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Limerick are hurling's top dogs, fifth straight final defeat for Waterford and league reflections

5 talking points after Limerick’s Division 1 final win over Waterford.

Kevin O’Brien reports from Croke Park

1. Limerick confirm status as kingpins

ANY LINGERING QUESTIONS over Limerick’s hunger following their All-Ireland success seven months ago was swiftly put to bed with this 1-24 to 0-19 league final defeat of Waterford. 

Declan Hannon lifts the trophy Limerick skipper Declan Hannon lifts the trophy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A Division 1 title, their first in 22 years, has been added to the trophy cabinet where Liam MacCarthy currently resides. There can be no doubting that Limerick are the finest hurling side in the country. They’re displaying qualities of fearlessness and ruthlessness that all great team possess.

They’re now unbeaten in 11 of their last 12 league and championship games stretching back to last May. Not along did Limerick mark their return to Division 1A for the first time since 2010 by laying waste to the competition, but John Kiely did so while strengthening his hand. 

Now, they have a first Munster crown since 2013 in their sights with a bid for back-to-back All-Irelands looming in the horizon.

Jamie Barron dejected Jamie Barron and his Waterford team-mates after the final whistle. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2. Five final defeats in-a-row for Waterford

A decent chunk of this Waterford side have now lost five major finals in-a-row. They’ve been beaten in the 2019 and 2016 Allianz Hurling League deciders, in addition to the 2015 and 2016 Munster finals and 2017 All-Ireland final. 

It would be unfair to cast any aspersions on their ability to come good on the big occasions based on that record. In the majority of those finals, including today, Waterford were simply beaten by a better team. 

They battled back well after falling 0-8 to 0-2 behind early on but largely relied on frees for scores. Paraic Fanning’s side managed just eight points from play in the 70 minutes on a day where Limerick’s back six defended extremely well.

Limerick’s half-backs dominated the Waterford puck-outs, particularly in the opening half where Waterford won just four of the nine restarts Stephen O’Keeffe sent long. 

Aaron Gillane celebrates scoring the first goal Aaron Gillane scored 1-9 today. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

3. Treaty scoring streaks

This Limerick side have built a pattern of going on scoring bursts that tends to blow their opponents away. They scored eight points inside the opening 13 minutes and another 1-3 in the eight minutes before the interval.

From the 61st minute to the finish, the Treaty rattled off another six point-haul to close out the victory in style. 

Man of the match Aaron Gillane enjoyed a strong outing with 1-9 to his name, a tally that would have been higher had he not left eight wides behind him.

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The corner-forward was initially picked up by Calum Lyons but Noel Connors was quickly switched onto him around the 10-minute mark. Gillane’s 27th-minute goal was a thing of beauty, a delightful first-time pull on Tom Morrissey’s delivery inside that left Stephen O’Keeffe with little chance of saving it. 

Limerick’s patterns of attack meant that when crossfield ball was delivered into the space in front of Gillane, Connors faced a tough task to defend it. The introduction of Seamus Flanagan and Shane Dowling off the bench, who contributed 0-3 between them, highlighted the enormous firepower Kiely has at his disposal. 

Padraic Fanning and Noel Connors dejcted Padraic Fanning and Noel Connors look on as Limerick celebrate their victory. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

4. Selection issues for Fanning

Waterford boss Fanning made the brave call not to go with a sweeper – as many suggested he should do – in an attempt to shut down the Limerick attack like Dublin did last weekend. 

Limerick withdrew Graeme Mulcahy onto the half-forward line which left inside duo Gillane and Peter Casey with oceans of space to run into. Fanning’s decision looked foolish when the Deise fell six points behind early on, but Waterford hauled themselves back into the game and were just 0-14 to 1-16 behind after 50 minutes.

Limerick powered home from there and Waterford scored just once from play from that point to the finish. Austin Gleeson scored two points, including a stunning sideline, but stationing him at wing-forward is hardly making the best use of his talents.

Stephen Bennett has thrived on frees so far this spring but endured his poorest day in front of the posts here, firing three placed balls wide before he was relieved of his duties.

Pauric Mahony duly dispatched four frees from four and Fanning faces a big call whether to show faith in Bennett, or go with the Ballygunner ace for the upcoming Munster campaign. 

Gearoid Hegarty and Philip Mahony Limerick and Waterford players battle for possession. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

5.  League reflections

Waterford may have failed in their bid to land a first national title at Croke Park since 1959, but reaching the league final in itself was a decent achievement for new boss Fanning.

He used 34 players in the competition, including 13 of the All-Ireland U21 winners less than three years ago.

Waterford shipped 1-24 at the back today but they have a number of experienced defenders still to come back into contention: Darragh and Shane Fives, Conor Gleeson, Kieran Bennett and Brian O’Halloran.

For Limerick, Kiely’s side have gone through the league with ruthless efficiency. They’ve only lost once this year – a round 4 defeat to Cork – and look determined to prove that 2018 wasn’t a once-off. 

Today’s display accompanied with news of Joe Canning’s injury lay-off places Limerick ahead of Galway as the front-runners for All-Ireland glory. Much can change between now and August, but on current form they’re a level above the rest. 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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