Waterford 4-17 (29) Limerick 3-15 (24) (AET) – Minor

I had no intention of doing a match report on this game. A tiring weekend punctuated by too much alcohol and a madcap dash to Ardkeen – not in that order, oddly enough – left me drained of any enthusiasm for this game. Get in, take a few pics, scribble a few colour notes, and just enjoy the game. That would do.

Talk about a plan of battle not surviving contact with the enemy, as Waterford and Limerick served up yet another episode of the hurling equivalent of Wacky Races, complete with Dick Dastardly. It was a game that deserves a serious and accurate account to be offered up to the ages. Failing that, hopefully these ramblings will suffice.

Waterford didn’t so much hit the crowd running as clear the ‘ground’ with a single bound. Almost direct from the throw-in a good run from Adam O’Sullivan put Stephen Bennett Darragh Flynn in with a sniff of goal from which he turned and hammered a tremendous shot into the top corner. A couple of minutes later it got even better, Gavin O’Brien’s great ball from deep was dummied by O’Sullivan allowing Stephen Bennett the room to run though on goal and bat the ball past PJ Hall in the Limerick goal, getting a hefty belt from the custodian for his troubles. O’Brien popped over a free from way out to stretch the lead to seven and even a wide from Cein Chester didn’t seem so bad, not when Bennett was able to score points from over his shoulder. Eight minutes gone, eight points up. Tremendous. It couldn’t get any better.

Ah, but it could. A thumping clearance from full-back Damien Ahern released Chester who crossed to Bennett to rattle in his third second goal. A free from Jake Dillon, outstanding through the whole evening, left Waterford a nose-bleed inducing twelve points ahead with less than a quarter of the game gone, and when Mark Carmody hit a terrible wide for Limerick it was looking like Rory McIlroy v the entire US Open field. Limerick were already reduced to feeling they needed to go for goals, Ciaran Keogh dropping in a free which was cleared by Colin Walsh. The clearance only went to Carmody who did what Keogh should have done and went for a point but from a less advantageous position it went wide and Limerick heads were bouncing off the floor, so dispiriting had been their start.

It was Carmody who finally got Limerick off the mark with an excellent catch and score on the run, and the very pleasant know-it-alls behind me were ruminating on Waterford needing another goal. On the one hand you’d think that we’d already scored enough. But on the other hand this is Waterford and we have history with Limerick in these situations. So Jack Aherne was allowed a clear run from which he was eventually fouled and Shane Dowling, another excellent No 11 on the night, knocked over the point you began to think that it was good that this was only a 60 minute game.

Such pessimism can’t be good for team morale – after all, the players have all grown up in such an environment – so it was good to see Limerick had their own issues. With Dillon and Aherne swapping points, Waterford took the accursed short puckout and made a total hames of it only for David Reidy to hit a very poor wide and thus fail to extract maximum ironic punishment. Limerick were beginning to revive but all the neat touches and flicks were coming from Waterford, some excellent dispossessions from behind being a particular feature of their play. Dillon stroked over a 65,O’Brien scored an excellent point on the run after Darragh Flynn had been clattered in winning the ball, something the ref chose to ignore, and he then benefitted from O’Sullivan harrying and harassing a seemingly all the Limerick backs to get another point, all of which stretched the lead to thirteen points. Surely even we couldn’t blow this, especially playing as well we were?

Well. Hope you’re sitting comfortably. The first wobble came a few minutes before half-time, goalie Paddy Cooke and full-back Ahern getting into an awful tizzy after the ref had ignored a blatant hit on a Waterford player without the ball in the centre of the field. Remember me mentioning Dick Dastardly? Fergal Horgan was going to play his role today. Or was he Muttley? Whatever he was, Waterford would soon demonstrate themselves capable of screwing up in the manner Dastardly would always inflict on himself, Cooke and Walsh seeming to assume that the ball would clear itself after Cooke had pulled off a decent stop from Jack Aherne and Kevin O’Brien was on hand to tap the ball with an agonising lack of pace across the line. Limerick were sufficiently soothed by that goal for Dowling to take a point from a free when a goal might have been and the nine-point half-time lead suddenly didn’t look that robust, particularly with Limerick having the wind in the second half.

Half-time brought a plaintive plea from the PA for a Limerick man who had left his car window wide open. It was good to know that Peter Clohessy was at the game, the Shannonside equivalent of Chuck Norris. And the second half started like the game a couple of weeks ago had with Limerick so quickly into their stride as to be unrecognisable from the team that played in the first. Did the wind have an impact? It was such a change that you wonder whether some tectonic activity meant the pitch is now sloping 45 degrees towards the Town End terrace. Dan Morrissey scored an excellent over-the-shoulder point, then Carmody was only stopped by the expedient of dragging him back around the neck allowing Dowling to add another point. Carmody was creating all manner of trouble and another foul on him led to another point for Dowling and the gap, as the know-it-alls pointed out, was down to ‘two pucks of the ball’.

Some relief was gotten from Bennett who nailed a fantastic point from out on the left but it was temporary in nature. Limerick almost got the first of those two pucks as the ball ended up in the net after an almighty scramble in the box, although few people seemed to think it was going to be allowed so there wasn’t much fuss when the flags were crossed for a free-out. This was in contrast to the referee penalising Dillon for overcarrying when it looked like it was he who was being fouled. Dowling smacked over his fifth successful free of the day, then Limerick finally got the first puck of the ball, O’Brien there to tap in after Cooke had saved from Carmody’s shot on the run. Jack Aherne could have had the second puck but chose to take his point when a goal looked on and the gap was now down to two. Dowling got another point from a free which most of Walsh Park felt should have gone the other way, and the scores were level for the first time as the match ticked into the final quarter courtesy of O’Brien.

