DESERVING winners though Waterford were, it bordered on travesty that there had to be a loser in this pulsating Munster minor hurling championship semi-final that enthralled 3,208 fans at Walsh Park on Saturday.
Limerick, who looked like they’d be blown away after falling 12 points adrift inside 10 minutes, staged the most dramatic of comebacks which incredibly forced the hosts to grab a late equalising point that forced 20 minutes of extra-time.
It was a game that had everything and lacked in nothing. Many of the 39 scores were of vintage quality, there were outstanding individual displays on both sides, and throughout the nail-biting intensity of the exchanges the level of sportsmanship never dipped.
Waterford enjoyed a brilliant start with full forward Darragh Flynn scoring their opening goal inside a minute, and two further goal strikes by the outstanding Stephen Bennett in the 4th and 9th minutes had them 3-3 to nil in front with barely 10 minutes on the clock.
Limerick were visibly struggling all over the field, but it is to their credit that they managed to pick themselves off the floor although their opening score, a Mark Carmody point, didn’t come until the quarter hour.
Much better thereafter, and in fact they dominated the final quarter of the half territorially. An opportunist goal by their flying corner forward Kevin O’Brien just before the break was a tonic score, even if they were still nine points adrift at the break, 3-7 to 1-4.
If it was Waterford who enjoyed the flying first-half start it was Limerick’s turn to do so on the resumption. Now they were the side calling most of the shots, and with Dan Morrissey driving them on from midfield and O’Brien, Shane Dowling, and Mark Carmody posing a major threat up front, the Waterford lead was steadily eaten into.
They outscored Waterford by 1-5 to 0-1 in the third quarter — O’Brien again their goalscorer, and when he landed the sweetest of points in the 47th minute the sides were level for the first time.
However, a minute later man of the match Stephen Bennett — he is eligible in the minor grade for two more years and won’t be 16 until October — completed his hat trick with a brilliant close range strike.
Again the pendulum seemed to have swung back in the home side’s favour. But it was brief. Inside two minutes Carmody had the Shannonsiders back on level terms with another goal of superb quality and when he rifled over a point 60 seconds later his side had taken the lead for the first time.
They proceeded to go three points clear with five minutes remaining and looked to have completed the comeback but Waterford showed their character again and dynamic sub Cormac Heffernan’s equalising point in the 59th minute set up extra-time.
It was all Waterford thereafter as they rifled over five unanswered points in the first period, and two valiant but tired sides could manage just one further point each in the final 10 minutes as Waterford booked their Munster final place against Clare in what will be a repeat of the 2010 decider.
If Bennett, with 3-2, was the Déise match-winner there were other stellar performances too while substitutes Cormac Heffernan and Donal Breathnach also made huge impacts when introduced.
Limerick too had their stars and none more so than Dan Morrissey, Barry Lynch, Liam Ryan, Shane Dowling, Mark Carmody and Kevin O’Brien who were all heroic in defeat.
Scorers for Waterford: S Bennett (3-2), J Dillon (0-8, 0-5 frees, 0-1 ‘65’), D Flynn (1-0), G O’Brien (0-3, 0-1 free), R Barry, S McNulty, C Heffernan, D Breathnach (0-1) each.
Scorers for Limerick: K O’Brien (2-3), M Carmody (1-4, 0-1 free), S Dowling (0-6, frees); J Ahern (0-2).
WATERFORD: P Cooke; J Barron, D Ahern, C Walsh; S O’Neill, D Foley, S Roche; S McNulty, R Barry; D Flynn, J Dillon, G O‘Brien; A O’Sullivan, S Bennett, C Chester.
Subs: C Heffernan for Chester (42), M Harney for Flynn (49), I Kenny for Roche (53), J Power for Ahern (inj, 59), C Dunford for O’Neill (70), D Breathnach for O’Sullivan (71).
LIMERICK: PJ Hall; S Irwin, B O’Connell, B Murphy; L Ryan, C Keogh, B Lynch; D Morrissey, D Dee; D Reidy, S Dowling, M Fitzgibbon; K O’Brien, M Carmody, J Ahern.
Subs: P Carroll for Keogh (26), S O’Riordan for Fitzgibbon (57), C O’Riordan or Murphy (66), Fitzgibbon for S O’Riordan (70), E O’Farrell for Dowling (inj. 71).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).
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