Limerick secured their place in the Allianz Hurling League semi final after they continued their 100% record against Waterford last Saturday night at the Gaelic Grounds.
Fielding ten of their All-Ireland winning team, they held out against a weakened Waterford team that produced a very plucky performance.
This game stood out in particular for the number of Limerick players that were in sparkling form. A number of whom could easily have taken Man of the Match but when it came down to it Gearoid Hegarty was simply outstanding.
His contribution of 1-5 from play was as good as we have seen from this man but I was particularly impressed with his hurling. He took his goal well but some of his points were majestic.
Other players were also in mighty form, Graeme Mulcahy hit some great points while David Dempsey worked very hard. In defence Dan Morrissey and Mike Casey were on top while Barry Nash didn’t look out of place at corner back.
The game also showed that Limerick has room for improvement but they showed moments of brilliance. Some very poor wides from play and frees allowed Waterford a foothold when Limerick should have been out of sight.
It wasn’t a pleasant evening for hurling but both teams showed a tenacity to run and work hard. I think Liam Cahill would have left the Gaelic Grounds very happy given that he put out such an inexperienced team.
One of the differences between the teams was that Limerick had a greater physical presence and in that regard they were very strong in the tackle. Limerick’s ability to win ball in the air and on the ground has made them a very hard team to beat.
David Dempsey, Gearoid Hegarty, Barry Nash and Dan Morrissey were really impressive in the air and that made life very difficult for Waterford.
The pressure for places in the Limerick full forward line is intensifying with every game and that will ensure no player particularly in attack can take his place for granted.
I covered the Waterford against Tipperary game a week previously and I expected Liam Cahill to bring a strong team to the Gaelic Grounds but he opted to go deep into his panel and see what they had to offer.
Limerick had most of the play in the opening half, they sometimes were flashing the ball around and Waterford were struggling to get hold of it but amazingly there was only four points between the teams at half time.
That goal by Hegarty after a superb catch by David Dempsey was the difference between the teams. Waterford went fifteen minutes without scoring during that half and they had only one point from play.
Dan Morrissey was really impressive in the half backline and showed a great willingness to drive forward with every ball.
Waterford were in real trouble in their full backline when Limerick sent the ball wide to the corners.
They opened them up many times but like in previous games not enough goal chances were created. In all, Limerick have scored just one goal per game in the league. Aaron Gillane was sharp but he missed some scorable frees.
Graeme Mulcahy sent a reminder that his appetite for the game is as strong as ever. He was brilliant and some of this points were sparkling. Conor Boylan worked hard and showed some nice touches during the game. Boylan is a good team player and is growing in experience and confidence.
One of the most notable things I have seen since Liam Cahill took over in Waterford is the that he has his players playing for each other.
I got the sense in the games that I have seen them play that everyone feels they will get a chance and that they know he expects them to work hard.
Like other teams Waterford need to find a couple of players but it appears Cahill is going in the right direction. Both against Tipperary and Limerick they refused to cash their chips. They kept working and when Jack Fagan goaled in the second half it provided his team with a great lift.
That goal by Fagan exposed the Limerick defence and I’m sure other mangers will watch it a few times before championship. The Waterford backs closed down the space better in the second half and those outside them didn’t allow the ball to ping into the open spaces. Peter Hogan and Jack Fagan when introduced made a difference and they will push hard for starting places come the summer.
Limerick are playing with a lot of confidence and they have the ability to win this league without exposing themselves prior to the championship. The good thing is that younger players are getting an opportunity to learn.
In all of their games Limerick have produced spells where they suffocated the opposing teams. They work in groups, they work hard and their movement is really good. The game they play has risk attached to it.
Sometimes the play breaks down, they don’t always find the man and I am sure the heart rate in some supporters goes up with that short passing across the half backline. But for all of that they are the most impressive team in the league.
Now, this league in particular has a health warning attached to it because with the fear of dropping down taken away, more teams are experimenting.
John Kiely and his management team might have had a fair bit to deal with in the latter months of the year past but they certainly have got this group back in focus.
They will have pressed the lever and they will have left every player know where they stand. Great teams win more than one All Ireland and this group are more than capable of repeating what they did in 2018.
I sense a really good attitude amongst the management and players. Everyone knows what’s expected of them and they are just getting on with the job. Over the past few games the management have picked players in different positions and that will have provided learning come championship time.
The loss of Richie English and how they fill the gap left by him will be very important. Moving Barry Nash might be a stroke of genius and while he did well against Waterford I think he will need a few more games to get to grips with this very specialist position. Good hurlers don’t always make good defenders particularly corner backs where its about been a very good close marker.
Timing is also a vital skill in this area and it’s not acquired overnight. The biggest challenge facing the management will be in defence and how they plan for that will have a major bearing in the championship
The quarter finals of the league take place next Sunday and it will see Galway take on Wexford while Kilkenny will take on Waterford. From here on it’s knockout with Limerick and Clare awaiting the winners in the semi final.
Shane O’Neill’s Galway had a fine win over Tipperary last Sunday and that will greatly help settle O’Neill into the Galway set up. Wexford to me are the team that really want to win the league. Davy Fitzgerald would love to win a national title and they will be hard to beat.
We could yet have a Limerick v Clare final but there is a good bit of hurling to be done before that comes around.
Having a extra week before the semi final will be welcomed by all in the Limerick set up.
The next couple of weeks will be very interesting and once that is over championship will come around very quickly.