Plot and sub-plot off the field; action thriller on it. There was something for everybody in this fascinating clash at Limerick's Gaelic Grounds yesterday.
Beyond the immediately relevant matter of two league points, there was the opportunity for Justin McCarthy to put one over on his former team Waterford, and for pre-championship mind games between McCarthy and his counterpart Davy Fitzgerald.
These counties play each other in the 'real thing' on June 14 at Thurles.
Nobody expected a full dress rehearsal, but at the very least, supporters, players and team mentors would be sure to avail themselves of any little straw in the wind that might be of interest in the summer.
In that respect, Limerick got a morale-boosting victory -- despite being reduced to 14 men when captain and centre-back Brian Geary was sent off after 47 minutes.
Geary clashed with Waterford's Seamus Prendergast and was given a straight red.
Referee Cathal McAllister from Cork also dismissed David Breen of Limerick after 50 minutes on a yellow, then gave Waterford's Gary Hurney a yellow in the 55th minute when he fouled Limerick 'keeper Brian Murray.
McAllister finally sent off Limerick sub Mike O'Brien for another yellow card offence in injury-time.
Justin McCarthy was calm, cool and collected after the game. He has no more to say on the split with Waterford, and said: "It is good to win, but it is a league game. The intensity of a championship game wouldn't be there,"
Fitzgerald was not pleased with his men, who had the advantage of the extra man for over 20 minutes in the second half.
"I definitely didn't want to lose that game. We have to have a right good look at ourselves. Limerick are miles ahead of us at the moment. We really have to have a good look at ourselves and see what the story is," he said.
The red and yellow cards testified to the excessive physicality of some of the clashes, but it was always going to be a hard-fought game, albeit several notches below championship form, fitness, and intensity.
The attendance of 4,300 witnessed early Limerick dominance, with man-of-the-match Niall Moran in top form, as he proved by scoring a total of 1-9.
Moran set the tone with a first-minute point and a goal a minute later, when he cut in from the left side and angled a low shot into Clinton Hennessy's net.
James Ryan added a point from play for Limerick and it was 13 minutes before Waterford scored their first point, courtesy of Eoin Kelly.
Goals were the target for the Limerick forwards, and Hennessy saw the whites of James Ryan and Paul Browne's eyes as they bore down on his goal, but neither man could finish.
And Niall Moran got in on the act with a 20 metres free that was saved on the line.
For all their dominance, Limerick didn't gain the distance they ought to have put between themselves and their opponents.
Once Waterford recovered some poise, they forced Limerick keeper Brian Murray to make a double save, first from an Eoin Kelly shot and then a John Mullane follow-up after 20 minutes.
And three minutes later, Kelly scored Waterford's goal. It arose in a strange manner, as Mullane had hit a long ball wide, but, as he played the shot, a Limerick defender threw his hurley in Mullane's direction trying to put him off.
The referee saw it, gave a free around the 20 metre line, and Eoin Kelly smashed the ball into the net.
At half-time, the score was 1-7 to
1-5 in Limerick's favour, and the battle was really on in the second half, as they swapped scores and hit each other hard, resulting in those red and yellow cards.
A key turning point came in the 56th minute, when Limerick, down to 14 men, got their second goal.
A powerful, long flighted ball by Mark O'Riordan dropped in the Waterford danger area, and Donie Ryan, substitute for the yellow-carded David Breen, won the battle and fired the sliotair into the net.
That put the scores 2-11 to 1-11 in Limerick's favour and the men in green showed great courage and determination to limit Waterford to only two more points over the remaining 15 minutes, while adding three more themselves.
Limerick hero Niall Moran summed it all up, saying: "We're happy to get a win, but everything in perspective. Ten weeks time is what really counts."
Scorers -- Limerick: N Moran 1-9 (2f, 2 65s), D Ryan 1-0, J Ryan, S Hickey, G O'Mahoney, D Sheehan, J O'Brien 0-1 each. Waterford: E Kelly 1-4 (3f), J Mullane 0-3, G Hurney 0-2, S Walsh, E McGrath, D Shanahan, R Foley 0-1 each.
Limerick -- B Murray; D Reale, S Lucey, M O'Riordan; G O'Mahoney, B Geary, S Walsh; D O'Grady, S Hickey; J Ryan, N Moran, P Browne; D Breen, A O'Shaughnessy, P Tobin. Subs: D Sheehan for P Tobin (26); M O'Brien for P Browne (44); D Ryan for D Breen (y/card) 50; J O'Brien for M O'Brien (y/card) (71)
Waterford -- C Hennessy; E Murphy, A Kearney, N Connors; R Foley, M Walsh, J Murray; S O'Sullivan, J Nagle; G Hurney, S Prendergast, E Kelly; J Mullane, S Walsh, S Molumphy. Subs: K Moran for A Kearney (H.T); D Shanahan for S Prendergast (48); T Ryan for G Hurney (y/card) 56; E McGrath for S Walsh (59).
Ref -- C McAllister (Cork).