Oh the euphoria! Peter Finnerty predicted a five point win for Limerick. It annoyed me yet I could not conjure an image of the Déise winning this game. In my memory we had been here – the League semi-final – before in 1987, 1988 and 1995 and been humiliated in 1987, 1988 and 1995. But after sixty scintillating minutes all those awful memories were banished. When Míceal White crashed home the clinching goal in the dying moments I leapt from my stone Thurles seat and screamed like a hippy on the best drug-induced trip of his life. But this was so much more sweet, so much more thrilling and so much more satisfying.
Ahem. The match. It was a lovely May afternoon. The sun was shining and the pitch in immacualte nick. The start was sedate, each sides swapping points. The only moment of note was a hospital ball par excellence by Sean Cullinane which gave Limerick a point and Fergal Hartley a seizure. Hartley himself struck a point from the train station – it must have been that far out – beforre the goal. Waterford moved it up the field in quick first time sweeps, Billy O’Sullivan played it over the heads of the Limerick defence to Ken McGrath who raced in and lashed it past Joe Quaid. Sheer poetry.
By half time we led 1-8 to 0-6 and were well worth it. Waterford didn’t hang around in the second half and the point which saw us go 1-15 to 0-9 ahead was simply breathtaking. Tony Browne dispossessed Ciaran Carey, kicked it to Dan Shanahan who helped it on to Ken McGrath, Anthony Kirwan switched it to Paul Flynn who gathered it low and powered it straight between the sticks. So intoxicating was this brand of hurling that the spontaneous cry of ‘Waterford, Waterford’ rang around Semple.
The disaster didn’t happen immediately. First Derek McGrath misjudged how much time he had and fluffed a golden goal scoring chance. Then Gary Kirby hit a waist high shot to the net. Then Barry Foley pounced on a loose ball from a sideline cut. 1-15 to 2-11. Incredibly we kept our nerve. Flynn knocked over a (dodgy) free, Ken McGrath scored a point from nothing, setting up Míceal White for the coup de grace. Waterford bulldozed their way into the heart of the Limerick defence, Kirwan scooped it towards White who flicked it over Steve McDonagh’s head before hammering it to the net.
It was over. We were in a national final for the first time in 35 years. It felt so good. We lingered to watch Cork trounce Clare in the other semi then endured a ninety minute tailback outside Cashel. Who cares? Victory was ours, for one day at least.
Waterford: Brendan Landers, Tom Feeney, Sean Cullinane, Mark O’Sullivan, Stephen Frampton (capt.), Fergal Hartley (0-1), Brian Greene, Tony Browne (0-2), Peter Queally, Dan Shanahan (0-1), Ken McGrath (1-2), Derek McGrath (Míceal White; 1-0), Billy O’Sullivan, Anthony Kirwan (0-2), Paul Flynn (0-9)
Limerick: Joe Quaid, Steve McDonagh, Alan Browne, Jack Foley, Dave Clarke, Mark Foley, ClemENT Smith, Mike Houlihan (0-2), Shane O’Neill, James Moran (0-1) (Owen O’Neill), Ollie Moran (0-1) (Ciarán Carey), Barry Foley (1-2), T.J. Ryan (0-1), Gary Kirby (1-3), Damien Quigley (Ger Hegarty)
HT: Waterford 1-8 Limerick 0-6
Referee: Jimmy Cooney (Galway) – yes, that Jimmy Cooney