Having lost last month’s Electric Ireland Munster championship quarter-final against the Rebels at Páirc Uí Rinn, Limerick regrouped in Thurles last night to keep alive their hopes of a third successive provincial crown.
Limerick’s win sets up a repeat meeting with the Leesiders in eight weeks time and they had to do it the hard way last night at Semple Stadium, coming from six points down to inflict fresh heartbreak on Waterford.
Limerick won the last two Munster final meetings between the counties and they were full value for this latest success against the Déise.
Waterford finished with a tally of 13 wides but they failed to register a score from play in the second half and were reliant on Billy Nolan to keep Limerick at bay, as the Roanmore netminder pulled off a series of fine stops.
Incessant rain fell from the start but cleared up midway through the first half as Waterford, defeated by Tipperary in the quarter-finals, turned the screw to lead by 1-7 to 0-4.
Aaron O’Sullivan’s 21st minute goal was a tonic but after Calum Lyons pointed four minutes later, Waterford went 26 minutes of playing time without a score.
That allowed Limerick to hit the remaining three scores of the opening half, for a 0-7 to 1-7 half-time deficit, and they rammed over six more on the resumption.
Peter Casey finished with six points to his name but goalkeeper and captain Eoghan McNamara led by example with five superb long range scores, three 65s and two frees.
And McNamara, tipped by O’Connor to make the step-up to the senior ranks next year, pulled off a crucial save from Eddie Meaney ten minutes from time.
When play switched to the other end, Brian Ryan pointed and Limerick were 0-14 to 1-8 clear and on their way to victory.
Relief was etched on O’Connor’s face at full-time as he gasped: “We’ve worked so hard. We were very disappointed coming out of Cork.
“We had to get back on the wagon. Waterford made it tough and I said it yesterday that it was going to be tough.
We were playing against a county that had won a National Hurling League final and they were trying to drive on.”
McNamara was the star turn for Limerick and O’Connor backed the Doon custodian to continue on his upward curve.
He said: “That young fella is probably good enough and mature enough to go onto the Limerick senior hurling panel next year.
“He’s been there for the last two years and you could see the bit of experience, the cool head.
“And the way he struck the frees, he didn’t try to take the leather off the ball. He just stroked them over the bar and that’s something we’ve worked on with him.”
P Casey 0-6 (4f), E McNamara 0-5 (3 65s, 2f), B Ryan 0-2, W O’Meara, K Hayes, S Flanagan, B Murphy & D Carroll 0-1 each.
A O’Sullivan 1-1, J Prendergast 0-3 (2f), A Molumby 0-2, B Nolan (f) C Lyons, G Waters & P Hogan 0-1 each.
E McNamara; T Hayes, C McSweeney, J O’Grady; C Byrnes, P O’Loughlin, C Houlihan; T Grimes, W O’Meara; K Hayes, S Flanagan, B Ryan; P Casey, B Murphy, D Carroll.
M Mackey for O’Meara (47), C O’Connor for Houlihan (52), C Boylan for Hayes (56), E Ryan for Grimes (60), P Ahern for O’Grady (60+4).
B Nolan; D McGrath, C Prunty, D Lynch; C Lyons, J Henley, C Dunphy; A Molumby, D Lyons; G Waters, JP Lucey, E Meaney; A O’Sullivan, J Prendergast, P Hogan.
J Beecher for McGrath (37), M Daykin for Waters (46), J Kennedy for Lucey (49), C Barry for Meaney (60+1).
P Kelly (Tipperary)