Subscriber OnlyGaelic Games

Nicky English: Statement performance as Limerick click into gear against fading Waterford

All-Ireland champions back on the trail and road ends for their old challengers Galway

Many pundits believed that the best way of stopping Limerick doing five-in-a-row was to prevent them getting out of Munster, and going into the weekend that jeopardy was real for them.

They hadn’t been foot-perfect so far but now they are coming out of the province with a Munster final to look forward to and the All-Ireland series after it.

The things that I saw as questionable about Limerick had been the frees of Diarmaid Byrnes, which showed marginal improvement – he got a couple and missed a couple – and the performance levels of the middle third, which showed considerable improvement, especially the half backs.

The context was that Waterford looked burned out. I thought they would be able to bring another good performance but it was clear that having put in such a heroic shift in Ennis a week ago for no reward they were running on empty.


The old differential of 11 points from back in the early 20s when they were Limerick’s closest competitors re-emerged, and in another echo of that time Jamie Barron, who has had a good championship and been a key player, could make no headway against Kyle Hayes just as when he struggled against Will O’Donoghue’s midfield physicality a few years ago. He got caught in possession and ended up throwing the ball on the three-quarters mark and ended up being subbed almost immediately.

As it gets more serious so do the champions. After 55 minutes a Waterford team who weren’t firing on all cylinders, with a gale force wind behind them, moved within two points of the champions. The tension was palpable in the Gaelic Grounds.

It looked like, if Waterford could turn it up a bit, Limerick might be in trouble. In reality Limerick had been clearly the better team even though they had an inordinate number of wides in the first half, 14 and Waterford had only been hanging in there before Shane Bennett’s second goal.

Instead of launching a comeback Waterford managed just one more score – and conceded nine. Limerick were simply dominant despite playing into the wind.

What looked a fantastic challenge on Gearóid Hegarty by Tadhg De Búrca could equally have been a penalty. He did get the ball but not as accurately as he might have wanted. Then Ian Kenny had a challenge also on Hegarty that could have come under scrutiny. So Limerick could have had two penalties and maybe associated cards.

Kyle Hayes was outstanding in the first half. Waterford had issues with their puck out and were going short and getting crowded by Limerick. If they tried to go long down Diarmaid Byrnes’s side they got parity but anything near Hayes was confiscated.

The litany of positives for John Kiely was extensive.

Tom Morrissey was back in form. Prone to the odd wide more recently, he was unerring on Sunday, won a lot of hard ball under pressure and got a brilliant point in the second half.

Mike Casey played well in defence on his return from injury. Diarmaid Byrnes was improved, Declan Hannon good and Kyle Hayes outstanding as he chipped in with three points and an assist for one of Tom Morrissey’s.

Hegarty was excellent throughout, as he has been all year. Cian Lynch stepped it up a bit and finished with a point from an incredible piece of skill. A bonus for Kiely was the performance of Shane O’Brien, who came on and scored three points. Adam English came on and scored; Conor Boylan came on and scored.

Cathal O’Neill was outstanding all day, and was the television Man of the Match but I would have chosen Hayes.

These individual displays were all part of an ominously evolving collective return to form. Other dressingrooms around the country will have seen this as a statement.

It was ironic that Galway, a team that Limerick were always wary of because of the physicality they could bring and up until last year opponents who could run them close, are now out of the championship.

It’s not a huge surprise in itself because from early in the year I though they were poor. Wexford went through them with 14 men and then on Sunday before a home crowd, they were outplayed by Dublin.

Maybe it was a questionable red card for David Burke but by the letter of the law it was a sending-off offence. As an experienced player he should have been a bit more careful about leading with his shoulder. From then on Galway were under pressure.

In fairness to Dublin they were good against Kilkenny and unlucky to lose it late, and now have another crack at them in the Leinster final. They have Chris Crummey and Dónal Burke back and playing really well. Their skill levels and control of the ball were also impressive.

I know Kilkenny are back in the final and have Eoin Cody only feeling his way back and Adrian Mullen has yet to reappear but for me it’s hard to see how they have stepped up their All-Ireland challenge.

I’ll be surprised if the winner isn’t from Munster, and Limerick will now be a shorter price than they were after the Cork match.