LIMERICK were made to work to retain their Munster title as they picked up a 0-25 to 0-21 win in the decider in Thurles.
After large victories over Clare and Tipperary in their previous games, Limerick had to fight until the very end against a spirited Deise side.
Nonetheless, Kiely’s side got the job done in Semple Stadium and now have a week’s break before the All-Ireland smei-final on the weekend of November 28/29.
Below are some of the key talking points to emerge from Limerick’s 21st ever Munster championship win.
Limerick’s bench comes up trumps (again)
Limerick were value for a 0-14 to 0-11 lead at the half despite huge Waterford pressure in the opening half an hour. However, by the time the players broke off for the final water break, there was nothing to separate the teams at 0-18 apiece.
Then Kiely would begin to play his trump cards. Seamus Flanagan scored almost instantly from the bench and would set up Gearoid Hegarty for a two point lead moments later.
Darragh O’Donovan was then called upon as Cian Lynch moved to centre-forward, negating Tadhg De Burca’s enormous influence.Adrian Breen, another sprung from the sideline grabbed Limerick’s 24th point of the day to put four between the sides in the final minute of regulation time.
While the starting XV struggled to break Waterford, it would be the cavalry that would prove the difference, with the quality of Kiely’s replacements off the charts. Flanagan and O’Donovan were starters and All Star nominees in the All-Ireland winning season of 2018.
Breen was Man of the Match in the 2016 All-Ireland club final while David Dempsey was the standout player in this years Limerick SHC.
This is also without mentioning Richie English who appeared on the subs list for the first time since tearing his cruciate in February with Kiely saying the Doon man is fully fit once more.
The constant reference to the ‘squad’ from the Limerick camp clearly isn’t a token with each showing their worth in Thurles.
Defence stands tall
The loss of All Star calibre full-back Mike Casey a week out from the championship opener with Clare must have caused much concern for John Kiely having already lost Richie English in the Spring to an ACL tear.
Trust was placed in Dan Morrissey and Barry Nash to move to the full back line for the Thurles meeting with the Banner three weeks ago. There was some hiccups that day with Limerick’s rearguard at fault for Ryan Taylor’s goal.
Against Tipperary, there were further changes with Kyle Hayes reverting to wing back. The Kildimo/Pallaskenry man was imperious on the wing that day as was Morrissey at 3, with Nash also much improved.
Yesterday, that trio were all outstanding in the Munster decider as they restricted Waterford to shooting from distance and from pressure shots. To their credit, the Deise were very accurate but never had a sniff at Nickie Quaid’s goal.
Elsewhere in the defence, Sean Finn was magnificent on Dessie Hutchinson, completely neutralising the Ballygunner man after some early promise. Declan Hannon was his usual self, orchestrating his choir. Beside him, Diarmaid Byrnes was superb once again with the Patrickswell man hardy putting a foot wrong in the three championship games thus far.
Byrnes in particular was akin to a wall in the closing stages, as he was in Pairc Ui Chaoimh a forntight ago.
While it would be naive to assume that the back seven we saw yesterday will be the one that we will see in the All-Ireland semi-final, it is looking a very cohesive unit as of now.
Waterford come of age
From their eight Muster championship games in 2018 and 2019, Waterford failed to pick up a single win. Derek McGrath’s ’18 campaign was his last in charge while Paraic Fanning only got one summer as boss. A such, Liam Cahill’s appointment was met with much enthusiasm after the Tipp man had guided his county to back-to-back All-Ireland U21 titles.
A positive League campaign laid the foundation for the brilliant Munster semi-final win over Cork. However, the Rebel performance on that day and their subsequent loss to Tipperary on Sunday could have possibly hinted at a false dawn for the Deise.
Yesterday they proved that their semi-final win was no fluke as they pushed the defending Munster champions all the way in Thurles.
Waterford were ferocious in the tackle and very efficient with sliotar in hand. They negated the impact of the Limerick half-forward line who were so dominant against Tipp and Clare and were level heading into the final quarter.
Cahill has his side well drilled and in Tadhg de Burca, they have the perfect man to anchor the team. They meet Clare next weekend and will be favoured to overturn the Banner and make it to the semi-final where they could potentially have a rematch with Limerick.
“I’ve never seen the man play a bad game. If that’s not Mr Consistency, I don’t what is. He is the best hurler in Ireland at the moment. And he will be for the next few years too.”
Aaron Gillane speaking about Cian Lynch in April 2019.
After the National League win against Waterford last year, Aaron Gillane sung the praises of his Patrickswell and Limerick teammate Cian Lynch. Gillane outlined how he never saw his counterpart ever play a bad game. With everyone entitle to an off day, the statement was taken as somewhat hyperbolic.
However, with each passing game, Lynch’s importance to this Limerick team is furthered and Gillane’s sentiment continues to ring true.
After an imperious display at centre-forward against Tipperary in the semi-final, he reverted to midfield against Waterford where he clipped over two key first half points.
When Waterford had gained a foothold, he plucked a long puck out from the sky and set up Seamus Flanagan’s score which pushed Limerick ahead. With the game in the melting pot, he moved back to 11, switching on to Tadhg de Burca and helping to curb his incredible influence on proceedings.
While he was 2018 Hurler of the Year, Lynch is operating at a higher level now and his versatility is instrumental to how Kiely’s team perform.
All this was done on a weekend where Lynch buried his Uncle Paul who also represented Limerick with great honour.
An incredible performance and another for the ever growing Cian Lynch collection.
Limerick still the team to beat
On a weekend where we saw all six teams that remain in the All-Ireland hunt in action, John Kiely’s men remain the side to beat, making it three on the bounce after the lockdown and 11/11 overall in 2020.
While they were huge winners over Clare and Tipperary, yesterday’s was a different, albeit equally impressive display over a Waterford side that threw everything at them.
This is an exceptional team we are witnessing and as such, these moments should be cherished after many years in the wilderness.
But, bigger tests lie ahead with Clare meeting Waterford and Galway facing Tipperary in the quarter-finals this weekend with Limerick to play one of those teams the following week
Kilkenny await the other winner in their semi-final having won Leinster at the weekend in a snatch and grab against Galway.
Limerick know two more performances will clinch Liam MacCarthy but the target is firmly on their back.
What a fascinating few weeks we have in store