Waterford 0-10 Limerick 2-24
Limerick’s fortunes turned around satisfactorily in Walsh Park on Sunday but for hosts Waterford, an already downbeat championship took a turn for the worse with a hollow second-half display that saw them outscored by 1-14 to 0-3.
The home side were very poor and manager Páraic Fanning admitted afterwards that he really didn't understand how they had got to this point, three defeats by ascending margins and no hope of progressing out of Munster. To put the tin hat on it, their main scorer Pauric Mahony got the line after an hour, having taken out his frustrations with a swipe at Barry Murphy.
Fanning's counterpart John Kiely was relieved to be back in business but said that he'd always expected a response from his team, who had as good as failed to show in their opening match against Cork.
He had made a couple of changes rather than a radical clean-out and the call-ups played well, Paddy O’Loughlin in particular following up on a good league and excellent Fitzgibbon Cup with UCC, slotted in at wing back and hit two good scores into the first-half breeze.
Waterford had opened strongly and in the early stages showed every intention of plunging the All-Ireland champions’ defence of their title into crisis. They found their forwards and showed sufficient accuracy to lead twice by three points, 0-3 to nil and 0-4 to 0-1.
Pauric Mahony was back on familiar ground, shooting frees in Walsh Park and pointed a couple to go with two more from play. Austin Gleeson popped up early for the first score and, for a team whose morale must have taken a knock from two defeats in their opening two fixtures, Waterford looked up for the challenge.
Gradually, though, even painfully, Limerick began to find something of their familiar rhythm. The quicksilver hand-passing and physical storming through the middle of the field became more in evidence even if it didn’t always play out with the requisite precision and ball got spilled on a number of occasions.
Cian Lynch was to the fore in making things happen in the tightest of spaces and bit by bit the recognisable attacking patterns emerged.
The score that literally turned the tide – Waterford never led again afterwards – came in the 16th minute when Gearóid Hegarty blasted through the middle and laid off for Aaron Gillane to strike for Limerick's first goal and a 1-3 to 0-5 lead. That would be that, as the home side added just another five points whereas they would concede a further 1-20.
Kiely specifically mentioned the hard work put in by his forwards and it was very noticeable from an early stage that the full-forward line of Graeme Mulcahy, Gillane and Peter Casey were shutting down their markers and making it difficult for them to play their way out from the back. There were no high prices paid in terms of turnover scores but just a constant hassle that wouldn't go away.
As it happened, two of Waterford's most wholehearted performers were younger hurlers in the full back line: Conor Prunty, who acquitted himself well on Gillane and apart from the goal, concede nothing further from play, and Calum Lyons.
The interval score was 1-10 to 0-7 and Fanning made the brave decision to replace two of his marquee players, former Hurler of the Year, Austin Gleeson, who was struggling to get noticed at centrefield, where as his manager pointed out they had lost the first-half possession count 8-24, and Maurice Shanahan, who was unable to make a dent in Mike Casey's barnstorming display.
Michael Walsh came in for his 17th championship – 16 of which were probably happier – but could hardly turn the tide and whereas Shane Bennett score d almost immediately on the resumption, there wasn't going to be a miracle comeback.
Limerick set about their task ferociously and Waterford simply wilted, having no answer for the clever way their opponents worked the ball up the pitch, often using the wings to devastating effect, most obviously when Hegarty latched on to a clearance down the left, which pretty much cut out the whole defence, allowing him an unimpeded run on goal and his sprightly finish just three minutes in, was as good as a returning officer’s declaration.
Using the 2-11 to 0-8 lead as a platform rather than an advantage to be defended, Limerick pushed, showing a great capacity to reel off scoring sequences and with Kyle Hayes working himself to a standstill in the middle third to get on ball and pick out the most menacing options, there was effectively only one team playing.
The Limerick bench, such a strong suit in their success last year, returned to form – admittedly in vastly different circumstances to their introduction against Cork a fortnight previously – and Shane Dowling had a productive final quarter, firing over five points, including four frees from a variety of distances, but he wasn't alone.
Nine points came from the replacements and Darragh Fitzgibbon, maybe smarting a little after getting dropped, shot a couple. The one cloud of concern was when Barry Murphy had to helped off the field in injury-time after a goalmouth collision.
LIMERICK: 1 N Quaid; 4 R English, 3 M Casey, 2 S Finn; 5 D Morrissey, 6 D Hannon (capt; 0-1) , 7 P O'Loughlin (0-2); 8 C Lynch (0-1), 9 W O'Donoghue; 12 T Morrissey (0-1), 11 K Hayes (0-3), 10 G Hegarty (1-1); 15 P Casey (0-2), 13 A Gillane (1-4, four frees), 14 G Mulcahy.
Subs: 24 D O'Donovan (0-2) for O'Donoghue (50 mins), 22 B Murphy (0-1) for Gillane (52), 21 S Dowling (0-5, four frees) for T Morrissey (54), 25 D Reidy (0-1) for Hegarty (61), 26 P Ryan for G Mulcahy (68).
WATERFORD: 1 S O'Keeffe; 2 C Lyons, 3 C Prunty, 4 N Connors (capt.); 5 D Fives, 6 T de Búrca, 7 K Moran; 8 J Barron, 11 A Gleeson; 9 J Prendergast (0-1), 13 M Kearney, 10 P Mahony (0-7, five frees); 15 T Ryan, 12 M Shanahan, 14 Stephen Bennett (0-1).
Subs: 21 M Walsh for Shanahan, Shane Bennett (0-1) for Gleeson (both half-time), 20 C Gleeson for Fives (51), 23 B O'Halloran for Ryan (64), 18 S McNulty for Connors (70).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).