Waterford 3-17 Limerick 1-14
Munster SHC final
DAN the man came good, then got even better and progressed to being best of all as Waterford built up to what ultimately proved a winning climax in yesterday's Guinness Munster hurling final in Thurles.
It really was a memorable afternoon for Dan Shanahan who scored 3-3 from play as Waterford wore down a Limerick team who had hung in doggedly past the hour mark, a landmark they reached just two points down (1-14 to 1-12). Given the driving finishes that Limerick produced in their three-match saga with Tipperary, their supporters must well have felt that everything was in a place for another late surge which might have brought them their first Munster title since 1996.
However, this time Limerick were dealing with more coherent opposition who didn't look over their shoulders or tie up with the finish line in sight. On the contrary, Waterford injected real pace and no little power and precision into their game to out-score Limerick by 2-3 to 0-2 over the last eight minutes.
It was Shanahan who led Limerick towards the execution chamber in the 62nd minute, drifting into space and firing past Brian Murray in the Limerick goal. Limerick briefly resisted, knocking over two points, but Waterford built up more momentum with points from Flynn and the McGrath brothers, Ken and Eoin, before Shanahan struck for his third goal in the 70th minute.
He had also scored Waterford's first goal in the 52nd minute, whipping the ball to the net after Murray had made a smashing save from Flynn. It was vintage Shanahan on one of those magical days that he does so well. He ranged all around the attack, using his instincts to create space and torment a Limerick defence which was also under pressure from John Mullane and Eoin Kelly.
However, it was Shanahan who did most of the damage on a day when Waterford's greater big time experience - they were playing in fourth Munster final in six seasons - provided them with a considerable advantage.
They needed it too against a brave, resolute Limerick side for whom a nine-point defeat wasn't a fair reflection of their endeavours. Indeed, there were times when it looked as Limerick's defiance might unhinge Waterford who played with little fluency in the first half.
When Brian Begley flicked in a goal off a Brian Geary free in the seventh minute, Limerick must have felt that they were onto something. Could 'Big' Begley out-do 'Big' Dan?
Not really. For a start, Begley plays a different game to Shanahan which requires him to stay close to the opposition goal, territory which didn't see much play for long spells.
Still, with Michael Fitzgerald in productive form in the half-forwards and with Donal O'Grady hurling a tidy game at midfield, Limerick protected a narrow lead through much of the first half before Waterford edged ahead with a Seamus Prendergast point just before half-time (0-9 to 1-5).
Limerick's best spell came early in the second half when they pointed three times to lead by two points by the 45th minute. Justin McCarthy said afterwards that he told his players to cut loose in the second half but there was precious little sign of it at this stage as Limerick powered forward.
They wasted a few chances to extend their lead, which was always going to prove costly against such an experienced, well-constructed side as Waterford who are so confident in themselves these days that they never panic under pressure. Instead, they work through their problems, a process they started with Shanahan's first goal.
The Limerick defence will be helping manager Richie Bennis with his enquiries into why goalkeeper Murray was left unprotected after making such a fine save from Flynn because Shanahan had so much room that he could eye up the chance before despatching the ball to the net.
It was the sort of situation where Damien Reale, ruled out after being injured against Tipperary two weeks previously, might well have been lurking around the goal when the ball broke. Such are the tiny margins that decide games as Limerick discovered to their cost. Once Waterford hit the front, they began to play like a side that believed they could press on and win.
Limerick hung with them at one and two point ranges until Shanahan pounced for the second goal which effectively decided the contest. Waterford grew in stature and influence over the closing minutes, hurling an expansive game that Limerick couldn't match on this occasion.
While Shanahan was the main man, he had plenty of willing accomplices. Mullane was always probing for openings; captain Michael 'Brick' Walsh hurled powerfully at midfield, Stephen Molumphy was busy and effective while further back Ken McGrath cemented the defence which raised the control quota considerably in the second half.
