It says a lot - and a little - about Limerick that this was yet another game they should have won by more. When it should have been shouts of joy, it was their sighs of relief that could be read on the November mist enveloping Croke Park by game’s end.
A unique All-Ireland pairing will feel uncomfortably familiar to the Munster champions. Waterford know what it is to breathe on their necks and with the experience of that provincial final, they will be confident of avoiding a second fourth-quarter fadeout to John Kiely’s side.
Limerick’s performance graph is not escalating enough to frighten their provincial brethren. Here, they did just about enough to get by, advancing by playing within themselves. So much is left in them, that we know, but they could easily have tripped up here having failed to finish matters after the second-half water break, a period where they have shown a clean pair of heels to Clare and Waterford.
Losing that period by two points will be what Kiely will surely highlight to his players when they reconvene in Rathkeale tomorrow evening. Against a Waterford team who will not only feel they owe them for Thurles two weeks ago but have an abundance of energy, to finish second best like that again on December 13 will be unacceptable and possibly terminal.
And yet it was resilience as exhibited in the closing stages of all three Munster games that won them this game. Tom Morrissey, so lively at the outset when those around him were shuffling their feet, took the lead once more to send over three additional time points. With substitute Adrian Breen firing over another for good measure, Galway’s race was run but it had been too close for Kiely’s liking.
Indiscipline had been an issue - Galway were able to draw level by the 70th minute with only their third point from play in the second half. Although, Kiely took issue with some of the decisions. “I know that some of the frees were definitely frees, but I wouldn't agree that all were.
“I think the free count was 17 to seven, that's quite a swing in one particular direction. So I wouldn't agree that all of them were. I think there were occasions where we took the ball into tackles and we didn't get the same response that maybe the opposition did.”
Semi-finals may only be for winning but this lacked the conviction Limerick have been known for these past three seasons. Admittedly, the nine additional minutes that were required following the medical assistance Joe Canning required after his collision with Joe Cooney upset the rhythm of the game.
“You can't control that,” Kiely insisted. “How can you prepare for that. You can't. Mikey Kiely was trying to engage them with a little bit of running during that time to keep them engaged in a bit of movement, more than anything, that they wouldn't go cold and pull a muscle. But you don't know how players are going to respond to that.”
The seven minutes without action had more impact than any water break, Limerick leading by five (0-21 to 0-16) when James Owens called for liquids a second time. Galway looked beaten and should have been when David Reidy was put through by Peter Casey in the 55th minute only for Éanna Murphy to be equal to the shot.
Three Canning frees narrowed the gap to two before he took that nasty hit. After Cathal Mannion’s exit in the first half with a hamstring injury, losing their talisman could have derailed Galway. Instead, they sent over the next two scores, Canning’s replacement Evan Niland with the first, a long-range free followed by Conor Whelan, looking influential further out the field.
Galway couldn’t squeak ahead, though. Diarmaid Byrnes arrowed over a free following that Whelan score and while Niland cancelled it out soon after scores from Morrissey and Breen made life more comfortable for Limerick. A Fintan Burke sideline only spurred Limerick on again as Morrissey finished out the game with another two points, the latter from a free.
The finish was hard-won by Limerick but it had looked so easy for Limerick earlier in the half. Too easy, in fact, as they weren’t putting enough consideration into their shots at goal and by full-time, they had added eight wides to the eight they posted in the first half.
At least Cian Lynch came alive after half-time when Limerick led by two, 0-15 to 0-13. And like before, the bench made a difference for the Munster champions as Peter Casey made his presence felt with two points. How Kiely shapes his full-forward line in 13 days’ time will be interesting especially if Aaron Gillane’s back injury is serious.
In total, Murphy denied Limerick four times but his puck-outs were feasted on by Limerick particularly Gearóid Hegarty and Diarmuid Byrnes. And that trend continued to the end. Murphy was also fortunate not to concede a goal in the opening half when Graeme Mulcahy seized on his 14th-minute restart.
At that stage, Galway were cruising, 0-6 to 0-2 ahead. Brian Concannon put them five up in the 15th minute prior to Seamus Flanagan and Hegarty pointing so that the margin at the first water break was two points.
From there to half-time, it was all Limerick. To go ahead, they struck five consecutive points as they capitalised on Murphy’s hesitancy with his puck-outs. Scores from Concannon and Canning provided little respite for Galway as Limerick strung another four together. The turnaround from the 15th minute was nine points.
Galway did bring it back to two points by the half-time break, 0-15 to 0-13, but Limerick’s engine was running. It would later misfire but not before reigniting when it mattered.
Tom Morrissey’s additional time scores. Along with Adrian Breen’s point, his three scores put the stabilisers after Limerick wobbled.
Limerick will argue they don’t have a crown but it slipped ever so slightly here. They should have put this game to bed long before they did. If the Munster final left room for improvement, they added the en suite here.
As sloppy as they were after the second-half water break, Limerick won’t care on the back of a fourth consecutive victory. There remains a massive performance in them.
Three huge saves by Éanna Murphy in the second half kept Galway in this encounter but then they leaked so much from their restarts - 14 of his restarts were lost compared to seven for Limerick. There was the winning and losing of the game in those statistics alone.
Galway likely would have had to plan without Joe Canning and Cathal Mannion had they qualified for the final. Aaron Gillane had to leave the field of play soon after a massive hit by Gearóid McInerney. He will be a slight concern ahead of facing Waterford.
Limerick’s ability to make the pitch so small for Murphy made life hell for the Galway goalkeeper. John Kiely spoke afterwards of his team actively focusing on his restarts. For a time, Galway’s decision to play four across their half-back line worked as Pádraig Mannion dropped back there and at times sweeped. But when Galway became less effective in midfield, they had to alter their shape.
Tom Morrissey delivered early in the first half when Limerick looked edgy and again at the end when they looked a little spooked when Galway twice drew level. Some fine shows by Gearóid Hegarty, Diarmaid Byrnes and Dan Morrissey.
Other than a couple of unusual calls, this was a good performance by James Owens. Hegarty probably merited punishment for his hit on Canning and Limerick had strong calls for a few frees turned down but it was typically solid from the Wexford man.
A first All-Ireland final between Limerick and Waterford on Sunday, the first time the Munster pairing has been repeated at that stage since Clare and Tipperary in 1997.