Following in the footsteps of the ultra-dominant Kilkenny teams of this decade and last, Limerick secured national league silverware seven months after claiming Liam MacCarthy.
Indeed, outside of Kilkenny, no other county since Galway in 1989 has followed up an All-Ireland final win in September with a league hurling title the following spring. That’s a measure of the difficulty involved in achieving league success off the back of championship glory, but Limerick made it look rather easy this afternoon, leading all the way from the sixth minute. This was Limerick's first league title since 1997 and 12th overall.
A sign of Limerick’s supremacy here was that Waterford did not score from play from the 53rd minute onwards. The final quarter was more a procession than a contest.
Waterford, behind by five at the break, needed a bright opening to the second-half. Instead, Limerick hit four of the first five points upon the restart. Gillane sniped a pair of frees, while Declan Hannon’s belter from distance stemmed from Jack Prendergast being hounded out of possession down the Hogan Stand sideline by three green shirts. Similar instances were repeated throughout the field over the 70-plus minutes.
Pauric Mahony, who had taken over freetaking duties from Stephen Bennett, Austin Gleeson (sideline) and Philip Mahony clipped three on the bounce to leave the scoreboard reading 1-16 to 0-14 on 48 minutes, but Waterford required a goal. Nickie Quaid, however, was not for beating. Stephen Bennett’s drive was deflected over by Sean Finn, while Quaid spread himself to deny Jack Prendergast.
In the closing 22 minutes, plus injury-time, the gap was never smaller than five points. Limerick, it is fair to say, were rather comfortable winners in the end.
Limerick’s interval lead of 1-12 to 0-10 just about reflected the extent to which they held the upper hand in the opening half, although it had appeared early on that John Kiely’s charges were going to quickly move out of reach from their opponents when establishing a 0-8 to 0-2 advantage inside 14 minutes.
Aaron Gillane was responsible for half of this early tally, split equally between frees and open play, with the pick of the bunch his eighth minute point where he pulled down a Darragh O’Donovan delivery, swivelled, and pointed. O’Donovan also got in on the scoring during that opening burst, chipping in, as he routinely does, with a converted sideline cut.
Stephen Bennett was Waterford’s sole contributor during this period and he remained the only Déise man to find the target until Kevin Moran split the posts on 16 minutes. This score arrived in the middle of four unanswered Waterford points. Indeed, they’d outscore the All-Ireland champions 0-6 to 0-1 between the 14th and 26 minute. They could have even had a goal during this period, with Nickie Quaid getting down swiftly to repel a Stephen Bennett drive.
The latter finished the half with seven points beside his name, but after Páraic Fanning’s side had got it back to one, 0-9 to 0-8, Limerick stepped on the accelerator once again, tallying the opening major of the contest in the 27th minute. The goal was a thing of beauty, Gillane connecting, first-time, with Tom Morrissey’s delivery.
There followed Gillane’s fifth white flag, thrown over from halfway, a Tom Morrissey minor after a superb Diarmuid Byrnes crossfield pass and Graham Mulcahy’s first after Kevin Moran has been blocked.
Not only were Limerick smarter in their hurling, they were also working that bit harder.
A Gillane (1-9, 0-4 frees); G Hegarty, P Casey (0-3 each); S Dowling (0-1 free), C Lynch (0-2); T Morrissey, D Hannon, G Mulcahy, D O’Donovan (0-1 sc), S Flanagan (0-1 each).
Stephen Bennett (0-9, 0-6 frees); Pauric Ma Mahony (0-5, 0-4 frees); A Gleeson (0-2, 0-1 sc); Philip Mahony, M Walsh (0-1 each).
N Quaid; T Condon, S Finn, R English; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; C Lynch, D O’Donovan; T Morrissey, K Hayes, G Hegarty; A Gillane, P Casey, G Mulcahy.
M Casey for Condon (HT); S Flanagan for Mulcahy (57); B Murphy for Gillane, S Dowling for Morrissey (both 65); P O’Loughlin for Hannon (69)
S O’Keeffe; S McNulty, C Lyons, N Connors; Philip Mahony, T de Búrca, K Moran; J Barron, M Walsh; A Gleeson, M Kearney, P Mahony; Shane Bennett, Stephen Bennett, P Hogan.
J Prendergast for Walsh (HT); T Ryan for Shane Bennett (47); C Prunty for Lyons (48); P Curran for Hogan (57); S Roche for Kearney (61)
J Owens (Wexford).