AFTER the heartbreaking nature of the senior side’s defeat to Waterford just over a little two weeks ago, Limerick supporters would have been forgiven for thinking that they would be spared a repeat scenario again this championship season.
But sport has an uncanny ability to be cruel when a side’s need is greatest. And the county’s minor hurlers learned it to their cost in Saturday night’s epic Munster semi-final clash with Waterford at Walsh Park.
Limerick’s record in the provincial U-18 championship has been poor since the county’s last success in 1984. After an opening round victory over Cork, there were high hopes that this year’s side might just bridge that 27 year gap, but after the Shannonsiders’ came out the wrong side of pulsating, dramatic, extra-time clash with Waterford, the long wait for provincial honours will go on for one more year at least.
After a torrid opening period in which the Limerick defence coughed up three goals inside the opening 10 minutes, not even the most devout Limerick supporter would have given much for their team’s chances in their semi-final tie.
But Limerick produced an heroic second half comeback, brimful of courage, character and indomitable spirit to wipe out an enormous deficit which reached 13 points at one stage in the opening period and which has still sizeable at 9 points at the break. Indeed, with momentum firmly behind them in the final quarter, impressive Limerick swept into a three point advantage with a little over five minutes remaining, thanks to points from Mark Carmody, Shane Dowling (free) and top scorer Kevin O’Brien. But the insurance score craved by Limerick supporters in an official attendance of 3,208 never materialised and Waterford sensed that their opponents were tiring.
Once again a Limerick side lost a tight, championship game, one they totally dominated in the second half. The Shannonsiders got themselves back in position to win, but failed to close the deal. Gritty Waterford landed the final three scores of normal time to force the game into extra time. Limerick did have a chance to notch a dramatic match winning score in additional time, but Stephen O’Riordan’s attempt slid narrowly wide. As extra time began it was obvious that the psychological advantage had now swung in Waterford’s favour.
Limerick’s magnificent second half comeback had taken its toll. As the visitors prepared for the extra 20 minutes, it was clear that several Limerick players were feeling the effects of their earlier exertions and a number were hampered by cramp.
Waterford appeared fresher and the home side hit five unanswered points during that 10-minute spell to open up a substantial half-time advantage. Both sides managed just a single point each during the second period of extra time which was very much stop-start in nature as players struggled with cramp and tiredness. Waterford’s place in Sunday week’s Munster final was now assured.
Ultimately, Limerick were also left to rue their sluggish start. Waterford took full advantage of hesitancy in the Limerick defence in the opening minutes with inspirational 15-year-old full-forward Stephen Bennett netting a brace of goals and Darragh Flynn chipping in with another.
In contrast, while Limerick- operating a two-man full-forward line- enjoyed the lions share of possession in the second quarter, they lacked a critical cutting edge up front. The first of two goals from the lively Kevin O’Brien shortly before the break did Limerick some hope, however, and trailing by 9 points, the visitors remained in the hunt.
Limerick producing a storming second half display, outscoring their opponents 2-10 to 1-4, with the likes of Shane Dowling, the tireless Dan Morrissey, Mark Carmody, who scored 1-4, Kevin O’Brien, who hit a terrific 2-2 from play, David Reidy, Jack Aherne, Barry Lynch and Liam Ryan, excelling. However, Waterford’s late rally at the end of normal time and their strong showing in extra time broke Limerick hearts.
SCORERS - Waterford: Stephen Bennett 3-2, Jake Dillon 0-8, (0-5 frees, 0-1 ’65), Gavin O’Brien 0-3, (one free), Darragh Flynn 1-0, Ray Barry, Shane McNulty, Donal Breathnach, Cormac Heffernan 0-1 each; Limerick: Kevin O’Brien 2-2, Mark Carmody 1-4 (0-1 free), Shane Dowling(0-7 (all frees), Jack Aherne 0-2.
WATERFORD - Paddy Cooke; Jamie Barron, Damien Ahern, Colin Walsh; Stephen O’Neill, Darren Foley, Shane Roche; Ray Barry, Shane McNulty; Gavin O’Brien (Capt), Jake Dillon, Daragh Flynn; Adam O’Sullivan, Stephen Bennett, Cian Chester. Subs - Cormac Heffernan for Chester (41 mins), Micheal Harney for Flynn (50 mins), Ian Kenny for Roche (52 mins), Jim Power for Ahern (59 mins), Colin Dunford for O’Neill (half-time, extra time), Chris Kerwick for McNulty (79 mins).
LIMERICK - PJ Hall (Adare); Shane Irwin (Bruff), Barry O’Connell (Kildimo), Brian Murphy (Fedamore); Liam Ryan (Doon), Ciaran Keogh (Na Piarsaigh), Barry Lynch (Feohanagh-Castlemahon); Dan Morrissey (Ahane), Diarmuid Dee (Mungret); David Reidy (Dromin-Athlacca), Shane Dowling (Na Piarsaigh), Mike Fitzgibbon (Feohanagh-Castlemahon); Kevin O’Brien (Patrickswell), Mark Carmody (Patrickswell), Jack Aherne (Kileedy). Subs - Patrick Carroll (South Liberties) for Keogh (25 mins), Stephen O’Riordan (Capt) (Kilmallock) for Fitzgibbon (58 mins), Chris O’Riordan (Dromoin-Athlacca) for Murphy (66 mins), Mike Fitzgibbon for Stephen O’Riordan (69 mins), Eoin O’Farrell (Croom) for Dowling (injured, 72 mins).
REFEREE - Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).