They have knocked at the provincial title door for years and made a successful attempt at the start of another tilt at Munster in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday.
There was no silverware on show here and the 2,341 patrons present witnessed a level of performance that will require refinement if Limerick are to finally thrive this summer. The 11-point margin concealed the competitive nature of Waterford’s performance for a good hour and a few shortcomings on Limerick’s part. Yet at the beginning of a championship road, victory was all manager Maurice Horan desired to set up a meeting with Clare on June 9.
“We lost the first round of the Munster championship last year so we’re happy in that sense to have won this,” reflected Horan.
“I wouldn’t be delighted with the first half though. We were very rusty at times, some of our passing went astray and there a breakdown in communication as well.
“But at least we got organised at half-time. We swallowed up their attacks and started to settle whereas they got demoralised. Our subs came on and made an impression. The penalty was obviously a major turning point as well.”
The spot kick Horan referred to came in the 38th minute when Waterford substitute Liam Ó Lionáin was felled by Limerick youngster James O’Meara. It had the sense of a pivotal moment at the time and that was confirmed afterwards. Waterford had only been 1-5 to 0-7 adrift at the interval and were firmly in the hunt. Their defence was shutting down Limerick’s attacking sources as Wayne Hennessy acted as an important screen while Kieran Connery and Tony Grey made impressive forays forward.
An attack missing talisman Gary Hurney was coping well with JJ Hutchinson, parachuted into the team before the off, and Mark Ferncombe confidently kicking four points between them. When the chance came to hit the net from the penalty, a goal would have been a huge boost but Ferncombe’s effort was smothered by Limerick netminder Brian Scanlon. That knocked Waterford back and they endured a tough second half in front of goal as they failed to add to their half-time tally.
“It’s very disappointing,” admitted Waterford boss John Owens. “Great credit to Limerick, they persevered and got the scores when they needed. You wouldn’t read too much into the scoreboard.
“When the team gets a run on you, the heads go down. We just didn’t get enough ball into our forwards and it’ll be very difficult to pick things up now.”
It took Limerick a long time to get into their stride yet they always had the cushion of a functioning rearguard behind them. Padraig Browne and John Riordan were excellent in the spine, Stephen Lavin’s influence became more pronounced as the match progressed and Thomas Lee, a recent returnee from Australia, put in a good shift at midfield.
Their attack found it difficult to punch holes but the opportunism of Seamus O’Carroll in rifling the ball to the net in the 19th minute, after a skyscraper by Paul Kinnerk slipped from Kieran Cotter’s grasp, proved important.
Ian Ryan should have found the net in the 31st minute when his shot flew over the bar but his class told by the finish. His free-taking was exemplary as his points from those situations allowed Limerick to keep Waterford at arm’s length during the second half.
In the 69th minute he provided the gloss to the victory with a stinging drive to the net.
Limerick had their own scoring problems in the second half yet the old guard dug them out in the finale. Stephen Kelly sprang from the bench to lob over the first point from play of the second half in the 63rd minute and Ger Collins, quiet by his high standards, knocked over a brace.
The sight of Stephen Lucey joining in the action was reassuring for Limerick supporters and they will hope to have Jim Donovan fit and ready for the semi-final.
That will be a stern test but this was at least a start that offers hope.
Scorers for Limerick: I Ryan 1-7 (6fs), S O’Carroll 1-1, G Collins 0-2, J Cooke, S Kelly 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: M Ferncombe, T Grey, JJ Hutchinson 0-2 each, S Ahearne 0-1.
Subs for Limerick: I Corbett for Barry (33), J O’Meara for Kinnerk (48), S Kelly for O’Carroll (56), J Cooke for Lee (63), S Lucey for Ranahan (68).
Subs for Waterford: L Ó Lionáin for Prendergast (ht), J Veale for Ferncombe (59), S Fleming for Hutchinson (59), P Whyte for Hurney (59),
A Doyle for M O’Gorman (70).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).
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