Limerick and Waterford will meet in the key opening round game in the National League under the floodlights of the Gaelic Grounds on St Valentine’s Night.
For TJ Ryan and Derek McGrath that February 14 date is the early season target but for now any pre-league confidence boost goes to Limerick.
This was the Shannonsiders’ first outing of 2015 and they returned to action with seven of their side that last saw action in Croke Park in August’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final epic with Kilkenny.
Limerick manager TJ Ryan saw plenty merit to his side’s quarter-final win. “We struggled early — we had a couple of half chances of goals and eight wides in the first half but at this time of the year those things happen but we would have to say that overall it was a good performance.”
His side now meet UCC in next weekend’s semi-final in a competition Limerick haven’t won since 2006. “It’s a great tournament for trying out fellas — we had only one of our starting forwards from last year starting so there were five new forwards and its a good opportunity. There are a couple of guys out injured — Kevin Downes and Seanie Tobin so other guys will get an opportunity,” explained Ryan.
In the opening quarter, his Limerick side struggled against a Waterford outfit that defeated Limerick IT in a preliminary round game the previous weekend.
Waterford boss McGrath kept faith with 11 of that side, with Pauric Mahony not involved and Michael Walsh and Barry Coughlan introduced as subs.
That win over the students appeared to give Waterford an early edge and they led 1-7 to 0-3 after 26 minutes with Martin O’Neill, Thomas Connors and Shane O’Sullivan all finding the range. Then in the 22nd minute Jake Dillon goaled to push his side seven clear. But Limerick found form before the break with Adrian Breen goaling in injury time to leave the half time score 1-8 to 1-7 and Ryan a little more content.
“We struggled early on but the five or six minutes before half time was probably what won the game for us,” he outlined.
On the changeover, Limerick looked sharper. A Dillon free had Waterford’s lead back to two points before Donal O’Grady and Tom Morrissey (free) tied the encounter for the first time.
Then came a stroke of luck for Limerick when Stephen O’Keeffe couldn’t scramble across his goal line in time after Shane Fives’ hurley had diverted the sliotar goalwards as battled for a dropping ball with Limerick full forward Patrick Begley. Limerick were in front for the first time and they never relinquished the lead.
Last year’s Munster MHC winning captain Cian Lynch was one of three debutants for Limerick and his third point of the day stretched the advantage.
Back came Waterford but O’Neill (2frees) and Thomas Connors scores couldn’t haul back Limerick.
Tom Morrissey, Cathal King and O’Grady had Limerick four clear with five minutes to play.
Two further O’Neill scores cut the deficit but there was to be no late dramatics as Limerick turn attentions to UCC and Waterford to that NHL meeting early next month.
Scorers for Limerick: A Breen 1-2, C Lynch 0-3, S Fives 1-0 (og), C King, T O’Brien (1f), D O’Grady, T Morrissey (1f) 0-2 each, D Morrissey, S Dowling (1f) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: M O’Neill 0-8 (6f), J Dillon 1-3 (3f), T Connors 0-2, S O’Sullivan, S Bennett 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: N Quaid; T Condon, R McCarthy, S Hickey; C Allis, W McNamara, D Morrissey; J Ryan, C King; D Breen, N Moran, C Lynch; T O’Brien, P Begley, A Breen.
Subs: D O’Grady for D Breen (10), T Morrissey for O’Brien (h-t), P Browne for Moran (55), S Dowling for A Breen (61).
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; M McNulty, S Fives, N Connors; G O’Brien, A Gleeson, P Walsh; M O’Neill, S O’Sullivan; K Moran, T Connors, D Breathnach; B O’Halloran, J Dillon, M Kearney.
Subs: C Curran for Breathnach (39), M Walsh for O’Halloran (50), S Bennett for T Connors (56), B Coughlan for Dillon (66).
Referee: D Fox (Clare).