A lot of swill had been written before this game to the effect that Limerick needed it more than we did. Shane Ahearne put it succintly before the game. “We both need to win it” he said wryly and he was right. We needed to win this if the momentum of ’98 was to be maintained. And they needed to win it to maintain an illusion that they are a credible force. As it turned out, it was Waterford who triumphed, deservedly, but not until after a match filled with great hurling, dubious officiating (change the record I hear you moan) and heart-stopping drama.
It was a pleasant day for hurling although the Cork cabbage patch was in terrible condition. By dint of lack of planning we ended up in the Limerick end of the covered stand, about four seats away from an absolute foghorn, who amusingly called the girls in the Primary game “lads” as he bellowed his bellicose form of encouragement. He wasn’t cheering when the team sheets were read out. No changes form the match programme. TB was playing! The roar from the Déise fans when his name was read out was probably reciprocated by a groan from the Limerick fans, including the boar near us.
Limerick seemed determined to carry on the roughhouse tactics of their forefathers but it availed them nought. Waterford glided past the hatchetmen and picked off some great scores, one classy point by Dave Bennett standing out. Limerick had much possession but were shooting like members of NYPD – without much thought. They did drop some right clangers but mostly their efforts involved shooting when they got a sight of goal. Wexford anyone? Superior talent and skill – am I laying it on a bit heavy here? – saw us go five points clear before Paul Flynn pounced. A series of quick passes up the field saw Dan Shanahan put Paul Flynn in space. He wriggled his way past the hapless Brian Begley, raced towards the goal and cleverly batted it past Joe Quaid. A few silly frees allowed Limerick to close the gap to five points at the break but we were well on top.
The second half began with a Limerick goal chance. The ball squirmed around in the area and Mike Galligan’s shot was brilliantly saved by Brendan Landers. But overall Limerick seemed to have nothing in the tank while Ken McGrath and Paul Flynn were demolishing their defence. One Flynn score had everyone in the stadium agog. He gathered the ball underneath the covered stand, turned to face his marker, then cheekily flicked it over the Limerickman’s head, retrieved the loose ball and sent it casually flicked it between the posts. Pure class. There simply isn’t another player in the country like him on this form.
In the face of such swashbuckling play, Limerick needed a miracle and got two. First, Brian Greene commited his third idiotic foul, clattering into Ciarán Carey after the ball had gone. The yellow and red card that followed were deserved. Waterford reacted well though. Paul Flynn rattled over two superb points and we seemed to be winning the post sending-off tactical battle.
The second miracle occured in very dodgy circumstances. A huge clearance by Dave Clarke was gathered by Mick Houlihan who turned and kicked it past Brendan Landers. He was so far into the square he was nearly on the goal line. Yet the gobsheen of an umpire ignored it. Limerick tails were up now and they chipped away at our lead. A sensational point by Ken McGrath where he gathered the Waterford puckout, powered through half the Limerick defence and fired it over from the 45 steadied the ship. Limerick hurled everything at Waterford and twice could have had goals but eventually time ran out on them. Joe Quaid’s puckout two minutes into injury time signalled the end of the match and relief flooded from every Waterford pore. Another hurling “power” had been despatched. Thurles here we come.
Waterford: Brendan Landers, Tom Feeney, Sean Cullinane, Brian Flannery (capt.), Peter Queally, Stephen Frampton, Brian Greene, Fergal Hartley (0-1), Tony Browne, Dan Shanahan, Billy O’Sullivan, Ken McGrath (0-4), Míceal White (0-2; Barry Browne), Paul Flynn (1-8, 0-4 frees), Dave Bennett (0-1; Anthony Kirwan)
Limerick: Joe Quaid, Steve McDonagh, Brian Begley, Brian Geary, Dave Clarke (0-1), Ollie Moran, ClemENT Smith (0-1), Ciarán Carey (0-1), Jack Foley, James Moran (0-2; Declan Nash), Mike Houlihan (1-0), Barry Foley (0-2), Mark Foley (0-1), Shane O’Neill (TJ Ryan), Mike Galligan (0-3 frees; Gary Kirby, 0-4 frees)
HT: Waterford 1-9 Limerick 0-7
Referee: Pat Horan (Offaly)
Post Scriptum: a special mention for the woman in Youghal who was standing outside her house wearing White and Blue and waving her flag. She was there for the Tipperary game in Cork last year and it’s fantastic to see every time. Good on you Ma’am.