On Saturday evening, they passed their latest qualifier assignment, coping with a persistent Waterford challenge in unforgiving weather conditions. It was not a vintage Limerick display and lacked the attacking flamboyance of their previous win over Offaly but it was a night where they displayed composure and experience.
That proved adequate. The memories of their sickening provincial defeat to Kerry are starting to recede as they embark on another qualifier odyssey.
“When you analyse it in the cold light of day, it’s a championship win and we’ll take it,” reasoned manager Maurice Horan.
“That wasn’t a very convincing performance and none of us are getting carried away. But we’re relieved as we were nervous heading into this game. Waterford weren’t afraid of us and the bookies’ prices were outrageous.”
Horan’s concerns about the test Waterford would pose were justified. Despite the gale at their backs, John Owens’ charges found themselves trailing 0-9 to 0-4 in the 32nd minute yet, remarkably, they were level at 0-9 apiece by the 40th minute when Paul Whyte kicked an outstanding point. Their confidence was rising and players such as captain Tony Grey were thundering into the game.
However, a failure to score in the closing half-hour proved detrimental to Waterford’s prospects.
They had cause for grievance with a couple of decisions on the night as well. In the 18th minute referee Cormac Reilly, who hit the headlines last month with his ruling on Aindriú MacLochlainn’s tussle with Bernard Brogan, spread his arms to award a penalty when Whyte tumbled close to goal. But after consulting with his umpires Reilly changed his mind and awarded a throw ball. In the second half, with the match delicately poised as Limerick led 0-11 to 0-9, Reilly flashed a red card at Waterford full-forward Gary Hurney on the strength of his umpire’s advice.
Those calls hurt Waterford badly but it would be churlish to suggest they were the game-changing decisions. Limerick’s superior football was the key reason they advanced to the next round, particularly the strength of their play in the first half.
Defenders Johnny McCarthy and Shane Gallagher provided the bedrock for their challenge, snuffing out the danger posed by the Hurney’s in attack, yet Waterford’s errant first-half shooting when they kicked six wides was also significant.
Seanie Buckley is making life without John Galvin more palatable at midfield for Limerick, while Stephen Lavin’s dynamic play saw him pop up all over the pitch.
In attack, Limerick were grateful to the enterprising efforts of Stephen Kelly, John Mullane and Seamus O’Carroll. That trio divvied out 0-11, including seven efforts from play, in the first half and their angles of running tore apart the Waterford rearguard.
Those interventions were needed as star duo Ian Ryan and Ger Collins only mustered a point from play between them, which was a testament to the magnificent defending of the O’Gorman twins, Maurice and Thomas.
“You’re marking players of the quality of the O’Gorman twins and they won’t give you any breathing space at all,” outlined Horan. “Ian bailed us out last week, while other fellas stepped up to the plate today.”
The second half was a nervy affair for Limerick as the game remained in the balance until the finale. They did not aid their cause by racking up nine wides, while the one time Collins shook off the claustrophobic Waterford rearguard in the 55th minute, he saw his shot for goal expertly saved by Kieran Cotter.
However, once Hurney was dismissed, Limerick used the spare man cleverly and Collins, Kelly and John Cooke landed late insurance points. The development of their season continues. Wexford are next up and Horan’s side are coping admirably with the absence of established players.
“We haven’t even thought about Wexford yet but they’ll give us plenty to think about this week,” added the Limerick manager.
Scorers for Limerick: S Kelly 0-7 (3f); G Collins (1f), J Mullane, S O’Carroll 0-2 each; J Cooke 0-1.
Scorers for Waterford: P Whyte 0-4 (2f); P Hurney 0-2; B Wall (1f), S Fleming, G Hurney 0-1 each.
Subs for Limerick: B Fitzpatrick for Stack (24), J Cooke for Sheehan (45), E O’Connor for Mullane (55), E Hogan for O’Carroll (65), P Kinnerk for Lee (69).
Subs for Waterford: B Phelan for Dempsey (30), C McGrath for Wall (ht), T Connors for P Hurney (61), JJ Hutchinson for Fleming (69).
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).