Limerick 3-14 Waterford 3-15
John Mullane has scored many great and important goals for Waterford, but few as decisive as the one that broke Limerick hearts in the final minute of normal time in this Munster SHC semi-final.
Limerick seemed on course for a famous victory when substitute David Breen and Niall Moran edged them two points ahead with two great strikes as time ebbed away, but there was a late twist to the tale.
Picking up the ball in splendid isolation 20 years from goal, Mullane unleashed a pile-driver that took a deflection on its way past Limerick goalkeeper Nicky Quaid.
Limerick mounted one last desperate charge to find an equaliser, but Waterford hung on grimly to take the hard-fought win.
It didn’t look like they’d need such late heroics in the first half when they dominated play for long stretches.
It was that man Mullane who struck the first real blow of the game when he slipped his marker Tom Condon and blasted the ball to the net after 13 minutes.
Limerick responded positively enough to this setback by clipping over a couple of points, but Waterford then hit four in a row to move 1-7 to 0-4 ahead.
It was starting to look bleak for Limerick, but wing-back Wayne McNamara answered the call of duty by scoring a cracking goal to haul his team back into the contest.
A neat passing move from Limerick culminated with James Ryan putting the overlapping McNamara clear, and after a 20 yard solo run he smashed the ball past Clinton Hennessy and into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Limerick were re-energised now, and the final five minutes of the half were much more closely contested as the teams shared a couple of points apiece to leave the score reading 1-9 to 1-6 in Waterford’s favour at the break.
Limerick needed less than three minutes of the second half to overhaul that deficit as first Brian Geary lanced a long-range free and then full-forward Kevin Downes scored a cracker of a goal
Collecting a smart pass from Paul Browne out near the touchline, he turned his marker Wayne Hutchinson and left both him and Michael Walsh in his wake before planting the ball past Hennessy from close-range.
Limerick’s tails were up now, and two more points in quick succession from Donal O’Grady and Graeme Mulcahy put them 2-9 to 1-9 ahead.
A couple of bad wides suggested Waterford were beginning to panic, but then full-forward Shane Walsh nipped the crisis in the bud by side-stepping past Seamus Hickey and tplacing the ball to the back of the net past the advancing Quaid.
It was Waterford’s turn now to pin their ears back, and three rapid-fire points from Pauric Mahony, Mullane and Brian O’Sullivan shot them into a 2-12 to 2-9 lead.
Limerick were undaunted though, and after Richie McCarthy clipped over a free Downes tore through the Waterford defence again to score another clinically taken goal from close-range that put Limerick two points ahead again.
Waterford drew level with 10 minutes to go thanks to points from the impressive Pauric Mahony, but Limerick came again in the closing stages as Breen and Moran landed those long-range points.
Limerick fans must have had visions of a Munster final at that point, but cometh the hour, cometh Mullane.
Waterford: C Hennessy; D Fives, W Hutchinson, N Connors; T Browne, M Walosh, K Moran; D O’Sullivan, S O’Sullivan 0-1; M Shanahan 0-2, S Molumphy, P Mahony 0-7 (4f); J Mullane 2-2, S Walsh 1-1, B O’Sullivan 0-2. Subs: J Nagle for W Hutchinson (54), S Prendergast for M Shanahan (58), E Kelly for P Mahony (66)
Limerick: N Quaid; D Reale, S Hickey, T Condon; W McNamara 1-0, B Geary 0-1 (f), G O’Mahony; D O’Grady 0-3, P Browne; J Ryan, N Moran 0-4, G Mulcahy 0-1; R McCarthy 0-3 (3f), K Downes 2-1, S Tobin. Subs: D Moloney for D Reale (58), P Tobin for R McCarthy (64), D Breen 0-1 for S Tobin (66), M O’Riordan for P Browne (69)
Ref: B Kelly (Westmeath)