IN 2010, Waterford hurling was on the crest of a wave, with the county reaching the senior and minor Munster finals for a second successive year for the first time in the county’s history.
The seniors went on to defeat Cork in a replay. The minors lost to Clare but it was still a really positive year; in the semi-final, the Waterford minors defeated Cork, which was – astonishingly – Waterford’s first victory over their neighbours at U18 level in 60 years.
And yet, probably the most significant underage victory for Waterford that season came a few months later when Waterford won the Tony Forristal All-Ireland U14 competition, defeating Kilkenny in the final.
Having won the competition for the first time in 2007, it was Waterford’s third final appearance in four years; the 2009 side had lost the final to Tipperary.
Waterford beat Kilkenny in that 2010 final by two points but the toughest match they played in that tournament was against Limerick, who they also beat by two points.
There was always very little between those two groups right throughout the age-grade. Only two points separated the sides when they met at U15 in 2011. They didn’t meet at U16 level but Limerick had clearly moved up a few gears by that stage, hammering Galway in the 2012 Arrabawn (then All-Ireland U16 final) by 21 points.
It was clear from when they were U14s that Limerick crop were a golden generation. Cian Lynch was already a standout player but more future stars were still finding their feet; through those age-grades between 2010-12, Aaron Gillane was only on the B squad, while Sean Finn also spent a couple of years with the B squad too.
By the time he was 17 though, Finn was a starter on a crack Limerick minor team in 2013. And it was almost fitting that they ran into Waterford in the Munster final, which included a raft of players who had reached the 2009 Tony Forristal final.
The 2013 drawn Munster minor final was an epic but one particular sequence of play deep into injury time showcased the rich quality on display that afternoon, and the impact the players involved in that phase of play would have on the future senior ambitions of both counties.
Waterford were three points up in the dying moments when Austin Gleeson caught a long Limerick puck-out on the edge of the D before taking off on a solo-run straight up through the middle of the field. By the time he reached the 20-metre line, Gleeson was just about to pull the trigger to put Waterford four points ahead, and out of reach, until Seán Finn blocked him down.
The loose ball was picked up by Nash - back inside his own D after trying to chase Gleeson down – who drove the sliotar down the field to Pat Ryan, who in turn played a clever angled ball into Tom Morrissey. Morrissey got inside the Waterford defence and blasted the ball to the net for the equalising score.
The replay was another classic that went to the wire. Stephen Bennett’s third goal in the 57th minute levelled the match, but Limerick drove on and won by three points.
Waterford had already been used to recovering from a big setback; they’d lost their 2013 Munster quarter-final to Tipperary by six points, before returning to beat Clare and Cork. After the Limerick defeat, Waterford just dusted themselves down again, taking out Antrim and Kilkenny before beating Galway in the final.
Limerick didn’t make it that far to set up a rematch with Waterford. Losing their 2013 All-Ireland minor semi-final to Galway after extra-time was all the more devastating again when there was so much controversy attached to the loss; Nash had a clear point ruled out by a Hawk-Eye system that malfunctioned on the day.
Still, the potential in their team was obvious that afternoon; Cian Lynch delivered one of the greatest individual minor displays seen in Croke Park. And Lynch was still a minor again the following season.
With so many players underage for the minor grade again in 2014, it was inevitable that Limerick would have to go through Waterford once more if they were to try and win another Munster title and secure that elusive All-Ireland minor crown. The 2014 drawn Munster final was almost a carbon copy of the 2013 provincial final, except this time Waterford got a late goal to draw the match.
Limerick won the replay again, but the huge volume of players involved in both squads last Sunday underlined the quality on show that afternoon in 2014; Finn, Lynch, Nash, Morrissey, Seamus Flanagan, Peter Casey, Paddy O’Loughlin, Robbie Hanley (Limerick); Patrick Curran, Conor Gleeson, Conor Prunty, Darragh Lyons, Billy Nolan, Peter Hogan (Waterford).
The list is longer again if you include the current senior players from the 2013 minor teams; Richie English, Darragh O’Donovan, David Dempsey, Mikey Casey, Pat Ryan (Limerick), Austin Gleeson and Stephen Bennett (Waterford).
On Sunday, history rhymed between so many of those players again because, similar to 2013 and 2014, they met in two huge championship matches in the same season.
Limerick won again but 10 years on from when so many of these players first played against each other, it was almost fitting that Limerick had to go through Waterford to secure another All-Ireland.