The response of the side will have been very pleasing to Kiely but if there was a negative to take from the contest, it was Declan Hannon having to come off early.
It came down to the wire but Limerick began their 2023 championship campaign with a 1-18 to 0-19 win over Waterford in Thurles. The Deise paid little heed to their price tag prior to the contest and gave as good as they got in an instant classic in Semple.
But as so often been the case in John Kiely’s tenure as manager, Limerick had the answers when needed most, salvaging the result despite a sending off and penalty miss in the space of within minutes of each other.
Waterford may rue missed chances but it was Limerick’s resilience that shone through as they made it 16 championship games without defeat, stretching back to 2019.
With Clare in the TUS Gaelic Grounds already on the horizon, we look at some talking points to emerge from Thurles on Sunday afternoon.
Much of the post match talk surrounding Limerick’s narrow over victory the Deise consisted of two main points, Waterford’s missed chance and Limerick’s red card. There was little made of the Treaty getting the win despite being reduced to 14-men but the scrutiny associated with the All-Ireland champions rarely focuses on the positives this early in the season with adulation usually reserved for after the All-Ireland final.
Limerick did extremely well to stave off the Waterford challenge with their numerical disadvantage following Gearoid Hegarty’s 46th minute sending off. With over seven minutes of injury time played, Limerick were down to 14 for more than a half hour but still managed to maintain their advantage over the Deise. Granted, Waterford were inaccurate down the stretch and often opted for a goalscoring chance, rather than taking their points. But Limerick will look to a pair of late missed that could have had them four clear at the final whistle.
Still, when Hegarty was shown his marching orders, Limerick were just two in front at 1-13 to 0-14. By the time Waterford next scored, the Treaty were six in front. Tom Morrissey was next on the scoresheet following Hegarty’s dismissal with corner back Barry Nash then chipping in with a vital score before two from Aaron Gillane.
Waterford hit back with three of their own but couldn’t get within one of Limerick who stood tall and showed exactly why they are champions.
Indiscipline nearly costs Limerick
Yet, that seismic final quarter effort nearly proved to be in vain with Waterford wasteful in front of goal while Nickie Quaid needed to be on high alert in goals, as did Kyle Hayes late on with Austin Gleeson baring down on the Effin man. The Limerick bodies were clearly fatigued towards the end of the contest with the Waterford scores coming far easier with the man advantage. Hegarty’s pair of yellows seemed harsh on first viewing and there is a case to be made that the second was borderline with the power the St Patricks man possesses working against him. As John Kiely said,
“I didn’t genuinely see the incident with Conor Gleeson, it was literally right down the sideline. There were a lot of bodies there so I haven’t seen that but when you’re on the yellow you’re always at risk and you have to be careful.“
Limerick held on and Hegarty will be keen to make amends this Saturday night. Seamus Flanagan is another that could be in trouble with his first half hit on Stephen Bennett gaining plenty of traction in the wake of the game. Whether there is action taking or not remains to be seen.
While Limerick did get a red (and potentially another retrospectively) it was the sheer amount of first half fouls that will be particularly alarming to John Kiely and co as they let Waterford back into a game that was as good as over after 23 minutes. Up to that point, Waterford had only mustered three scores, one those a free with Limerick sitting pretty on 1-8 (two frees). With Limerick in that much of an ascendancy, there looked to be little way back for the Deise but Limerick’s indiscipline allowed for just that.
Four of the next five scores came from Stephen Bennett placed balls to halve the eight-point deficit. Limerick did hit back with a pair of frees but two more came from Bennett who finished the half with seven frees scored compared to Limerick’s tally of four. The Shannonsiders tackling improved in the second half with just three more scored frees conceded but that indiscipline mixed with the red could have proved very costly, a lesson learned.
Sean Finn comes up trumps
Barry Nash was the talk of the league and rightly so. The Limerick corner back has revolutionised the role and his scoring exploits against the Cats put the League final to bed early with last year’s Hurler of the Year nominee picking up in 2023 where he left off last year. Nash chipped in with a vital score down the stretch on Sunday, popping up and showing his accuracy out near the sideline.
But while he was solid in defence, it was his partner in the opposite corner that showed exactly why he is the best pound for pound defender in the country. Sean Finn was simply Sean Finn and he certainly needed to be with Limerick having to contend with a numerical disadvantage.
So often the Bruff man was the one to break out with the slioter as Waterford rained down an aerial avalanche in the final half hour of the contest. This came after a first half where he totally negated the effect of Deise Hutchinson whenever he made his way into the full forward line with each of his three scores coming when not picked up by Finn.
Finn was rock solid at the back with Waterford never really troubling the Limerick goal despite holding a man advantage with the Bruff native unnerved throughout the contest. After missing out on an All-Star for just the second time in his career, Finn looks a man determined to make amends already.
Declan Hannon’s absence a worry
John Kiely will have been happy to get such a test to kick off the championship defence with the result a little too close for comfort for large parts of the second half. The response of the side will have been very pleasing to the Galbally man but if there was a negative to take from the contest, it was Declan Hannon having to come off inside a quarter of an hour.
The four-time All-Ireland winning captain made his way in the 14th minute with Mike Casey coming in as Dan Morrissey shifted to centre back. It is a role that Morrissey has become accustomed to as he held the centre for the League final with Hannon out with a flu. The Ahane native was shifted to #6 in Hannon’s absence in the 2018 Munster c’ship clash with Cork and again the following year against Kilkenny, their most recent defeat.
Morrissey held his own in the position but if Hannon was to be out for a number of weeks, it would be a big blow to the Shannonsiders, such is the Adare man’s influence. As captain of the team, his leadership qualities are underrated but it is his vision and ability at centre back that sets the three-time All-Star apart.
Kiely was unable to provide and update on his captain after the game but if he was to remain on the sidelines, it would mean both Morrissey and Casey starting with Richie English next in line. All are exceptional options with standards unlikely to drop any great deal although Hannon’s presence would be sorely missed.
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