Perhaps surprisingly, Limerick had never won consecutive Munster MHC titles before this year, but a storming final quarter laid that statistic to rest at Semple Stadium last night.
For the second year in succession, these sides had to go to a replay in the provincial showpiece and most of the first-half signs were that another close encounter was in prospect, as they were level on eight occasions.
Waterford had pulled away slightly to lead by two points at half-time, though and that advantage still held when captain Shane Ryan evaded two challenges to make it 0-17 to 0-15 with 22 minutes remaining.
Some key half-time switches had helped to provide Limerick with a greater balance to their side, however, and they really kicked on. Colin Ryan — goalkeeper on last year’s successful side — had scored two points from corner-forward in the first half but was outstanding in the second half when dropped to left half-back, where he had played in the drawn game.
At the other end, Tom Morrissey’s relocation to full to centre-forward also reaped rich dividends. It was three points in a row from him which put Limerick into the lead which would not be relinquished and he was also heavily involved in other late scores as they pulled clear.
Ronan Lynch was deadly from placed balls, finishing with 10 points to his name, and Seán Finn and Andrew La Touche Cosgrave showing up well as the defence yielded just one point after Ryan’s effort.
In terms of future planning, the bottom line is that this means plenty of time to prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final while Waterford must turn around to play Dublin in a quarter-final, also at Thurles, at midday on Sunday.
The Déise, who mounted a superb fightback to force a draw at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, took a while to get going in the first half, but once they did, they were excellent and full value for the half-time lead. A raft of positional changes — only four outfield players were in the spot which corresponded to their number — served to wrong-foot Limerick and though they trailed 0-3 to 0-1, some fine play from Patrick Curran and Colm Roche got them back on an even footing.
Limerick had very valid claims for a penalty turned down when they held that two-point lead as Peter Casey was clattered by Waterford goalkeeper Billy Nolan under a dropping ball, but none resulted. Indeed Shannonsiders fans could have been forgiven for fearing it would prove a pivotal moment. Indeed, but for a brave Eoghan McNamara save from Darragh Lyons, Waterford might really have pushed on.
Curran’s free-taking was exemplary and Conor Gleeson did a great job at the heart of the defence as Limerick’s threat was subdued. Lynch’s frees were keeping Limerick well in contention, but four in a row coming up to half-time, kickstarted by Roche’s wonderful effort, put Waterford three clear before Ronan Lynch’s 65 was the last action of the half.
For 18 minutes of the second half, it was the same pattern; Limerick would pull a point or two back, Waterford would edge clear again, with Cormac Curran getting his first point after moving to full-forward. However, his namesake Patrick, scorer of eight in the opening period, would stay rooted at that tally.
On 43, it took a wonderful Nolan stop to divert Séamus Flanagan’s shot for a 65 but Ronan Lynch nailed the 65, the first of nine points, with only one in response. Morrissey was playing at another level by now, Lynch was as keyed in as he had been all along and Robbie Hanley also weighed in.
Six points in it at the end might be an injustice to Waterford’s effort for 40 minutes, but there was no denying that Limerick deserved it.
Scorers for Limerick: R Lynch 0-10 (five frees, three 65s), T Morrissey 0-5, P Casey, B Nash 0-3 each, C Ryan 0-2, R Hanley 0-1.
Scorers for Waterford: P Curran 0-8 (six frees), C Roche 0-4, E Meaney, S Ryan 0-2 each, C Curran, P Hogan 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: E McNamara (Doon); S Finn (Bruff), P O’Loughlin (Kilmallock), J Porter (Monaleen); L Lyons (Monaleen), A La Touche Cosgrave (Monaleen), C Byrnes (Murroe-Boher); R Hanley (Kilmallock), C Lynch (Patrickswell); R Lynch (Na Piarsaigh), B Nash (South Liberties), S Flanagan (Feohanagh-Castlemahon); C Ryan (Pallasgreen), T Morrissey (Ahane), P Casey (Na Piarsaigh).
Sub: E Doyle (Monaleen) for Lyons (half-time).
WATERFORD: B Nolan (Roanmore); D Prendergast (Lismore), E Hayden (Ballygunner), M Cronin (Ardmore); C Prunty (Abbeyside), C Gleeson (Fourmilewater), J Mullaney (Stradbally); C Curran (Brickey Rangers), S Bennett (Ballysaggart); P Hogan (Ballygunner), C Roche (Shamrocks), A Molumby (Cappoquin); P Curran (Dungarvan), D Lyons (Dungarvan), S Ryan (De La Salle).
Subs: E Meaney (De La Salle) for Molumby (half-time), A O’Sullivan (Cappoquin) for Hogan (50), S Murray (Cappoquin) for Prendergast (53).
Referee: J McCormack (Tipperary).