(originally posted on boards.ie)
After their good performance against Tipperary, the poor performance of the Waterford minors against Limerick was a big disappointment. In many ways, this was a repeat of the first round defeat to Cork, with Waterford playing second fiddle for most of the match before launching a late rally which came up short. As in that game, our opponents were better focused, their first touch was much better and they had much more of a structure to their play, with many good passing movements.
Waterford started very nervously and never settled down until it was too late. Their fumble count was enormous, unable to hold onto a catch or get the ball in hand from the ground at the first, or even second, attempt. Time and again, Waterford players ran at their opponents only to lose possession in the process. There was a lack of urgency and alertness in their play, with Limerick first to the ball all over the pitch. In the first half, the Waterford backs stood off their opponents, allowing them to get easy possession from incoming ball.
Waterford were also very poor at competing for ball in the air. In this context, it defied comprehension that Waterford played their best ball winner, Eoghan Murray, in the full forward line in the first half despite playing against a very strong wind. The selectors obviously had come up with some kind of game plan which was rendered redundant by the weather conditions, and they were unable to adapt to these unexpected conditions. It was only when Murray moved to the midfield area late in the game that Waterford began to win some decent ball, and in the last ten minutes they showed some glimpse of what they were capable of, running hard and with purpose at the Limerick defence and hitting five points on the trot.
It also appears that Waterford won the toss and elected to play against the wind, which again struck me as being a poor call. I think you should always put visiting teams under the maximum pressure from the start, rather than presenting them with the opportunity to build up a bit of a lead. Even then, Waterford missed three very good early scoring chances, a reflection of the team’s weak mindset – and of course doing nothing to correct that mindset.
As it was, Limerick hit a number of bad wides themselves, and their five-point half-time lead (0-9 to 0-4) looked quite surmountable. Waterford did make a surge on the restart to reduce the lead to two points, but Limerick dug in and took over again to go six points in front by the 48th minute. The Waterford defence gave away too many easy frees, with Limerick sharpshooter Paul O’Brien nailing eight of them. Waterford did finally get their act together in the last ten minutes, and came agonisingly close to equalising when Eoghan Murray’s sideline went inches wide of the post. But once again Limerick won the ensuing puckout and forced the free which was the final nail in the Waterford coffin.
This will be Limerick’s fourth Munster minor hurling final in a row, while they are also the current Under 21 All-Ireland champions. Like Clare, they clearly have much better under-age coaching and management personnel at their disposal than do Waterford. In the 2013 Munster minor final replay, they completely outfoxed Waterford with their tactics and positional switches, and the following year, again in a Munster final replay, Waterford were unable to come to grips with their sweeper in defence. This was again apparent last night, as time after time the extra man in the Limerick defence swept up loose incoming ball.
With their Centre of Excellence and with Anthony Daly (very prominent last night) in overall charge of under-age development in the county, Limerick’s future as an under-age powerhouse looks secure. Waterford are in the dark ages by comparison.