Déise making light of goal drought
Allianz National Hurling League Division One semi-final: Waterford v Limerick (tomorrow, 2pm, Thurles)
WITH Limerick languishing in Division 1B for all of the last six seasons and these two kept apart in the Munster Championship since 2011, there isn't the familiarity you'd expect of provincial rivals.
Waterford's demotion to the second tier for the 2014 season brought them into rare close proximity, and their opening round draw was more beneficial to the Déise as they joined the list of teams to have denied Limerick top flight hurling.
TJ Ryan's team contains two interesting changes from their quarter-final win over Dublin, with Wayne McNamara and Shane Dowling omitted from the starting fifteen.
Declan Hannon, Tom Condon and Seamus Hickey have been on the road to recovery and both had hoped to make this weekend, but none is fit enough to start.
The reshuffle sees Ronan Lynch – who withdrew from corner-forward to operate as a hugely effective sweeper in the win over Dublin – line out at wing-back.
Waterford's deployment of a sweeper will almost certainly leave him to operate as the free man once more.
The likelihood is that Gavin O'Mahony will also switch to wing-forward with Cian Lynch going to midfield.
Shane Dowling's demotion – his form for Na Piarsaigh had been none-too-brilliant – opens the door to youngster Gearoid Hegarty, whose father Ger was centre-back for the county in their 1994 All-Ireland final loss to Offaly.
Kevin Downes continues at full-forward in the absence of Hannon, who missed the quarter-final with a recurring ankle injury.
After being condemned to seventh season in Division 1B by a four-point defeat by Clare in Ennis last month, boss TJ Ryan found himself under the microscope.
It seemed a long way from the battling display against Kilkenny in that rain-lashed All-Ireland semi-final a couple of seasons ago, since when they have failed to push on.
But after the 1-21 to 1-19 win over a fancied Dublin side two weeks ago, the Limerick boss came out fighting, describing some local commentators as ‘vultures'.
And, while he made his point in anger, it remained valid. In trying to win promotion for the last two seasons, he's been undone by the club successes of Kilmallock and Na Piarsaigh, who reached All-Ireland finals in consecutive years.
The spring version of Limerick is therefore a dud. But equally, regardless of absentees, their 2013 Munster winning campaign was a rare break from their tendency to lose the really big games.
Waterford's early season brilliance of the last two years has seen them off that island, and they are swimming ever closer with the big sharks.
They were far from perfect against Wexford but the true indication of their progression under Derek McGrath perhaps lies in their final-day draw with Galway in March.
Assured of a semi-final place, they made ten changes from the previous game. Three debuts were handed out, Austin Glesson returned from a 10-month layoff, and they still had enough about them to salvage a draw that helped condemn last year's All-Ireland finalists to the drop.
The big concern at present is over their lack of goals. They have raised the green flag just once this season, a remarkably low tally. Limerick, by contrast, have found the net 11 times.
They were easily the lowest scorers in the top flight, and yet took seven points from their five games.
It has not yet proven to be a defining flaw for the Déise, and nothing about this game suggests that will change. Tadhg de Búrca's importance as their sweeper cannot be understated.
They were fortunate that their hosts Wexford were so wasteful in the quarter-final, relying largely on the accuracy of Maurice Shanahan from dead balls to guide them through.
Waterford are finding their way through whatever is put in front of them these days. Tomorrow shouldn't be any different.
Limerick: N Quaid; S O'Brien, R McCarthy, R English; P O'Brien, D Byrnes, R Lynch; G O'Mahony, P Browne; G Hegarty, J Ryan, C Lynch; B Nash, K Downes, T Morrissey