Aaron Gillane scores wonder goal as Limerick add National League title to All-Ireland crown
Limerick 1-24 Waterford 0-19
Limerick added the National League title to the All-Ireland they won last August, returning to Croke Park where their exploits lit up last season’s hurling championship. They were convincing winners and should have won more comfortably, hitting 15 wides.
Man of the match Aaron Gillane hit nine of those wides which was symptomatic of their overall performance, as he also contributed 1-9. His goal in the first half was the main highlight of a poor final which Limerick ruled for most of the play.
Limerick, playing with the breeze, were quicker to settle and built a six point lead in the opening 13 minutes. Gillane was Waterford’s chief tormentor, ending the first half with 1-5 to his name, including three points from play and a sensational goal when he got a touch to a long delivery from Tom Morrissey in the 27th minute.
At that point Waterford had managed to get themselves back into the game, reducing the deficit to one point, 0-8 to 0-9. In the early stages Limerick dominated in the half back line under the Waterford puck out and Paraic Fanning’s side relied on Stephen Bennett for the majority of their scoring. Bennett had seven first half points, five from frees, of Waterford’s total of ten.
Gillane, marked tightly by Noel Connors but moving all over the field, scored the first point of the match in the third minute after winning the free himself. The next score summed up Limerick’s early superiority, with Gearoid Hegarty fielding a Stephen O’Keeffe puck out and laying the ball on for a Cian Lynch point.
Jamie Barron forced a free which gave Bennett Waterford’s first score and Bennett levelled in the sixth minute but that presaged a run of Limerick scores, six unanswered to create a lead of 0-8 to 0-2 after an impressive seven-minute passage of play. Hegarty scored the first and Gillane had a goal attempt saved off the back of O’Keeffe but play was called back for a free which Gillane covered in the seventh minute, doubling the Limerick lead.
A minute later Gillane’s first point from play ended a terrific move that started at the other end of the field with Sean Finn’s catch. Darragh O’Donovan landed a sideline from 45m and Hegarty had a second and then Tadhg de Burca was thieved by Lynch who set up Kyle Hayes for an eight point.
But Waterford managed to stem the tide. Points from Bennett, another free, Kevin Moran, and two more from Bennett including a monster strike from play saw Waterford hit four points on the bounce.
Peter Casey put a halt to that sequence of Waterford scores when he landed a brilliant point in the 23rd minute, splitting the posts with a shot over his shoulder as he moved away from goal towards the sideline under severe pressure from Callum Lyons.
That left Limerick leading 0-9 to 0-6 ahead they were soon under pressure when Nicke Quaid had to make a save from Stephen Bennett, play again called back for a free which Bennett landed. Another free from Bennett in the 26th minute left only a point between them with Tom Condon picking up a yellow card for a late tackle.
Then came Gillane’s goal, the start of a 1-3 flourish from Limerick before half time, heading in leading by five points, 1-12 to 0-10.
Limerick stepped on the gas after half time, two Gillane frees and points from play by Declan Hannon and Casey putting them eight points clear in the opening nine minutes. Bennett also lost his free taking touch and Pauric Mahony took on the duty, scoring in the 46th minute, which launched a mini recovery. A line ball from Austin Gleeson, having a quiet match, and a long distance effort by Philip Mahony reduced the gap to five points with 48 minutes played 1-16 to 0-14.
There was no stopping Gillane though. He responded with two quick points from play to leave seven between them entering the final 20 minutes and taking his tally to 1-9. Bennet had a goal chance that flashed over the bar after Finn dropped a ball near his own goal but Limerick looked comfortable, keeping Waterford at a safe distance. It should have been all over in the 56th minute when Gillane had Tom Morrissey on the overlap but the Ahane man failed to catch the ball and it went wide to Waterford’s relief.
Limerick should have been out of sight but they blazed a high tally of wides with Gillane their biggest culprit with nine despite a fine performance otherwise. That left Waterford with a chance of forcing a late comeback and Mahony’s fourth point, a free, reduced the lead to five points with seven minutes left.
But their attack failed to ignite and never looked like being capable of getting the run of scores to make that possible. On came Shane Dowling, replacing Gillane, to hit two quick scores, from a free and play to remove any doubt. It was Limerick's first league title win since 1997 and shows that they are the team to beat come the summer.
Scorers: Limerick - A Gillane 1-9 (0-5 fs); G Hegarty, P Casey 0-3; S Dowling (f) 0-2; C Lynch 0-2; D O’Donovan (lb), T Morrissey, G Mulcahy, D Hannon, S Flanagan 0-1. Waterford - Stephen Bennett 0-9 (0-6 fs); Pauric Mahony 0-5 (0-4 fs); A Gleeson 0-2 (1 lb); K Moran, M Walsh, Philip Mahony 0-1.
Limerick: N Quaid; T Condon, S Finn, R English; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; C Lynch, D O’Donovan; G Hegarty, K Hayes, T Morrissey; A Gillane, P Casey, G Mulcahy.
Subs: M Casey for Condon (half time); S Flanagan for Mulcahy (56); B Murphy for Gillan (63); S Dowling for T Morrissey (63); P O’Loughlin for Hannon (68).
Waterford: S O’Keeffe; S McNulty, C Lyons, N Connors; Philip Mahony, T De Burca, K Moran; J Barron, M Walsh; A Gleeson; M Kearney, Pauric Mahony; P Hogan, Stephen Bennett, Shane Bennett.
Subs: J Prendergast for Walsh (half time); T Ryan for Shane Bennett (46); C Prunty for Lyons (47); P Curran for Hogan (56); S Roche for Kearney (60).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).