Time to take a serious look at Limerick’s credentials

Mirabilis or horribilis? Your opinion of the hurling year so far probably owes a good deal to what happens when you turn on that geolocator on your phone, the one feeding all your personal information to a bot factory in Kazakhstan.

Yesterday will cause anguish in the eastern and northern reaches of the Munster region, because both Waterford and Tipperary have a long empty summer in which to mull over their hurling futures.

Both sides exited yesterday, with Waterford being barbecued by Limerick on a dank afternoon in the Gaelic Grounds, while time finally ran out on Tipperary’s games of Russian roulette. With Waterford-Limerick decided long before the final whistle, there was keen interest in the Mackey Stand in the online updates from Semple Stadium, but it was still difficult to fathom that the All-Ireland finalists and semi-finalists from last year were both gone from the championship by 4pm on June 10.

The game in Limerick hardly survived as a contest past the first quarter, with Limerick battering 2-7 past Waterford and killing any momentum the visitors might have retained from the previous week’s draw.

Their manager agreed the foundation for victory had been laid down in that opening fifteen minutes, if not beforehand.

“Everything went right for us all day today,” said John Kiely. “As it does most days, before the game we had a very structured pre-game routine. I just knew once the warm-up was complete that we were ready to go.

“I wasn’t one bit surprised that we hit the ground running. I think Shane (Dowling) brought a new energy to the inside line as well, and it freed up Seamus (Flanagan) to hit the wings a bit more.

“I thought they worked really, really hard as a forward unit today, and they were very unselfish with the ball as well. They kept passing until the right man was in the right place to take the shot. It was great.”

Waterford boss Derek McGrath acknowledged Limerick’s combination of strength and hurling nous, putting the win down to “Limerick’s absolute physicality of approach, their stability to be at the pitch of the game.

“I put it as much down to Limerick’s — not brilliance, but I thought they were pitch perfect. I think (coach Paul) Kinnerk’s hands were all over it, in terms of the movement, the short game, the creation of space and a little bit of naivety on our behalf. Maybe a bit of a perception creeping in of how we played during the week exposed us defensively in terms of following man for man and stuff. We found it hard to stay with them.”

The time has certainly arrived to take a serious look at Limerick’s All-Ireland credentials. Yesterday’s win was a decent addition to their portfolio of displays this summer: after the clinical dismissal and gusty draw, a blow-out which didn’t increase their manager’s stress levels.

With a relatively young, inexperienced team, the danger signs are always in excessive emotion. Early in Magic Johnson’s first season with the Los Angeles Lakers the team won a narrow victory, and Johnson’s exuberant celebrations furrowed brows among his older colleagues, more accustomed to maintaining their equilibrium over a long season.

Limerick were never going to be mistaken for Magic Johnson in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday. Their attitude in an awesome first half was one to film and distribute to other teams seeking to make a breakthrough; it was professionalism in the best sense, combining application and diligence in equal measure.

One of the laziest cliches in the analysis of Gaelic games is the castigation of sides who don’t push on and pile up the scores when they’re on top —Limerick couldn’t have been accused of that either, as they gave a master class in efficiency and focus in the first half: little wonder their supporters gave them a standing ovation at the break.

Kyle Hayes’s point on 40 minutes illustrated that efficiency perfectly, echoing John Kiely’s point about finding the right man to take the shot in an emblematic 30 seconds of play. Before the end they’d broken the 30-point barrier, finishing with 2-26, and had emptied the bench to get some game time into players who may be needed next weekend.

For Waterford it’s another week and another venue, with the tour rolling into Thurles next Sunday for a last show against Cork.

Derek McGrath was as diplomatic this week as he was last week about the error which lost the Tipperary game for Waterford (“I don’t think so,” he said yesterday if that umpiring mistake had hung over them, “Even though it followed us around all week in terms of the lads, it didn’t influence our play today.”)

Behind the politeness McGrath and his selectors must be seething still about the call, however.

It was this week rather than last which showed the true cost of that ineptitude, as Waterford would have gone into the last round of games with something to play for if they’d been three points further ahead at the end of the Tipperary game.

Curiously, even though one of next week’s game has nothing on offer for one participant, the compelling self- contained narratives of the games so far in the round- robins — the comebacks! Those uncertain double-digit leads! — already appear to have won the hearts and minds of hurling supporters.

That old Breandan O hEithir joke about Jack Lynch’s ideal Ireland having a Munster final every Sunday — and two on holiday weekends — doesn’t look quite as ludicrous now, with the nail-biting encounters and thunderous entertainment coming week on week on week.

The obvious caveat involves wear and tear. Looking further into the summer, will some of the Munster teams find they’ve left their best behind them when they board the train for Dublin and battle in the capital?

Exhibit A: Clare and Limerick slug it out next weekend in Cusack Park in a game that has the potential to be the most entertaining in Munster this year, which is saying something. Nobody involved will be looking further than that throw-in.

Annus horribilis it is then, for the folk of Tipperary and Waterford. For everyone else the miracle keeps on giving.


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