Limerick 1-21 Waterford 1-17
An evening of characteristics revealed, or maybe underlined, in Limerick on Saturday.
The 9,097 in the Gaelic Grounds saw Limerick beat Waterford in a postponed NHL 1A clash: it put Limerick in a league semi-final, confirmed Waterford’s league quarter-final slot, and showcased prime attributes.
Limerick’s power. Waterford’s doggedness. The home side never looked like being beaten, and the visitors never looked like giving up. It was a competitive game in testing conditions, wet and windy, even if wayward shooting took a little of the shine off the evening for both sides.
The Limerick ability to dominate the middle third of the field was again seen to good effect last Saturday night. Conor Boylan’s sweet flick in the first half was appreciated by all, but the sheer industry and application from green jerseys in the middle of the field has long been the key to their success.
Waterford struggled to break past that mix of strength and numbers in the area and were heavily reliant on Pauric Mahony’s free-taking, even if Patrick Curran had a decent sight of goal in that first half.
The home side got more than a sight: Gearóid Hegarty topped a man of the match performance with a goal on 27 minutes, steaming through the centre to take a pass from David Dempsey to find the net from close range.
Along with the live-wire Graeme Mulcahy, Hegarty helped Limerick to a 1-8 to 0-7 lead. At times in the second half, with Waterford struggling to make the ball stick up front, it looked like Limerick might pull away and administer a thrashing.
Credit the visitors, then, for hanging in there — Jack Fagan soloed through on the three-quarter mark for a fine goal, making the score 1-16 to 1-11. Limerick always had the capacity to pick off points, and ended the game four to the good, but that doggedness gave Waterford some sustenance for the road home.
Limerick boss John Kiely described the outing as “a good performance overall” even if he felt his side were a little fatigued from training: “At times fellas had to dig deep to find the energy to track runs, because they carried the ball extremely well down the middle of the field.
“They (Waterford) had runners off the shoulder, right left and centre and that takes huge energy and work-rate to track them runs over and over again. We put in a huge amount of tackles out there and used the ball well and created a lot of scoring chances.
“We didn’t take them all and a few times it broke down just because of a handling error or poor touch and but for that, we would have been a little bit slicker.”
In the white and blue corner, Liam Cahill will be happy with another day out in the quarter-final, a reasonable facsimile of a championship outing. For a new manager, a sense of his players’ appetite comes in match conditions more than training.
And a sense of their suitability. The Tipperary native drew some blunt conclusions Saturday night.
“We have a competitive group, we have a couple of lads we want to find a bit of form that would be in our plans, it’s a long road - but it was definitely a test for a lot of players there tonight as to what’s required.
It’s a step up in class and tonight, just maybe, one or two players just found the step up a little bit much.
“Having said that, a number of players were thrown in at the deep end, and some of the league matches wouldn’t have had the same ferocity as the Limerick lads, with their physicality, but a brilliant test all round.”
Though in a perfect world Kiely might have wanted some more options, in truth he already has more than any other side for every line on the field. The sharp end of the league gives him a chance to plane off some rough edges in terms of formation and management of his subs, and offers competitive games with the championship looming.
“All in all we’re happy with where we’re at,” said the Limerick boss.
“Delighted to be able to have a period of time where we can maybe plan a little bit better for the next two weeks in terms of getting to a semi-final.
“It gives us a little bit more scope in terms of managing the load — we are looking forward to the next two weeks to get ready for a semi-final.”
The dynamic for Waterford is different: for them live auditions continue next week for a championship starting place, and it would be a brave punter who’d take a guess at the Deise starting 15 for May.
Cahill, for instance, acknowledged his side’s refusal to capitulate, but stressed the need for more quality to go alongside the competitiveness: “It’s really really positive but there has to be more to it than that.
“I’m conscious we’re doing a lot of work and it’s heavy winter hurling but there has to be more than our tenacity.
“We have to eliminate our mistakes, to improve in the air and to stop making mistakes - it’s definitely about being able to break a tackle a bit better because Limerick turned us over quite a bit.”
Cahill finished by saying he expected Limerick to improve for the championship. And that his side would have to improve to match them.
Scorers for Limerick: A. Gillane (0-7, 5 frees); G. Hegarty (1-5); G. Mulcahy (0-4); D. Dempsey (0-2); P. O’Loughlin, D. Reidy, R. Hanley (0-1 each).
Scorers for Waterford: P. Mahony (0-7)(6 frees); J. Fagan (1-0); S. Bennett (1 free)(0-3); J. Barron (0-2); C. Lyons, P. Hogan, I. Daly, B. Power, D. Lyons (0-1 each).
LIMERICK: N. Quaid, B. Nash, M. Casey, A. Costello, D. Byrnes, D. Hannon (c), D. Morrissey, C. Lynch, K. Hayes, G. Hegarty, D. Reidy, C. Boylan, A. Gillane, D. Dempsey, G. Mulcahy.
Subs: S. Finn for Costello (37); P. O’Loughlin for Byrnes (44); D. O’Connell for Dempsey (59); B. Ryan for Boylan (65); R. Hanley for Hayes (69).
WATERFORD: S. O’Brien, C. Gleeson, C. Prunty, S. McNulty, C. Lyons, I. Daly, T. Barron, J. Barron, M. O’Brien, N. Montomery, P. Mahony (c), MJ Sutton, J. Prendergast, S. Bennett, P. Curran.
Subs: J. Fagan for M. O’Brien (32); P. Hogan for Sutton (33); M. Kearney for Prendergast (52); B. Power for Curran (55); D. Lyons for Daly (inj, 63)
Referee: P. O’Dwyer (Carlow).