Limerick 0-30 Waterford 0-19
Two years after they had bridged the 45-year gap to their previous All-Ireland, Limerick delivered an awesome display to measure out the distance by which they have improved in that time. This was no kinetic, harum-scarum victory desperately quarried from an anxious need to win but a relentless barrage, like stunning punches delivered to the beat of a metronome.
With it, John Kiely's team transcended the field – both in the sense of Croke Park and their rivals in the hurling championship – with a performance of power and accuracy that left Waterford staggering around, bravely trying to find some kind of response but increasingly stricken by the realisation that they had none.
Limerick were on top in every line. Even their full-back line, improvised all season in the face of injury, was sound even though Dessie Hutchinson would have done more damage with a better supply; his touch was flypaper but all around him attacks were being swatted. Dan Morrissey has evolved into a fine full back and Barry Nash also had a good day. Seán Finn was as usual exemplary.
Everywhere else the power of their middle third, too strong overhead and so physical on the ground they knocked back their opponents, dictated the final and their broadsword strokes were also deft and accurate.
Wing forwards Tom Morrissey and Gearóid Hegarty were immense. Their shooting harvested 12 points from play – the latter with 0-7 and his partner with 0-5, plus a bag of assists.
It started within 40 seconds when Morrissey laid down a marker after the first of many successful rucks, by shooting the first point.
A significant moment followed in the second minute when Jack Fagan came in on an overlap and drilled the ball wide of the Limerick goal. Only a hyper-optimist could argue that had it gone in, the match may have been transformed but it would have settled Waterford and maybe given their opponents pause for thought.
Instead it became emblematic – Waterford forced to chase goals and taking on chances from a variety of unpromising positions to no avail.
Limerick were moving to a different beat. Their opponents frequently looked startled to see options snuffed out all around them as they tried to move possession through the lines and rediscover the rhythms of the display that had overrun Kilkenny in the second half of the semi-final but instead found themselves coursed whenever they didn’t move the ball on quickly enough.
There had been encouragements for Waterford: a low-key build-up reduced the hype which Limerick had already dealt with in 2018, they brought real momentum into the final while the favourites were fretting over the fitness of key inside forward Aaron Gillane.
All of the possibilities swiftly drained away, as the Croke Park surface softened with rain no longer provided a hard track for running, and Gillane was supremely unaffected, finishing with 10 points, four from play. As for momentum, it carried them with a bit of velocity into a brick wall.
Limerick's difficulty or disinclination in scoring goals was again apparent but there would have been an early one had Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe not made an excellent double save after a move started by Kyle Hayes, at his most imposing and formidable, and orchestrated by Cian Lynch culminated in both having shots – Hayes first and then Lynch from the first rebound.
An advantage was being played and Gillane helped himself to that to dampen any psychological bounce Waterford might have got from the saves.
Anyway the green flags weren’t needed and the drum-roll of points was almost more demoralising than the occasional percussive crash of a goal. In the first half, the left wing of attack was particularly productive, as Tom Morrissey, Gillane and the lively Séamus Flanagan all plundered points from there.
As cracks spread under the phenomenal pressure, Waterford creaked and then fate dealt them an awful setback when Tadhg de Búrca, their defensive mastermind, went down with what looked like a serious knee injury just after he had recovered from one last year and had to leave in the 22nd minute.
Replacement Iarlaith Daly played well but his later impact off the bench had to be sacrificed and the loss of De Búrca was seismic for a team already in trouble.
Stephen Bennett, who has been the team's spiritual leader in attack all championship, continued his ministry by converting free after free – the first to open the team's scoring from his own 45 – despite the burden of not really being able to afford to miss. By half-time that marksmanship, supplemented by Austin Gleeson's efforts left Waterford just three behind, 0-11 to 0-14.
He also had a couple of goal chances but they were more the product of the desperate need for a goal and Diarmaid Byrnes made a super block to thwart one whereas the other was forced and straight at the goalkeeper.
To anyone watching, the one-score half-time deficit was more a mirage than a reflection and after the break, a salvo of four points emphasised as much. Waterford struggled to find scores and when they came there was no respite because Limerick were immediately ready to roll again.
Eight times, a riposte to a Waterford score followed within a minute. It was keeping the tide at bay with a bucket.
They were forced into increasingly frenzied attempts at goal, which Nickie Quaid dealt with comfortably.
Having tried to keep up, Waterford could only watch as the best team in the country underlined their credentials and the longer it went on, the farther into the distance they disappeared.
LIMERICK: 1 Nickie Quaid; 2 Seán Finn, 3 Dan Morrissey, 4 Barry Nash; 5 Diarmaid Byrnes (0-1), 6 Declan Hannon (0-1), 7 Kyle Hayes (0-1); 8 Darragh O'Donovan, 9 Will O'Donoghue (0-1); 10 Gearóid Hegarty (0-7), 11 Cian Lynch, 12 Tom Morrissey (0-5); 13 Aaron Gillane (0-10, six frees), 14 Séamus Flanagan (0-3), 15 Graeme Mulcahy.
Subs: 19 Peter Casey for Mulcahy (49 mins), 25 David Reidy for O'Donovan (59 mins), 26 Pat Ryan (0-1) for Flanagan (63 mins), 24 Paddy O'Loughlin for Hayes (71 mins).
WATERFORD: 1 Stephen O'Keeffe; 2 Ian Kenny, 3 Conor Prunty (capt), 4 Shane McNulty; 5 Calum Lyons (0-1), 6 Tadhg de Búrca, 7 Kevin Moran (0-1); 8 Jamie Barron, 9 Kieran Bennett (0-1); 11 Neil Montgomery, 15 Jack Prendergast, 10 Jack Fagan; 13 Dessie Hutchinson (0-1), 12 Stephen Bennett (0-10, nine frees), 14 Austin Gleeson (0-5).
Subs: 25 Iarlaith Daly for de Búrca (22 mins), 23 Darragh Lyons for K Bennett (40 mins), 22 Conor Gleeson for Montgomery (44 mins), 20 Patrick Curran for Moran (52 mins), 26 Shane Fives for Kenny (55 mins).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).