A reboot for Limerick, a post-mortem for Waterford

Ireland South may remain a debatable constituency but no recounts were needed in this corner of the province yesterday.

A reboot for Limerick, a post-mortem for Waterford

Ireland South may remain a debatable constituency but no recounts were needed in this corner of the province yesterday.

Limerick shrugged off a bright Waterford start in Walsh Park to work their way to a comprehensive win in front of 10,874 spectators, kickstarting their Munster championship.

The headline, however, must be Waterford’s sharp decline: All-Ireland finalists in 2017, they face a second successive early-summer championship exit, and yesterday’s defeat must count as a nadir of sorts for the Déise.

The wind was a strong influence on yesterday’s game, but not a decisive one.

It helped Waterford in the first half but Limerick still led at half-time, 1-10 to 0-7, and weren’t flattered by the lead: They outscored Waterford 1-7 to 0-2 in the second quarter of the game to give them a comfortable lead with the breeze backing them in the second half.

Two minutes into the second half Gearóid Hegarty stretched his seven-league boots (Predators? Puma Kings?) and tucked away a goal, and the contest was over.

Limerick were 2-24 to 0-10 winners at the end, and none of the metrics flattered the losers, who were outscored in the second half 1-14 to 0-3.

Limerick’s work rate and application were certainly improved after their defeat to Cork, and they were able to dictate the pattern of the game.

This is always a team’s aim, and Limerick have the weaponry to impose the terms of engagement on anyone.

Yesterday, for instance, they leaned heavily on their power in the middle, and it was a decisive trump.

The likes of Kyle Hayes, Cian Lynch and Gearoid Hegarty had the touch and heft to win the ball and distribute it cleverly - witness Hegarty’s bullocking, direct run and clever lay-off for Gillane’s first-half goal.

That struggle in the middle third sucked Waterford players into the trenches there, which in turn gave Limerick the personnel to outnumber their opponents at the back.

Declan Hannon was the key man there, the centre-back as concierge rather than bouncer, recycling the ball calmly, setting up attacks, and chipping in with a first-half point himself.

Waterford were relying on the wind to no avail, their full-forwards outnumbered and suffering alone up front.

In the second half Limerick’s shooting was efficient but often unhindered by opponents, and Pauric Mahony’s dismissal on a straight red with 10 minutes left gave the men in green even more space.

“I knew we were going to get a reaction,” said Limerick boss John Kiely afterwards. “I know the calibre of guys we’re working with.

"The disappointment of the defeat by Cork was really difficult. We just didn’t perform on the day - that’s the bottom line.

We had to respond today. If we didn’t it would have been curtains for us. We’re back on an upward curve. We hit a lull in our form obviously against Cork.

"We have to try and get up to the heights again, it’s a journey. But there is a lot of work to do still.”

Limerick’s strengths are familiar, such as those peeling patterns of support play, runners curving around the man in possession to take the pass.

Those remain a pressing question for their future opponents: engage them immediately and face being outnumbered or back off and be outpointed?

The Clare and Tipperary management teams will be keen to study this video in the next week or two, and in particular a Limerick tendency to use the spare hand in the tackle, but the All-Ireland champions challenge you everywhere.

Their alignment on opponents’ short puck-out, for instance, may become required viewing for coaches.

They pressurised Waterford mercilessly on restarts, and yesterday it looked at times like Limerick were using the hurling equivalent of soccer’s ‘setting the trap’.

For Waterford, however, yesterday was truly bleak, and the second half, in particular, was a long, painful experience for spectators in white and blue.

A score away from an All-Ireland title two years ago, they have only pride left to play for next weekend against a Cork side with every incentive to win.

At the final whistle Paraic Fanning was asked if he was happy with the effort in the second half in particular:

“I just the think the lads were, whether it was because it was on the back of the Tipperary game when we were outnumbered in the last 15 minutes, that goal deflated us there.

“I think we got a little bit deflated in the second half again, maybe — too quickly maybe at times, and whether that’s mental or whatever it is, that’s probably something we’ve got to look at as to the reasons for that.

"It definitely got in on the lads alright at that stage... We are very disappointed, we just had our own chat, we’ll keep it to ourselves in there.

“Everybody is very disappointed and we’re trying to figure out I suppose based on the overall preparations through the year how we ended up where we are now. That’s the hard part for us all to figure, at the moment.”

It’s hard to believe that a side which contested the National League final a couple of months ago should fall off the back of the peloton so quickly, but on the evidence of the last couple of weekends Waterford are in deep trouble.

A long losing sequence at underage level has now been matched by a series of senior defeats which are lowering expectations within the county, and it may not be too early to sound an alarm for hurling in the county in the medium term.

Offaly was the example being mentioned by some Waterford supporters as they streamed out of Walsh Park yesterday, and those within the county would do well to consider yesterday a sharp warning about the future rather than simply a bad day at the office.

Dalo's Hurling Show: Tipp quench the inferno. Kiely's statement. The Déise inquest

Derek McGrath and Ger Cunningham review the weekend's hurling with Anthony Daly

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