Ollie Moran, who did so well at centre-forward against Tipperary, located few openings this time, brother Niall also struggled and was replaced after 44 minutes while Barry Foley, who scuffed a great goal chance in the first minute, had a frustrating day as well. He seemed at odds with his hurley, failing to control the ball on a few occasions when he was well-placed to get a shot on goal.
Kevin and Pat Tobin brought about some improvement when they came on, scoring 0-3 between them, while Waterford subs James Murray and Eoin McGrath also worked out well.
That's one of the more encouraging aspects for Waterford these days. The team is nicely set up on and off the field which means that subs can slot in quite comfortably, knowing exactly what's required of them. It's a role in which Eoin McGrath, in particular, thrives as he did again yesterday.
So then, Waterford collect their eighth Munster crown, but judging by the reaction of the players and supporters afterwards, they want to see bigger fish on the pan. The euphoria which marked their Munster wins in 2002 and 2004 was replaced by a more measured response as Waterford contemplated taking the next step towards that elusive All-Ireland title. And while Limerick will be disappointed to have lost by nine points, their season is still very much alive. It's the least they deserve.
SCORERS - Waterford: D Shanahan 3-3; E Kelly 0-4 (2f); J Mullane 0-3; S Molumphy, P Flynn (1f) 0-2 each; S Prendergast, K McGrath (f), E McGrath 0-1 each. Limerick: B Begley 1-2; M Fitzgerald, A O'Shaughnessy (2 '65's, 1f) 0-3 each; K Tobin 0-2; D O'Grady, P Tobin, O Moran, M O'Brien 0-1 each.
WATERFORD - C Hennessy 7; E Murphy 8, D Prendergast 7, A Kearney 7; T Browne 7, K McGrath 8, J Kennedy 7; K Moran 6, M Walsh 8; D Shanahan 9, E Kelly 7, S Molumphy 8; J Mullane 8, S Prendergast 6, P Flynn 6. Subs: J Murray 7 for Moran (56), E McGrath 7 for Kennedy (61).
LIMERICK - B Murray 7; M O'Riordan 6, S Lucey 7, S Hickey 6; P Lawlor 6, B Geary 7, M Foley 6; D O'Grady 7, M O'Brien 6; M Fitzgerald 8, O Moran 5, N Moran 5; A O'Shaughnessy 5, B Begley 7, B Foley 5. Subs: K Tobin 7 for N Moran (44), P Tobin 7for B Foley (55), P O'Dwyer for O'Brien (64).
REFEREE: S Roche (Tipperary)
The game at a glance
Man of the match
Dan Shanahan (Waterford) Scored 3-3 from play, making him the automatic choice. He read the angles brilliantly all day, drifting into space and giving his colleagues a target to aim at. They found it quite regularly too as Shanahan's final tally proves.
Waterford's second goal in the 62nd minute. Shanahan's opportunist finish put Waterford five points clear and while Limerick pared two back, Waterford opened their shoulders and finished with a 1-3 flourish.
Would it have been different if Limerick hadn't conceded the second goal? They had hung in all day and given their strong finishes against Tipperary they would have fancied themselves for another burst. However, Waterford's goal killed them off.
Justin McCarthy (Waterford manager): "We were very flat in the first half and couldn't any real rhythm going. I said to them at half-time, you'll have to cut loose here boys and it fairness, they picked it up. They came good when it mattered most."
Richie Bennis (Limerick manager): "That was never a nine-point game. We were right in there with ten minutes to go but we missed a few chances and paid the price. It's disappointing but we'll have no problem lifting it again for the quarter-finals."
Wides: Waterford 10 (7); Limerick 13 (7)
Frees: Waterford 8 (4); Limerick 9 (3)
Yellow Cards: Waterford 2 (E Kelly 38 (35+3), J Kennedy 53); Limerick 2 (M O'Riordan (46), M Fitzgerald 53)
Red Cards: Waterford 0; Limerick 0.
Both advance to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.