Tuesday 14 August 2018

Limerick blow shakes Déise out of the summer celebrations

Limerick 2-26 Waterford 1-16 - Munster SHC

Graeme Mulcahy of Limerick shoots to score his side's second goal of the game despite the attention of Conor Gleeson of Waterford during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Limerick and Waterford at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Graeme Mulcahy of Limerick shoots to score his side's second goal of the game despite the attention of Conor Gleeson of Waterford during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Limerick and Waterford at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

This isn't a Limerick familiar to old-school prejudice. It's not a team reliant on flame-cheeked gusts or hurling that's primarily heat and melodrama.

This Limerick plays a Savile Row game: tailored and smart and adorned with a kind of cuff-linked elegance. True, they have formidable size too and their physicality is, as Derek McGrath averred, "absolute". But they take you out with the clean crack of pistol fire, not blunderbuss in a bird sanctuary commotion. They are hurlers first, warriors second, you see.

Austin Gleeson of Waterford following his side's defeat in the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Limerick and Waterford at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Austin Gleeson of Waterford following his side's defeat in the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Limerick and Waterford at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile

So they look serious, different.

This performance was collaged with so many illustrations of spatial awareness and intelligent use of the ball that McGrath's lament over choosing not to deploy a seventh defender seemed needlessly self-critical.

For Waterford were napalmed by a team that, as their manager John Kiely agreed, looks to be growing with every new day.

Face it, the business of structures and systems becomes redundant when one team is so patently superior to the other.

Tom Devine of Waterford in action against Richie English of Limerick during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Limerick and Waterford at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Tom Devine of Waterford in action against Richie English of Limerick during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Limerick and Waterford at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile

A draw against Clare on Sunday will secure Limerick a Munster final place -an Ennis encounter which has already been sold out - but you have to suspect that they may already be thinking even deeper into the season.

In Aaron Gillane's absence through suspension, Shane Dowling summoned a massively defiant performance on his first outing in county colours since July 1 last year.

The Na Piarsaigh man finished with 0-15, floating about as a notional full-forward with licence to go on regular safari.

Stallion

They say in Limerick that he'll never be mistaken for a stallion, but Dowling's day was caught in microcosm on the half-hour when he torqued out past a seemingly startled Shane McNulty to score the kind of point that slow-coaches aren't meant to even try.

Kiely remarked after that Dowling brought a new "freshness" to the inside attacking line, words presumably that Gillane won't mistake as anything other than a manager's challenge.

Still, bad luck is one terrible liability to carry into any Championship and Waterford, to be fair, have had bag-fulls.

Whether it be a dressing-room left to resemble an infirmary or an umpire's brain turning to rice pudding, everything about them this year seemed to unspool behind some kind of melancholy gauze. For McGrath, there was, as he admitted, little enough to say to his team afterwards, given their season is now effectively over.

"They are devastated," he reflected "because they obviously know the implications of the defeat."

He added: "The Championship is over. Albeit it sounds contradictory to say there is nothing at stake next week (against Cork), there's pride, there's Michael's (Walsh) record championship appearance - 74 next week."

They were already 0-5 to 0-2 down when Gearoid Hegarty fired home Limerick's first goal in the 10th minute after a sublime move culminating in Seamus Flanagan's clever inside pass to the inrushing St Patricks man.

Three minutes later, Limerick had another, with Graeme Mulcahy jabbing home after Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe was uncharacteristically tardy under a Flanagan delivery.

So just 16 minutes into this game, any illusion of a looming contest had been laid to rest; Limerick 2-7 to 0-2 ahead and Waterford trying in vain to slow the cascade of setbacks now falling their way.

They'd lost Shane Fives to injury inside four minutes, meaning they were now down five of last year's All-Ireland final backline, albeit Kieran Bennett only started that game because of Conor Gleeson's suspension.

As McGrath reflected: "The defensive structure we'd aligned over the years was lost and some key individuals didn't have the work behind them. It just caught up with us as much as anything else.

"We were going man-for-man on the puck-outs but, because we didn't have a seventh man back, we had no one back in the pocket. We were a little exposed.

"It's been a tough few weeks. No excuses, but there has been a litany of misfortune that has befallen the team. But we haven't made excuses for the past five years and we're not going to start now."

Leading 2-14 to 0-7 at half-way, Kiely was able to empty his bench without Limerick's movement ever becoming contaminated by any sense of wavering conviction.

Yet again, their authority found clearest expression in the dominance of Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon and Dan Morrissey at half-back, while the impressive momentum of Cian Lynch's season at midfield showed little sign of tapering.

Unmarked

Substitute Tommy Ryan did snipe in unmarked for a 41st-minute Waterford goal, yet there was never a sense of the emotional balance shifting here. If anything, only the union of careless finishing and desperate Waterford defending stopped Limerick running riot.

O'Keeffe made amends for his error with two fine second-half saves from the hard-charging Hayes, and Hegarty inexplicably sprayed a wide after Dowling's gorgeous low pass completely undressed the Waterford back-line.

By the close, it all had an exhibition feel, Limerick easing home to virtual bullfight roars from a crowd now audibly charmed. "Positivity makes things an awful lot easier," suggested Kiely at the finish.

"Negativity makes things a hell of a lot harder. It's been a while since we won two Championship matches in the one year and we've had enough of difficult days, so let us enjoy the good days. Let it not be a burden to be playing well. It's important that it shouldn't be a burden. We want the people of Limerick to be very proud of this team. They should be and they are."

So to Ennis next Sunday and a date with Clare who themselves have found some summer mojo.

SCORERS - Limerick: S Dowling 0-15 (13fs), G Hegarty 1-1, C Lynch 0-3, G Mulcahy 1-0, K Hayes, T Morrissey 0-2 each, D O'Donovan (s-l), D Dempsey, S Flanagan 0-1 each. Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-10 (9fs), T Ryan 1-0, S Bennett, T Devine, DJ Foran, M Kearney, S O'Keeffe, M Shanahan 0-1 each.

LIMERICK - N Quaid 7; S Finn 7, M Casey 7, R English 7; D Byrnes 8, D Hannon 8, D Morrissey 8; D O'Donovan 7, C Lynch 8; G Hegarty 7, K Hayes 8, T Morrissey 7; S Flanagan 7, S Dowling 9, G Mulcahy 7. Subs: D Dempsey 7 for Hegarty (55), B Murphy for Mulcahy (60), W O'Donoghue for O'Donovan (63), B Nash for Flanagan (68), P Browne for Lynch (68).

WATERFORD - S O'Keeffe 6; S Fives (nr), C Gleeson 6, N Connors 6; M Walsh 7, A Gleeson 6, Philip Mahony 6; J Barron 6, Pauric Mahony 7; K Moran 6, S Roche 6, DJ Foran 6; S Bennett 7, T Devine 6, P Curran 6. Subs: S McNulty 6 for Fives (4), T Ryan 7 for Curran (ht), M Shanahan 7 for Bennett (ht), J Dillon 6 for Roche (52), M Kearney for Barron (65).

Ref - S Cleere (Kilkenny).

Irish Independent

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