Second-half goal rush keeps Waterford on course to retain title
Waterford 3-23 Limerick 1-18
Just when the narrative around Waterford's goal dearth seemed to be picking up pace, they struck for three in the last half an hour of this League semi-final in Thurles to allay any tensions that may be building on that front.
One goal in six League matches up to now was not the footprint of a team that can make a real difference at the business end of the Championship. So it was with some relief that manager Derek McGrath was able to reflect on a second-half performance that put paid to any perception that they can't trouble umpires with green flags.
McGrath talked of their goal statistics in stark terms afterwards, referring to it as "a noose around your neck".
Thus, it was no surprise to hear him reflect on his players "loosening" somewhat once Shane Bennett rifled a 43rd-minute penalty past Limerick goalkeeper Nicky Quaid.
There has been a lot of talk about it, McGrath accepted, "and it's hard to keep that outside", he acknowledged.
"There was a stat mentioned that Clare and Limerick were well ahead of us on goals, but our stats when we were in 1B were very handsome in terms of goals," he said.
"It's good to get a couple of goals, no doubt about it. We're an absolute work in progress and nowhere near where we need to be in terms of goals," he accepted. "It's no coincidence that the penalty freed us up, I was thinking the accusation after would be that we could only get goals from penalties!
"We got 3-21 last year against Cork in the Championship, 3-23 today, there's a little more accuracy needed because it can be a noose around your neck, not getting goals."
The freedom allowed Waterford to turn a one-point interval deficit into a comfortable 11-point passage to their second successive League final.
Any suggestion that they might hold something back, with the potential of a League final meeting with Clare ahead, was firmly knocked on the head as they attacked the second half with vigour.
"Our attitude has been consistent about the League, we feel our best chance of success in the Championship is to do well in the League," he said.
"That's us out there, there are no secrets, no hidden tactical ploys. We're here warts and all and that's what we intended - to be in the final."
For Limerick, the defeat is a significant setback, coming so soon after victory over Dublin in the quarter-final that seemed to purge them of the misgivings so many in their county had about them after an insipid effort against Clare in Ennis.
Clare subsequently franked that form in the second semi-final against Kilkenny but Limerick will take no comfort from that. They were outsmarted in the second half as Waterford attacked the left flank of their defence repeatedly with positive results.
There was a palpable skill difference too, the touch and awareness of so many Waterford players strikingly better at times.
For the second successive Thurles game the Limerick players and management ran the gauntlet of abuse as they came off the field, one irate supporter demanding access to the enclosure to offload his 'entitlement' to tell them what he thought. It was an unedifying spectacle. And Limerick manager TJ Ryan didn't need to be told.
They went in at half-time 0-12 to 0-11 clear, the sides level nine times during a half that never threatened to compound the prevailing ash crisis.
Tom Morrissey nicked three points and both Diarmuid Byrnes and Ronan Lynch, operating as a sweeper, made plenty of ground out of defence.
But they weren't always smart with their short puck-outs and too often it got them in trouble.
There were grounds for optimism however that they could at least ask searching questions of Waterford.
The reigning champions, who also deployed a sweeper throughout, needed the steady hand of Michael 'Brick' Walsh, especially under their own puck-outs, and Kevin Moran.
The dynamic changed though when Waterford hit four of the first five points to take a two-point lead and when Bennett was hauled down in the 43rd minute by Limerick corner-back Seanie O'Brien, his finish was perfect.
Limerick did recover some ground and when Lynch blocked Jake Dillon to set up Barry Nash for his second point, the gap was down to just that converted penalty with 14 minutes remaining.
But Limerick looked vulnerable to goals. And when substitute Brian O'Halloran and Walsh combined on 60 minutes, Patrick Curran was on hand to deliver the second fatal blow to Limerick who scored just twice in the last 15 minutes through Shane Dowling, who blasted a goal and a point from frees.
Waterford substitute Tom Devine compounded their misery with a third goal after Bennett had lanced through off that right wing that Limerick just couldn't guard after Curran, who hit 1-10 and is bringing another dimension to Waterford's attacking play, was red-carded for a second yellow.
"I'm entitled to plenty of criticism now, I knew that after the last day," admitted Ryan who had spoken of "vultures" and "hidden agendas" in the county in the wake of beating Dublin.
"That second half performance, you don't need to be a genius to work out that that wasn't good enough. Waterford were miles ahead of us in the second half."
Scorers - Waterford: P Curran 1-10 (7fs, 2 65s), S Bennett 1-3, T Devine 1-1, A Gleeson 0-3 (1f), C Dunford 0-2, D Fives, T de Burca, K Moran, B O'Halloran 0-1 each. Limerick: R Lynch 0-7 (7fs), S Dowling 1-1 (1-1fs), T Morrissey 0-3, D Byrnes, B Nash 0-2 each, J Ryan, T Condon, P Browne 0-1 each.
Waterford: S O'Keeffe 7; S Fives 7, B Coughlan 8, N Connors 7; T de Burca 7, A Gleeson 8, P Mahony 7; K Moran 8, J Barron 6; D Fives 7, J Dillon 6, M Walsh 8; P Curran 8, S Bennett 8, C Dunford 7. Subs: B O'Halloran 7 for Dunford (47), S McNulty 6 for S Fives (54), T Devine 8 for Dillon (58), P Mahony for Walsh (64), S O'Sullivan for Moran (66).
Limerick: N Quaid 6; S O'Brien 6, R McCarthy 7, R English 5; P O'Brien 6, R Lynch 7, D Byrnes 8; G O'Mahony 5, J Ryan 6; P Browne 7, T Morrissey 7, G Hegarty 5; C Lynch 5, B Nash 7, K Downes 6. Subs: J Fitzgibbon 5 for Hegarty (47), T Condon 6 for S O'Brien (47) , D Hannon 6 for Downes (57), S Dowling 7 for P O'Brien (60).
REF - B Kelly (Westmeath).