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huge win Limerick make statement with impressive victory over Waterford to book place in All-Ireland final

Limerick 1-25 Waterford 0-17

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Séamus Flanagan of Limerick celebrates

Séamus Flanagan of Limerick celebrates

Séamus Flanagan of Limerick celebrates

AN All-Ireland statement from champions who remain as voracious, as remorseless, as dominant as ever. Limerick didn’t just do enough to qualify for their third final in four seasons, they beat Waterford into submission … physically, tactically, and on the scoreboard.

Liam Cahill’s plucky Deise were doing remarkably well to be only six adrift, approaching the second water break, when the contest was killed off beyond redemption by the only goal in the 55th minute.

It all stemmed from a Waterford sideline ball in their own defence, but Shane Bennett’s delivery was intercepted by Peter Casey, who fed Gearóid Hegarty on the burst. The reigning Hurler of the Year in turn fed Gillane, who was never going to miss. And he didn’t, roofing home emphatically.

The only negative for John Kiely in that second half was a straight red card for Peter Casey, just before the hour, for apparent use of the head. Barring a successful appeal, he stands to miss the final against either Kilkenny or Cork.

Still, on this evidence, it’s hard to know whether either will be able to live with the holders in this mood.

Even with 14 men, they continued to stretch further away. Tom Morrissey with his fifth point from play (and fourth of a towering second half) and Darragh O’Donovan (with a long-range free) further twisted the knife deep in stoppage-time, leaving the final margin at 11 – an exact replica of last year’s decider.

Waterford will rue a succession of half-chances for goals in the second half, but Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron and Stephen Bennett at the death were all either denied by Nickie Quaid or failed to find the target.

The pre-match preamble can be a nervy enough period at the best of times, without the curve ball of a 30-minute delay prompted by traffic chaos on the M7 Motorway.

Both teams were at Headquarters in plenty of time but, with many supporters from the competing counties caught up in the motorway snarl-up caused by a truck shedding its load of hay, the GAA took the decision in consultation with Gardaí to defer throw-in until 5.30pm.

This was “in the interests of health and safety,” Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna explained.

But was the hold-up more disruptive to defending champions or gung-ho pretenders, that was the question on most fans’ lips when they eventually got through the turnstiles.

Waterford had taken Limerick’s scalp back in May, a rare recent occurrence on a day when John Kiely’s men finished with 13 men.

But their early league travails were a distant memory as they returned to Croker for the first time since last December’s final. Their championship form, to date, had lacked last year’s linear graph; on the flip side, their second half demolition of a previous dominant Tipperary was widely viewed as their finest 35 minutes under Kiely.

Waterford’s summer has been a slow burner – poor against Clare, erratic against Laois, before they found their mojo so thrillingly against Galway and then Tipp.

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A late change, Conor Gleeson displacing Patrick Curran, still meant that they started with 11 of the team that lost last year’s All-Ireland by 11 points. It also hinted at a remodelled defensive unit, and so it transpired with Gleeson detailed to follow Cian Lynch while Shane Bennett primarily played the sweeper role.

The champions exploded from the traps, with points from Lynch and Séamus Flanagan inside two minutes, but the Deise hung tough during a ferociously contested opening quarter, slippery conditions contributing to the early mayhem.

Waterford must have been reasonably content to reach the first water break just 0-4 to 0-3 adrift although, in an early portent of trouble, Stephen Bennett’s radar had already deserted him from three long-range frees.

When Austin Gleeson restored parity in the 20th minute, the underdogs must have been happier still … and yet this jolt appeared to kickstart Limerick into a match-defining period of total domination, outscoring Waterford by 0-11 to 0-4 from there until half-time.

Aaron Gillane began the scoring rush with a defence-shredding run that ended in a point that really should have been a goal. No matter, as his fellow forwards, wing-back Diarmaid Byrnes and midfielder William O’Donoghue all joined in the act, with eight different scorers by the midpoint.

The Waterford puckout was shredded in that second quarter, especially when Shaun O’Brien aimed deep into enemy terrain. In stark contrast to the huge energy levels displayed in the last two weekends, the Deise appeared physically drained, struggling in the trenches and even more so in the air against Limerick’s physicality.

SCORERS – Limerick: A Gillane 1-5 (4f), T Morrissey 0-5, S Flanagan 0-4, C Lynch, D Byrnes (2f) 0-3 each, P Casey 0-2, W O’Donoghue, G Hegarty, D O’Donovan (f) 0-1 each.

Waterford: Stephen Bennett 0-6 (5f), A Gleeson 0-4 (1 sideline cut, 1f), D Hutchinson, C Lyons, J Barron 0-2 each, K Bennett 0-1.

LIMERICK – N Quaid; S Finn, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes, D Hannon, K Hayes; W O’Donoghue, D O’Donovan; G Hegarty, C Lynch, T Morrissey; P Casey, A Gillane, S Flanagan. Subs: D Reidy for Hegarty (66), G Mulcahy for Flanagan (68), R English for Byrnes (69), C Boylan for Lynch (70), C Coughlan for Nash (inj 73).

WATERFORD – S O’Brien; S McNulty, C Prunty, I Kenny; Shane Bennett (sweeper); K Bennett, C Gleeson, C Lyons; J Barron, P Hogan; J Fagan, J Prendergast, Stephen Bennett; D Hutchinson, A Gleeson. Subs: D Lyons for Hogan (44), M Kiely for Prendergast (44), N Montgomery for Fagan (52), S Fives for Kenny (55), P Curran for Shane Bennett (55).

REF – J Keenan (Wicklow)

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