Limerick manager John Kiely with Aaron Gillane. James Crombie/INPHO

'We're still here, we want to drive on': 5 key Limerick-Waterford talking points

Limerick are back in the Munster final after defeating Waterford 0-30 to 2-14 yesterday.

1. Limerick firmly back on track

A return to familiar form. After they were overturned in Cork, in quite sensational fashion a fortnight ago, Limerick arrived at the last day of the Munster round-robin aware that the stakes were high. Just like twelve months ago they could not afford nother stumble, and again they rose to the challenge.

If nerves started to jangle amongst the home support when Waterford made that charge in the second half, off the back of Shane Bennett’s close-range finish to the net, Limerick’s players remained composed. In the end it was a comfortable victory and they breezed into the Munster final.

Now they have the chance to do something else truly special. Victory in that decider in a fortnight will complete six-in-a-row in a highly competitive province. That feat eluded Cork’s team in 1980 when they were in pursuit of it. Limerick aim to maintain their silverware streak.

‘What I do know is that our performance levels are higher than what they were last year and the year before, when you look at the data that’s there,” said John Kiely afterwards.

“I’m delighted with that and our trajectory is upwards as well.

“There was a lot said about us (being) knocked out of the Munster championship – we’re still here. We want to drive on.”

2. Injury setbacks and selection issues for Limerick

Their last outing at the Gaelic Grounds was marred by injury late on to a Limerick star forward, this time the withdrawal happened earlier. Peter Casey’s season-ending ankle break was the low note of their encounter with Tipperary, yesterday Seamus Flanagan limped off midway through the first half with a hamstring complaint.

The nature of the injury places Flanagan, hat-trick hero last time against Cork, as a doubt for the Munster final. It maintains a theme of Limerick’s championship run. They lost Mike Casey early against Clare, welcoming him back to their defence yesterday. Sean Finn went off in the defeat to Cork, Darragh O’Donovan has been absent since the opening rounds of the league, both are now on the comeback trail.

It creates selection headaches for the Limerick boss but the sight of a youngster like Shane O’Brien jumping off the bench to chip in with three points, is a welcome antidote.

“(He’s) waiting a while to get an opportunity like that,” said Kiely.

“He came out of the U-20 campaign bruised by the results. You could see that the first night he came back in he was very sharp. It was on us to utilise that, so delighted that he has a mark made.”

3. Waterford’s scoring struggles

Waterford’s scoring rate plummeted at a most inopportune time. Or more saliently their point-scoring tally fell. The Deise finished the round-robin series with nine goals, two off leaders Cork, and joint second with Clare. It’s a figure that compares favourably and Shane Bennett’s instincts served them well with his clever positioning to net twice.

But their inability to keep the scoreboard ticking over with points proved their downfall. They only raised 14 white flags, only the fourth time out of twenty tallies in this year’s Munster round-robin that a team failed to break the 20-point barrier. Waterford’s own point tallies have been consistently good – 25 against Cork, 21 against Tipperary, 26 against Clare – but the slump here was striking.

Their starting forward line only raised three white flags from play (one apiece for Stephen Bennett, Dessie Hutchinson and Kevin Mahony). That can be attributed to the defensive prowess of Limerick, restricting the space available, while outmuscling Waterford players in possession.

But scoring two points between the 15th and 35th minutes, and just a single point between the 55th minute and the final whistle, illustrated Waterford’s issues in front of goal.

4. Opening misses and closing power for Limerick

The statistic jumped out when poring over the details of the Limerick first-half display. 14 points on the scoreboard for John Kiely’s men, but the same number of wides recorded. One of those was a delivery to the full-forward line that evaded Aaron Gillane and rolled harmlessly wide, but the majority reflected Limerick’s inaccuracy in front of posts. In the first 15 minutes alone they took 13 shots and only nailed four points.

John Kiely admitted afterwards their inefficiency was a problem, but he always backs his players to get it right and encourages them to keep shooting. That principle of Limerick’s play shone through by the end, again they reached the 30 point mark, when Adam English struck his injury-time shot.. Limerick have multiple scoring threats. They had 13 different players supplying points, with 0-5 contributed by substitutes. Their first two scorers of the game were their number five Diarmaid Byrnes and number four Barry Nash.

When Waterford raised their green flags, Limerick hit back in devastating fashion. Trailing 1-4 to 0-4, they outscored Waterford 0-10 to 0-2 for the remainder of the first half. From the 55th minute on, they won the rest of the game 0-9 to 0-1. It was ultimately a comprehensive success, the scoreline of 0-30 to 2-14, just a point shy of the 0-30 to 2-15 result in last year’s All-Ireland final.

5. Waterford improve in 2024 but face exit door

Given the struggles they have been been embroiled in during past Munster hurling championships, there was some welcome signs for Waterford this season. Their supporters enjoyed two memorable occasions at home games, while across their victory over Cork, draw with Tipperary, and loss to Clare, Waterford contributed richly to absorbing encounters.

The eventual outcome is sobering as Waterford exit again at the close of the provincial action, their round-robin record now stands at three wins from 20 games since 2018. They can point to misfortune with officiating decisions last Sunday in Ennis, while also regretting their failure to close out the game against Tipperary.

One more positive result would have swung qualification their way, but despite their undeniable improvements, they must accept the same end result.

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