Supreme Treaty remind rivals they're here to stay
Limerick 1-24 Waterford 0-19
It's becoming increasingly obvious that it will take something special to deny Limerick's chase for back-to-back All-Ireland titles as their aura of invincibility continues to grow.
John Kiely's men delivered another statement of intent by tearing Waterford asunder at Croke Park yesterday and propping league silverware beside Liam MacCarthy, a notable feat which few have managed.
The Treaty were eight points to the good at the finish, but it could just as easily have been 18 with Aaron Gillane adding eight uncharacteristic wides - as well as a missed goal chance - to his 1-9 tally, 1-5 from play.
The Patrickswell ace tormented the Déise defence - his 27th-minute goal was a thing of beauty - and Waterford skipper Noel Connors was a sitting duck with acres of space for Gillane to work with.
Páraic Fanning's side were chasing the game from the outset as Limerick raced in to a six-point lead, 0-8 to 0-2, and they did well to stem the tide and trail by just a point before Gillane's deftly flicked goal.
They were never in any danger thereafter, keeping the Déise at arm's length until the finish and they have an appearance of a side keen to strike while the iron is hot and take all before them.
Limerick were a cut above Waterford in every aspect and look better than at any stage last year having evolved their style of play with greater emphasis on possession and consistent use of the handpass.
Their short passing is more exaggerated but outrageously effective with runners galloping off the shoulder. Every pass has a purpose and their mix of skill, speed and scoring power is a pleasure to watch.
Kiely has a job on his hands to dampen expectations after their latest masterclass but having shown themselves adept at dealing with pressure en route to ending their 45-year wait for All-Ireland honours last August, they are a formidable prospect heading into the summer.
For Waterford, this was a stark reminder of the distance they need to travel to end their All-Ireland famine and it was somewhat surprising that Fanning opted against utilising the sweeper system, which worked well for Dublin against the Treaty the previous week.
He may have been keeping the powder dry for their Munster SHC date in Walsh Park and having seen the difficulties of going toe-to-toe with Kiely's charges, they may change tack for their championship clash on June 2.
Waterford also surprisingly conceded puck-outs with Richie English regularly walking out with possession unopposed and Limerick are much too good on the ball to allow them that type of latitude on the ball.
Gillane continued his scintillating league form from the off with two early points from play as they hit the ground running, with Cian Lynch, Gearóid Hegarty and Darragh O'Donovan (sideline) also on target.
Waterford struggled for any traction at the other end with Stephen Bennett - off target with three placed balls and later replaced on free-taking duty by Pauric Mahony - their only scorer in the opening 16 minutes and it looked like the game might go away from them, but Kevin Moran helped gain a foothold in the half-back line.
With Bennett pointing a hat-trick of frees, they trailed 0-9 to 0-8 and even could have been ahead despite being dominated had Bennett's 25th-minute goal chance been converted.
Things changed quickly, however, with Gillane evoking memories of Jimmy Barry Murphy's spectacular goal against Galway in the 1983 All-Ireland semi-final with an exquisite flick foiling Stephen O'Keeffe after a Tom Morrissey delivery.
Michael 'Brick' Walsh and Mahony responded instantly with points but it was Limerick who closed out the half in commanding fashion through points from Gillane, Morrissey and Graeme Mulcahy to hold a five-point advantage at the break, 1-12 to 0-10.
It was nip and tuck throughout the second half but Limerick's lead never fell below five points as Gillane and Peter Casey continued to torment Waterford.
Having started with 13 of last year's All-Ireland-winning team, the missing pair of Mike Casey and Seamus Flanagan finished out the game and impressed to further highlight their remarkable squad depth, while super sub Shane Dowling made another fine contribution off the bench.
Had Stephen Bennett's goal chance gone below the crossbar rather than over it when trailing 1-18 to 0-15, it may have given the Déise a slim chance but that would prove to be their last point from play in the 54th minute as Limerick coasted home.
Half-time substitute Jack Prendergast had his goal effort excellently smothered by Nickie Quaid with injury-time approaching before Peter Casey, Hegarty and Lynch completed the scoring after an excellent day's work.
It was a fifth final defeat in a row for Waterford - after the 2017 All-Ireland final, 2016 league final and the Munster deciders of 2015 and 2016 - but rookie boss Fanning will have learned a lot throughout the spring.
Questions still linger about what Austin Gleeson's best position is - he was largely anonymous at half-forward barring a sublime sideline cut and was regularly seen in his own defence - and getting out of Munster will be their sole priority.
As for Limerick - who become the fifth different league winners in five seasons - confidence grows ahead of their back-to-back tilt having only suffered one defeat in their last 12 league and championship ties.
With news of Joe Canning's likely absence this summer, they are firm All-Ireland favourites but a lot can happen between now and August.
SCORERS - Limerick: A Gillane 1-9 (4f); G Hegarty, P Casey 0-3 each; S Dowling (1f), C Lynch 0-2 each; S Flanagan, T Morrissey, G Mulcahy, D O'Donovan (s/l), D Hannon 0-1 each. Waterford: Stephen Bennett 0-9 (6f); Pauric Mahony 0-5 (4f); A Gleeson 0-2 (1 s/cut); M Walsh, Philip Mahony, K Moran 0-1 each.
LIMERICK - N Quaid 7; T Condon 6, S Finn 7, R English 7; D Byrnes 7, D Hannon 7, D Morrissey 7; C Lynch 8, D O'Donovan 7; G Hegarty 8, K Hayes 6, T Morrissey 7; A Gillane 8, P Casey 7, G Mulcahy 7. Subs: S Dowling for Hegarty (35+1, blood), Hegarty for Dowling and M Casey 7 for Condon (both h-t), S Flanagan 7 for Mulcahy (56), Dowling 7 for T Morrissey and B Murphy 6 for Gillane (both 64), P O'Loughlin for Hannon (69).
WATERFORD - S O'Keeffe 7; S McNulty 6, C Lyons 6, N Connors 6; Philip Mahony 7, T de Búrca 6, K Moran 7; J Barron 6, M Walsh 6; A Gleeson 6, M Kearney 6, Pauric Mahony 7; P Hogan 6, Stephen Bennett 7, Shane Bennett 6. Subs: J Prendergast 6 for Walsh (h-t), T Ryan 6 for Shane Bennett (46), C Prunty 6 for Lyons (48), P Curran 6 for Hogan (56), S Roche 6 for Kearney (60).
REF - J Owens (Wexford).