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Hegarty's finale seals Limerick's greatness

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Champions: Limerick celebrate after the game with the trophy at Croke Park

Champions: Limerick celebrate after the game with the trophy at Croke Park

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Champions: Limerick celebrate after the game with the trophy at Croke Park

To be considered a great team in any era, a second All-Ireland title is mandatory.

It has so far evaded Clare and Galway in the last decade but for Limerick their status was cemented in the most emphatic fashion in this All-Ireland hurling final in Croke Park with another impressive mix of substance and style to pummel Waterford into submission for the county's ninth title.

In doing so they have set a standard that the rest of the game will struggle to match if everything stays right for them in the coming years. They are supreme champions who have been frontrunners since the championship got under way in October and have met every challenge thrown at them.

A second title in three years to add to the two league (2019 and 2020) and two Munster (2019 and 2020) titles has given them a six-from-seven return from competitions since their 2018 All-Ireland win, a ratio that is in line with Jim Gavin's Dublin footballers and Brian Cody's Kilkenny at their peak. Between Munster league, league, Munster Championship and All-Ireland series, they played 13 games in 2020 and won 13. Phenomenal.

Like Kilkenny when they were at that peak, they pack a ferocious punch.

From the moment Tom Morrissey barrelled into Jamie Barron, dislodging possession from him and whipping over the lead score in the opening minute, terms of physical engagement were set that Waterford, like every other team Limerick have faced this season, were unable to meet.

The case could be made for Barron to be awarded a free for the challenge but referee Fergal Horgan's relaxed attitude to such moments of contact continued and Limerick's high-pressure game eventually drained Waterford tanks.

The Déise had come imbued with hope after their storming second half against Kilkenny but too many of their big performers that evening just didn't get going, or weren't let more accurately, and when their defensive talisman Tadhg de Búrca was withdrawn in the 21st minute with a serious knee injury - Waterford will hope it's not another cruciate ligament tear after he recovered from one earlier this year - the toll was evident, even if it took until the second half to fully manifest.

Once again it was their pillar half-forwards who led the way, Gearóid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey finishing with 12 points between them, two more than their semi-final contribution against Galway. Has there ever been twin performances on the wings in an All-Ireland final quite like what they conjured?

But they had help - beside, in front and behind. Cian Lynch thrived in the opening half at centre-forward while Aaron Gillane made light of a rib injury to deliver some huge scores that really no defender can curtail, despite Conor Prunty's valiant efforts.

Limerick's half-back line was utterly dominant. Kyle Hayes took over from where he left off in the semi-final, rampaging through white shirts like it was Gulliver with the Lilliputians at times. He was impossible to stop and made his presence felt with every tackle.

Captain Declan Hannon gave a masterclass in precision passing behind a dominant midfield where Will O'Donoghue enveloped everything that moved with ruthless pressure in the tackle while Diarmaid Byrnes' booming clearances gave Gillane and Seamus Flanagan targets to chase in the corners that they invariably claimed.

It was their third successive game without scoring a goal, more than 210 minutes since Flanagan struck late in the Munster semi-final against Tipperary.

But like Galway in 2017, who went their last 300 minutes or so without scoring a goal, they were confident enough to play the 'long' game, hitting 141 points in their five championship games to add to three goals, all scored against Tipp.

Just as they didn't score a goal in their last three games, they didn't concede one either.

A reconfigured defence, with Hayes at wing-back, Dan Morrissey at full-back and Barry Nash in the corner, has made them even more secure.

Once again here, Seán Finn underlined why he is the game's best corner-back, doing much more than just closing down Dessie Hutchinson. His sixth sense for possession was something to behold.

Morrissey and Nash were on top of everything too, though Austin Gleeson did carry some fight to them and scored five points, including one from a free and a sideline.

By my count, Waterford created nine goal chances or half-chances. Jack Fagan shot wide early on with arguably the best of them while Byrnes blocked Bennett in the 26th minute. The rest were dealt with comfortably by Nickie Quaid, with some, notably from Bennett, Hutch really speculative as Waterford grew more desperate.

They had got to the break 0-14 to 0-11 down and clinging to hope that they could find a third quarter like the Munster final in Thurles. But Limerick were prepared this time and really went for it in this period 'winning' it by double scores (0-10 to 0-5) to stretch eight clear.

Their 20th point epitomised the essence of their team play with Finn winning possession, Byrnes, Hannon and Tom Morrissey playing through the lines before Morrissey, who provided the last pass for six points on top of scoring five, teed up Hegarty to finish.

From there to the end it was about minding what they had. When Hegarty caught a Quaid puck-out on 64 minutes and shrugged off his pursuers to score his seventh and final point, the 2020 final and perhaps season had its signature score.

It was power play at its best.

SCORERS - Limerick: A Gillane 0-10 (6fs); G Hegarty 0-7; T Morrissey 0-5; S Flanagan 0-3; D Hannon, W O'Donoghue, D Byrnes, K Hayes, P Ryan all 0-1 each.

Waterford: S Bennett 0-10 (9f); A Gleeson 0-5 (1f, 1 sl); C Lyons, K Moran, D Hutchinson, K Bennett all 0-1 each.

LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Finn, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes, D Hannon, K Hayes; D O'Donovan, W O'Donoghue; G Hegarty, C Lynch, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, G Mulcahy. Subs: P Casey for Mulcahy (49), D Reidy for O'Donovan (59), P Ryan for Flanagan (63), A Breen for Gillane (69), P O'Loughlin for Hayes (71).

WATERFORD: S O'Keeffe; I Kenny, C Prunty, S McNulty; C Lyons, D de Búrca, K Moran; J Barron, K Bennett; N Montgomery, J Prendergast, J Fagan; D Hutchinson, A Gleeson, S Bennett. Subs: I Daly for de Búrca (inj 21), D Lyons for K Bennett (40), C Gleeson for Montgomery (45), P Curran for Moran (52), S Fives for Kenny (55).

Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary)

Belfast Telegraph


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