Monday, August 13, 2007

TSA Report: Limerick's Tale of the Unexpected

Sport, like a bold child crushing an insect, is cruel and thoughtless.

All summer, Waterford was its Story, the fulfilment of their long struggle for an All-Ireland the central, captivating theme of this year's Championships. It would be good for hurling. Great for hurling, in fact.

Casually, however, Waterford's wings were pulled off yesterday, and its wriggling body squashed under Limerick's ferocious heel.

And as the beaten down Waterford faithful scuttled away, turning their eyes from the sight, those remaining in Croke Park stood to acclaim Limerick. The new Story. As easy as that.

It sounds ludicrous to say that Limerick blindsided Waterford, given that the hurling Championship is so small, and that the counties have already played each other this year. But since last weekend, the gauntlet laid down to the team that wishes to challenge Kilkenny rested in Waterford's hands. Limerick were a formality to be negotiated, like the pre-match parade.

It wouldn't take the most eminent sports psychologist to figure this one out. Richie Bennis managed it fine. One presumes that the portly pied piper of Patrickswell strayed little in the past week from simply underlining to his players the indignation and affrontedness they should feel at their expected roles in Waterford's grand plan. And every ripple of the Waterford net, and bone-shattering shoulder charge, and clenched fist celebration was evidence of that.

Of course, there was more to it than the old familiar snarl of the underdog. Limerick's gameplan wasn't massively dissimilar to that employed in the Munster final. Not that they have another gameplan anyway. The policy of all-out war fell short that day due to Limerick's forwards' ineffectiveness and the ruthlessness of their Waterford counterparts.

Yesterday, the reversal of that situation was the difference. Limerick's front three struck hard and clean when given the chance, and were pleased to find that their defenders - the full-back line of Reale, Lucey and Hickey in particular - had decided on August 12th 2007 to produce the games of their lives.

Waterford's wide count was excruciating, but the statistics don't reveal the pressure that every Déise man was under when striking for the posts. A more useful statistic would be the number of blocks that Limerick defenders made. In the Munster final, Limerick got in close but drifted away. Yesterday, they got in close, then got closer.

Whether the double-header with Cork had taken the pep out of Waterford that they had used in Thurles to pull away from Limerick, or whether Bennis's key use of substitutions helped his team last the course, Waterford were unable to put in sprint finish that has marked their successes this year since the League final.

That was the shocker, the unexpected. Limerick kept it going when the Story said they should be gallantly standing aside.
And now, they are the Story.

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