By Ger Canning
'Dan the Man' does it again! Waterford's Dan Shanahan scored 3-03 in today's Munster Senior Hurling final, thus ensuring victory for the Deise in a compelling decider in front of 48,371 in Thurles.
Shanahan got all three of his goals during the second-half at rain-soaked Semple Stadium, as his strikes in the 52nd, 63rd and 71st minutes closed out a deserved, if somewhat flattering, victory.
This was the first final between these counties for 73 years and, thankfully, the match lived up to expectations.
Limerick, battle-hardened after their three epic matches with Tipperary in the semi-final, settled well and got a big boost with the game's first goal after seven minutes of frantic action.
As Brian Geary launched a huge free deep into the Waterford goalmouth, full-forward Brian Begley grabbed the sliotar before driving past Clinton Hennessy.
The question on everyone's mind was whether the Mungret player was standing in the small square when he received possession. The umpires, best positioned, thought not, and the goal stood.
All around the park Limerick were playing tough, tight defence. Nothing was being given away lightly and scores were hard earned.
As expected, Waterford changed about their team to meet the changed circumstances of Limerick's challenge.
Kevin Moran, wearing No 3 played at midfield, where Michael Walsh was at his most industrious. 'The Brick', as Walsh is known, was aided and abetted by some powerful hurling from Stephen Molumphy.
Limerick were in difficulty early on the flanks, where Peter Lawlor and Mark Foley were being exposed by skilful wing play from Shanahan and Seamas Prendergast.
But the longer the game went on the more the Shannonsiders settled in for a tight, hard contest.
Andrew O'Shaughnessey excelled with two '65s during the opening period at a stage in the game where John Mullane only managed to convert one of his four scoring chances, that a point.
Mullane's best opening came five minutes from half-time when he cut in from the wing and hit a fearsome shot straight at Murray. It was a wasted opportunity, because there were others better positioned for a pass that never came.
Justin McCarthy's men led by the minimum at the half-time by 0-09 to 1-05
But straight after the break, the outsiders from Limerick got back into scoring vein and held on to their lead for the next 13 minutes.
Limerick's application was first-class and serious questions were being asked of the team that last won this title three years ago.
This was the moment where the Waterford 'Brains Trust' sprung into action, and wing-forward Eoin Kelly was re-located just in front of their own half-backline.
Limerick responded by moving Mark Foley forward. This resulted in sizable, even alarming gaps being left in the heart of a weary-looking Limerick defence.
And the Deise were about to make hay in considerable proportions!
First Prendergast ran right at the bedraggled opposing backline, dished off to Paul Flynn, whose stinging shot was saved by goalkeeper Murray, before being duly despatched by Shanahan.
Eleven minutes later, the Lismore clubman was again on hand to round off another fine move. As Limerick were pushing forward to go in search of an equaliser, Waterford remained clinical and ruthless. The scores followed.
Richie Bennis, in an effort to rekindle the endeavour shown against Tipp, introduced the Tobin brothers, Kevin and Pat.
To their credit they finished the match with a share of three points, but not enough to snatch the title from Waterford.
As the game moved into injury-time Shanahan was hungrily seeking his hat-trick. And he was not to be denied, as defenders were hopelessly positioned and the wily 'Man of the Match' notched his third goal of the day.
Quite a turnabout for Dan and his manager.
When Justin McCarthy became team manager at the end of 2001, Waterford were without a Munster title for 'donkeys' years'.
They won their first since 1963 the following summer, added a third in 2004, and now sit proudly with a third under their belts in six seasons.
However, the MacCarthy Cup remains the big target.
As for Shanahan, prior to the first match in 2004 he had never scored a goal in the Championship for his native county. Now he's scored 16. Not bad in 34 championship matches!