NO COMPLAINTS this time.
Waterford and Limerick banished the lingering memory of last Sunday week’s study in dreariness with a peppery Munster SHC semi-final on Saturday night in Thurles.
The game was closer than the scoreline suggests, Waterford’s streak of unanswered points in the last ten minutes overshadowing what was a close game which entertained the 15,347 spectators.
On a dry sod both sides showed a better touch, but Waterford’s was sharper, and their delivery crisper. Their tactical rearrangements worked better too: Justin McCarthy started David Breen and Paul Browne up front for Limerick, but they weren’t as influential as Davy Fitzgerald’s expected switch of Stephen Molumphy to centre-forward, where he greatly reduced the influence of Limerick’s Brian Geary, man of the match in the drawn game.
Waterford started well against the wind, with three early points. Geary himself acknowledged that wasn’t in Limerick’s game plan: “We were trying to get some momentum going, and they tagged on three points straightaway. I don’t know if there’s something psychologically wrong with us or what, but we seem to give them a lead every time, and that’s no good in any sport.”
For all that, Limerick settled. James Ryan and Niall Moran chipped in with scores, and Waterford couldn’t get away: they were grateful to John Mullane for a livewire performance in the right corner (“John’s on fire,” said his teammate Eoin Kelly afterwards, “But I suppose he’s on fire ever since he came onto the senior team; he was outstanding.”)
Approaching half-time Geary lined Molumphy up for a ferocious – and illegal – shoulder, which effectively forced the Waterford man out of the game, but the Deise were in the driving seat, turning to play with the breeze.
“It (the wind) was strong,” said Geary later. “It was one of those if you touched the ball from eighty yards it could go over the bar. I didn’t think we used it enough in the first half, for a breeze like that.”
Waterford were breaking even in midfield, Mullane was torturing every defender who came near him, and their full-back line was well on top, but on the resumption Limerick still refused to let them out of their sights.
Andrew O’Shaughnessy became more involved, as did Seamus Hickey, and the scoreline advanced like a boxing judge’s scorecard: 50 minutes, 15-13 to Waterford; 55 minutes, 17-15; 60 minutes, 18-16.
With ten minutes left David Breen had a chance to repeat last week’s goalscoring heroics, but his touch left him down. It was a turning point, as Justin McCarthy admitted later.
“There was a point in the second half when, had we moved up a gear, we might have taken it, but we didn’t. An experienced team can respond that bit better, and if you have experienced players they can get the scores that count.
“We missed opportunities, and a chance for a goal, and they sensed that – when they sense that they put us on the back foot.”
And Waterford got the scores that counted, rattling off six unanswered points in the last ten minutes.
Seamus Prendergast pointed, won the resulting puck-out, and pointed again; Eoin Kelly steepled over a peach from the right wing; and Mullane was his busy self, winning crucial frees and firing up the crowd with his every touch.
It was a touch unfair to Limerick, who weren’t eight points poorer on the previous sixty minutes’ evidence.
“I’d be disappointed in ourselves a bit,” said Geary. “Waterford are good but we’re good enough to match them. We wouldn’t be looking up to them – we’re not in awe of them or anything like that – but they caught us in the last fifteen minutes.”
Waterford boss Davy Fitzgerald was happy but realistic at the final whistle.
“A lot of people were giving us a kick in the backside last week, but we played well for 35 minutes. We were six up. It’s very hard, when things start going against you, as happened, to turn it. You can’t panic. The moves worked today, but they mightn’t work the next day.
“ I was delighted the last day. People had been saying this had affected our team and that had affected them, but we battled at the end and that’s not a bad sign in a team.”
Nor is racking up 25 scores. Waterford have serious injury concerns for the Munster final, but they look to have dispelled doubts about their mental resolve in the wake of last year’s All-Ireland final and will have every intention of making it a glorious twelfth of July.
Scorers for Waterford: E. Kelly 0-12 (o-8 fs, 0-1 65); J. Mullane 0-6; S. Prendergast 0-4; S. Molumphy, S. O’Sullivan and J. Kennedy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Limerick: N. Moran (o-2 fs) and A. O’Shaughnessy (o-5 fs) 0-5 each; S. Hickey, J. Ryan 0-2; D. Breen, P. Browne, D. O’Grady 0-1 each.
Limerick subs: E Foley for O'Grady (47), G Mulcahy for Foley (58), T Condon for O'Riordan (60), D. Ryan for O’Shaughnessy (65).
Waterford subs used: D Shanahan for Molumphy (ht), E McGrath for Nagle (47), A Kearney for Foley (54), J Kennedy for Moran (66), J Murray for Browne (70).
Referee: B. Gavin (Offaly).
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