Waterford 0-17 Limerick 0-19 – Minor

Walsh Park, Venue of Legends

Terrific Treaty down Na Deise – HogansStand.com
Paul O’Brien delights for Limerick minors – Irish Examiner
Perfect 10 for O’Brien as Limerick book final berth – Irish Independent
O’Brien plays leading role as Limerick book place in final – Irish Times
Limerick’s great hurling week continues as they defeat Waterford to reach Munster final – The42.ie


That’s four years on the bounce now that Limerick have done for us in the Munster Minor championship. Things could be worse. We beat them in the two previous meetings in 2009 and 2011, but prior to that Waterford had not beaten Limerick at this level since 1955. That was a run of 14 defeats. Yep, things could be hell of a lot worse.

We’ll get back to the place this game occupies in the history books later, but for now let’s combine the past and present with something I noticed upon arrival at Walsh Park. During the week I had opined on boards.ie that “the only certainties in life are death, taxes, and no matter how tinpot the Waterford game, Tony Browne Sr will be there”. And wouldn’t you know it, it having arrived just after 6.30, who should hobble in moments later but the bould Tony. Way back in 2000 when I was young, single and flush with cash, I fancied myself as becoming some manner of roving reporter for Waterford, paid for by advertising revenue. With all that in mind, I took a photo of myself at our game against Tipperary in Nenagh for posterity, and there in the background . . .

Who needs proof you were there when, well, you are always there? It’s immensely humbling, to see someone who has devoted so much of their time and effort to Waterford GAA. God knows how many of that litany of losses to Limerick he’s has been at.

Waterford played against the wind in the first half, and after the complete failure to make use of it against Cork, this was a good thing. Having seemingly had no strategy to deal with the wind then, Waterford’s plan here seemed to be to slow the game to a crawl. You know all the griping about the time in football matches lost when the likes of Stephen Cluxton jogs forward to take a 45? Well, every free inside our own half seemed to be taken by Billy Nolan in goal and he was in no hurry to take any of them. Allied to some dire shooting by Limerick, Waterford were only a couple of points down after a quarter of a game where the blue touchpaper was staying unlit. Unfortunately Waterford were not able to box clever when they had the ball. The amount of fumbling was atrocious, and there were numerous occasions when the roar of “two hands on the hurl!” went up from the crowd. Some of the decision making was really poor, such as a sideline ball which, in an attempt to play it back to Nolan, was put out for a 65 (thankfully missed). There was little in the way of goalmouth action, which seems to be the norm these days. A late effort by Thomas Douglas, when he tried to score with a swing akin to someone driving a stake into the ground with a sledgehammer, went wide and was as close as it got to a goal. A spectacular point from a sideline ball with the last action of the half gave Limerick a five-point lead at the break. This would have felt about par before the game, but given some of their misses it looked very good for Waterford.

As if noting the presence of the Tony Browne père wasn’t enough, who should sit in front of me at the start of the second half but Tom Cunningham, former Chairman of the County Board. Given his life has been the essence of tribalism, whether it be Waterford GAA or Fianna Fáil, I was wondering whether I’d see repeated volleys of abuse raining down on all and sundry. Instead he was a model of decency and restraint, even going so far as to freely admit when Waterford were fortunate with refereeing decisions. In terms of those around me though, the best nugget of wisdom about what unfolded came from a woman behind with about ten minutes to go: “it’s like last year’s Munster final again, chasing a game with no forwards”. After a couple of quick points which suggested all would be well, Waterford’s strategy of withdrawing from the full-forward line came unstuck. The contrast with Limerick was noticeable. They persisted with a man in at full-forward despite being against the wind, which kept Waterford guessing while also giving them a chance of the odd cheap free to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Not having such worries helped Limerick keep Waterford at arm’s length. Twice we made it a two-point game and on each occasion Limerick pushed back. A four-point burst midway through the half meant the lead was now greater than it had been at half-time with barely ten minutes to go. Goals were going to be needed, you thought, but where were they doing to come from?

It has to be said that Limerick looked that bit tidier than Waterford. Yes, the shooting was a source of concern for them but they were making chances. Their handling was crisper and they were frequently sashaying around Waterford’s more ponderous players. It looked at that point like heads would drop, but to the credit of the Waterford players they pushed back. Eoghan Murray really stood tall and, by dint of effort rather than artistry, they clawed their way into the game to the point where the gap was only one going into injury time. Murray had a sideline ball way out the field but it drifted agonisingly wide and Limerick’s next attack yielded one of those cheap frees that you get when you bother stationing someone in the danger zone. All they had to do was crowd out the last attack and the Irish Press Cup’s absence from this land was stretched to at least four years.

An absurd way to look at it, but it illustrates why I was not too despondent. It would have been a smash-and-grab had we won it, although that never bothered me in the past. What was more pertinent was that despite getting so much wrong, despite a mystifying plan of action, despite that malojan record against Limerick weighing heavily on us, Waterford still nearly got away with it. The thing is, I don’t think history is weighing down on us like it once did. These players have grown up with the idea of being competitive and even of winning things. Losing these games is disappointing in itself, if only because a Munster final appearance guarantees two more games, and wouldn’t it have been lovely to give these boys a big day out in front of a big crowd for the Senior final? But we’ll be back at this level. We aren’t going back to those grim days of 20+ point beatings any time soon.

Coming up on Sunday week: a seven-goal battering at the hands of Tipp.

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