We really needed something special to stop the rot, and it came courtesy of Jake Dillon and Cormac Heffernan Stephen Bennett. On as a sub for Chester, Bennett took the ball after a stirring run from Dillon down the right, drove towards the goal and took another juddering hit (to put it charitably) from Hall to get Waterford’s fourth goal. The relief was palpable, but Waterford couldn’t build either on it or Dowling showing some fallibility when he put a 65 wide, for not long afterwards a Waterford back batted the ball down to Carmody who pounced on the gift to rattle the ball past Cooke and wipe out that against-the-run-of-play effort for Waterford. The finger was well and truly in the dyke now, Waterford failing to spot sub Michael Harney – am I a simpleton for being pleased to see a player from Bunmahon getting his chance with the county? – in acres of space and instead being crowded out, Limerick racing down the field and Carmody putting them in front for the first time.

Their triumph seemed inevitable at this point, Dowling stretching the lead to two after he converted a free when he was fouled, then O’Brien brought his tally to 2-2 with a swashbuckling point in the top left corner. Yet incredibly in the twenty-five minutes of hurling that were remaining, Limerick would only manage one score. A chop on a Waterford player allowed Dillon to get what was only Waterford’s third score of the second half. Ray Barry plucked a dropping ball from the air to turn a strike a splendid point. Then Dillon teed up a galloping Heffernan to level matters. His was probably the crucial change in the match, a combination of robust hits and tiring Limerick legs giving him, and Waterford, a critical edge. Much credit to ‘Chuck’ O’Connor and his backroom team for that switch.

The last couple of minutes of normal time were predictably frenetic as both sides played with the fear that one false move could be the end of everything. Diarmuid Dee had two chances to snatch the win which, at that point, felt like it would have been a deserved win for Limerick, but the first effort was a total Hail Mary effort and the second just drifted wide after manic attempts to put him off by the Waterford backs. The two minutes of injury time were themselves gobbled up by players lying in heaps and the ref took the easy option and called time from the puckout.

You would have thought that Limerick were the better placed going in to extra time, what with their better recent play and Waterford’s almost preternatural ability to make a hash of these things. But the overriding thought as they prepared for another twenty minutes was of a group of teenage boys facing up to not getting home until stupid o’clock. And it was those who could look forward to being in their leabas while there was still some daylight who did all the early running in extra time. Dillon scored a point from way out to put Waterford in front, then he emerged from a scrum like Harry Potter with the quaffle, passed it to Heffernan who was chopped down to allow Dillon to put Waterford two points up. Limerick were looking jaded, Morrissey winning the ball well but his effort on goal lacked conviction. Shane McNulty got in on the scoring act at the end of a mazy run after a Herculean struggle to get the ball onto the stick and we were now a goal ahead. The cheap frees were now falling Waterford’ way, the ref twice reacting positively to howls of outrage from the crowd about a Limerick player fouling the ball, the first of those frees punished by Dillon. Four points up now, you felt with so little time in extra time that that should be enough. A towering clearance by Walsh put Limerick under pressure and led to a foul on Ray Barry which in turn led to another free score from Dillon, his seventh of the day.

Limerick kept at it all through the second period, benefitting from that imaginary slope running towards town, but Waterford were making it right scrappy, safe in the knowledge that every delayed sideline cut was thirty seconds closer to the end. Sub Dónal Breathnach was on barely a moment before he made the lead six and Limerick were only going to be saved by goals now. Yet Carmody chose to spurn a half-decent chance from a free which the ref had moved in for dissent, instead taking a point. He would have another chance very late on but it was well saved by Cooke and the closest anyone came to a goal was Breathnach for Waterford, powering into the emptying Limerick back division, and striking a shot that everyone was convinced was a goal. Except it wasn’t. It had gone wide, and I’m going to allow myself a smug moment as one of the few people in the ground who bothered to look at the umpire’s reaction. Never shoot until you see the whites of their eyes, or in this case the whites of their jackets.

There was time for Waterford to repulse one last assault before the final whistle and a rather touching display of total joy from the Waterford lads. You forget watching them, especially after watching a humdinger like this one, that they are not much more than boys. You’ll have a couple of chances with the Under-21’s and several for the Seniors. But to be a Minor will probably only come along once in a lifetime. Now they will have the chance to play in front of tens of thousands of people on Munster final day. Do this team have a chance against the defending champions from the Banner County? At least ‘a chance’. But it’s hard to believe they’ll ever play in a game quite as wild as this one was.

Waterford: Paddy Cooke, Jamie Barron, Damien Ahern (Jim Power), Colin Walsh, Stephen O’Neill (Colin Dunford), Darren Foley, Shane Roche (Ian Kenny), Gavin O’Brien (capt, 0-3, 0-1f), Ray Barry (0-1), Shane McNulty (0-1; Chris Kervick), Jake Dillon (0-8, 0-6f, 0-1 65), Adam O’Sullivan (Dónal Breathnach, 0-1), Stephen Bennett (3-2), Darragh Flynn (1-0; Michael Harney), Cein Chester (Cormac Heffernan, 0-1)

Limerick: PJ Hall, Shane Irwin, Barry O’Connell, Brian Murphy (Chris O’Riordan), Liam Ryan, Ciaran Keogh (Patrick Carroll), Barry Lynch, Dan Morrissey (0-1), Diarmuid Dee, David Reidy, Shane Dowling (0-7f; Eoin O’Farrell), Mark Carmody (1-3, 0-1f), Kevin O’Brien (2-2), Mike Fitzgibbon (Stephen O’Riordan), Jack Aherne (0-2)

HT: Waterford 3-7 (16) Limerick 1-4 (7)
FT: Waterford 4-11 (23) Limerick 3-14 (23)

Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)