THANK God for replays!
After a spectacle that must surely rank with the worst ever in the Munster championship, to ask the 25,000 faithful who were in Semple Stadium yesterday to hang on for extra-time would surely have been a human rights violation.
For the long-suffering fans from two counties that are far too long in hurling’s wilderness, this was a truly painful experience, each side suffering in turn.
Where to start? On what had been a lovely, balmy afternoon, the first shower fell after about five minutes of the first half, by which time the signs were already there. 0-1 to no score it was that at that stage, Waterford’s lead coming courtesy of the flying John Mullane.
But white-hot championship intensity this was not – the dampest of damp squibs, more like.
Point by point, Waterford crept ahead, but minute by minute the quality was slipping; half-time came, eventually and Waterford were ahead by six points, (0-9 to 0-3) but it was turgid fare.
In fairness to the men in white-and-blue they were looking like a decent side, no hangover from their last championship appearance, last year’s All-Ireland final hammering by Kilkenny. Their defence was rock solid, debutants Noel Connors and Richie Foley both doing very well, as were Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, Kevin Moran and centre-back Micheál ‘Brick’ Walsh; Stephen Molumphy was playing a captain’s role (joint captain, with Ken McGrath) in midfield, while wing-forwards Seamus Prendergast and Jamie Nagle helped to ensure a good supply to the inside line of Mullane, Eoin Kelly and Eoin McGrath.
Mullane in particular was superb in this half, scored four fine points from play, giving Stephen Walsh a rough introduction to Munster senior championship hurling, though the Limerick sideline can ship some criticism here for being too slow in changing Damien Reale across.
Free-taker Kelly was also on target for the Déise, with four from placed balls, but he was getting no change from a fired-up Stephen Lucey.
That Waterford’s half-time lead wasn’t greater was down primarily to some sterling Limerick defence, most notably by the aforementioned Dr Lucey and Brian Geary, both of them formidable down the middle. Their midfield duo of Seamus Hickey (especially) and Donal O’Grady also had the shoulder to the wheel, but up front – their attack was in a word, dreadful.
There was plenty of supply, let it be said, but of the six starting Limerick forwards, none looked remotely threatening. Three points they managed, but only one forward got on the board, Niall Moran with one from play, one from a free. Seamus Hickey had their third – what should have been an inspirational burst from midfield sadly didn’t have the desired effect.
Then came half-time but it was no break, not from the rain – which actually intensified – and certainly not from the paucity of play. If anything it deteriorated, though now it was the Waterford supporters, who had travelled in their thousands, who were feeling most of the pain. Half-time saw a little silly buggers being played, Limerick first out on the pitch but left waiting in the deluge by Waterford; a few minutes of that and they decided they’d had enough, headed back to the dressing room only to meet Waterford in the tunnel, on their way out.
Waterford now took up their positions, alongside some of the hardier Limerick players who had decided to stick it out, but eventually referee Diarmuid Kirwan was forced to go hunting for the Limerick lads. Farcical.
When play eventually got under way it was Limerick with the first score, and it was significant; James Ryan – another championship debutant – was the main man, and got on the end of a huge Brian Murray puckout. He made about 20m before drawing the inside cover, parting to substitute full-forward David Breen to goal. And suddenly it was game on.
Well, perhaps ‘game on’ is an exaggeration, but it was a contest anyway, Limerick now just three points behind (1-3 to 0-9) despite not having hurled for 35 minutes.
Now it was their turn on top, and point by point they clawed their way back, but again, minute by minute, and even as the excitement levels rose in the stands (and among the Limerick faithful especially), the fare went downhill.
James Ryan had a brace (including the final equaliser), Niall Moran repeated his return of the opening half (one from play, one from a free), while Andrew O’Shaughnessy had a single point; meanwhile, Waterford managed just two, both from placed balls by the otherwise almost anonymous Eoin Kelly.
Where Waterford should have been further in front at the break, they can count themselves lucky, and very lucky, that they are still in this Munster championship today. Limerick can take credit for their fight back, and their defence especially was magnificent in the second half, Damien Reale stifling John Mullane, sub Denis Moloney having a blinder on the right wing, Mark Foley really stepping forward on the other side, while Lucey and Brian Geary continued to command the centre, one huge hit by Geary on Seamus Prendergast in the 60th minute encapsulating that dominance. They could even had won it, in the end, having shot some atrocious wides in that second half.
Really, however, this is a game where it can be said with absolute truth that neither side deserved to win.
Next Saturday, same place, they get to do it all over again; for that, they can both be grateful.
Hopefully, when all is said and done, we’ll all get to say the same.
Scorers for Waterford: E. Kelly 0-6 (all frees); J. Mullane (0-4); S. Prendergast 0-1.
Scorers for Limerick: N. Moran 0-4 (0-2 frees); D. Breen 1-0; J. Ryan 0-2; S. Hickey, A. O’Shaughnessy, 0-1 each.
Subs for Waterford: D. Shanahan (E. McGrath 45); T. Browne (O’Sullivan 65); G. Hurney (K. McGrath 65).
Subs for Limerick: D. Breen (O’Brien 30); D. Sheehan (D. Ryan 35); D. Moloney (Walsh 35); P. Browne (O’Shaughnessy 68).
Referee: D. Kirwan (Cork).
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