The only winner may have been the division itself, which is sure to go to the last game now, or, the proverbial game of hurling itself of course, but as this was billed as a match neither side could really afford to lose, the end result was a victory of sorts.
You couldn’t say Limerick deserved to lose or that Waterford deserved to win. What anyone among the 3,502 here though would have to conclude though is that Waterford wouldn’t have deserved to lose.
It was a huge performance Derek McGrath got from his team, though afterwards he would point out that it’ll take more than that to convince the Waterford hurling and general public that his team are going the right way.
“I won’t say we were worried about the game before but we were fairly worried that we had a fairly young team. We made a lot of changes early on in the year and it hasn’t gone down really well at home because no one likes change, particularly Waterford people. We don’t feel vindicated by the performance but we’d have acknowledged before the game that no matter how it went, we’d stick with the same personnel next week. We finished with six U21s on the field whereas I think Cian Lynch was the only one U21 for Limerick. So we were happy with that. But there’s going to be bumps along the road.”
There were even some last Saturday night. Within the first minute here they conceded a penalty and a goal. In the second half after the commanding lead they’d established through some delightful intricate inter-play and long-range striking was wiped out, McGrath’s side responded by going back in front by a couple of points.
Then when Limerick drew level again and went ahead in injury-time through a monstrous Richie McCarthy point, Waterford held their poise to win a sideline and for Brian O’Halloran to recycle the ball back to Paudie Prendergast to point with the last puck of the game. As McGrath would note, his team’s resilience was impressive. But he’s under no illusions they’ll need to display much more of it.
“We haven’t a big team so we have to play in a particular manner in terms of keeping possession as much as we can and mixing that with getting it in as well. But I think sometimes invariably the patience of the Waterford people in terms of that system or other things can wear thin. We think it’s the best chance of success, in terms of keeping the ball, as a smaller team while developing our physical fitness to break the line.”
Its merits were obvious in the first half. While Limerick kept landing ball with snow on top of it towards Patrick Begley at the edge of the square, Waterford worked the ball deftly up the field, while in one spell they had 10 consecutive shots that all raised the umpire’s white flag to help put them 0-14 to 1-7 up at the interval.
Midway through the third quarter, they could have been out of Limerick’s reach, if not quite their sight. Right after Pauric O’Mahony had scored a wondrous point over on the left touchline, Waterford again won the resultant puck-out as the terrific Tadhg Bourke emerged with the ball. A few handpasses later and the ball fell to Kevin Moran on the run, who couldn’t pick it up. Instead James Ryan duly pounced to drive it down the line to set up an Adrian Breen point.
A few minutes later, Stephen O’Keeffe seemed to have picked out Austin Gleeson in plenty of space with a precise clearance only for the young Mount Sion man to uncharacteristically lose his focus, allowing Tom Condon to steal in and reduce the gap to two. That point generated a huge roar from the Limerick crowd. And McGrath can envisage a similar sequence of playing generating groans closer to home.
“We have very clever players. But sometimes when you recycle ball and go back the way and your touch goes astray, pressure can come from the crowd. I think the game has changed and people need to realise that. There is acknowledgement among the group as opposed to the outside group that this may be our best chance of having success. It’s not totally untraditional, as in we’re trying to get it into the danger zone as quickly as we can — if it merits getting in.”
That is something they’ll have to work on. The only goal chance they created was in the 50th minute, as Stephen Bennett played in Tom Devine only for the defiant Condon to again dart in and hook. Limerick for all their limitations in a second-string attack, possessed a greater goal threat. As McGrath knows more than anyone, with this Déise team everything is a work in progress.
Scorers for Limerick: D Reidy 2-3 (2-0 pen, 0-3 frees), G O’Mahony 0-5, P Browne 0-4, R McCarthy, T Condon, C Lynch, A Breen 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-11 (9 frees), A Gleeson, J Barron, B O’Halloran and P Prendergast 0-2 each, K Moran, M Walsh and S Bennett 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, S Hickey; D O’Grady, W McNamara, T Condon; C King, P Browne; N Moran, G O’Mahony, C Lynch; D Reidy, P Begley, A Breen.
Subs: T Morrissey for N Moran (27), J Ryan for King (ht), D Morrissey for Begley (51), J Fitzgibbon for O’Grady (66), S O’Brien for Condon (68).
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; A Gleeson, T Bourke, Philip Mahony; J Barron, K Moran; M Walsh, Pauric Mahony, J Dillon; B O’Halloran, T Devine, M Kearney.
Subs: P Prendergast for Philip Mahony, (22, inj), Shane Bennett for Kearney (41), Stephen Bennett for Dillon (48), M O’Neill for Devine (56), G O’Brien for Moran (68).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).