to dual player Brian Wall (the main free-taker, who finished with 0-4) to make a lot of the running.
At the break, it was 1-8 to 1-4 for Limerick.
While Waterford opening promisingly with a point from sub Kevin Power after less than 20 seconds, their problems in attack were to persist for much of the half. Equally, it would have to be acknowledged that despite their best efforts, Limerick didn’t manage to raise their standard to anything near how they performed either in last year’s provincial decider against Cork or against Meath in the fourth round of the qualifiers.
An improving Seanie Buckley scored soon after Power but it was another 15 minutes before they added to their total. This lack of consistency had more to do with unimaginative play in attack and some poor finishing than an improvement in the Waterford defending. One of those wides came from the only ‘45 in the game which was kicked by goalkeeper Brian Scanlon, who was making his championship debut.
From a Waterford perspective, it was noteworthy that centre-back Shane Briggs did a lot of useful work and Thomas O’Gorman at full-back was also more involved and on occasions the attack did combine well when building from deep.
Brian Wall put over a great score in the 47th minute to leave only three points between the teams and rather surprisingly, he was replaced immediately after scoring another in the 64th minute.
In between, some alterations in the Limerick attack and a more committed approach all round more or less ensured that the Decies would not get too close. Conor Fitzgerald, the first of the substitutes (introduced for James Ryan in the 49th minute), produced three good scores which were the result of productive work outfield and another replacement, Eoghan O’Connor also got his name on the list. It meant that they were never in any danger of being caught off guard nearing the finish of the game.
To add to Waterford woes, team captain Tony Grey, who had distinguished himself over both halves, was red-carded nearly two minutes into injury time.
Scorers for Limerick: G Collins 1-4 (0-4 frees); I Ryan and C Fitzgerald 0-3 each; S Lavin 0-2; P Browne, S Kelly, S Buckley, M O’Riordan and E O’Connor 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: B Wall 0-4 (0-3 frees); G Hurney 1-0; T Grey 0-2; C McGrath, K Power and R Ahearne 0-1 each.
Subs for Limerick: C Fitzgerald for J Ryan (49); E O’Connor for Kelly (59); E Joy for Browne (61); S Gallagher for Ranahan (66); J Mullane for Buckley (68).
Subs for Waterford: K Power for M Ahearne and C Phelan for Connery (ht); J Phelan for Walsh (47); C O’Keeffe for O Lionain (53); M Donnelly for Wall (64).
Referee: Syl Doyle (Wexford).