Limerick will meet Kilkenny in this year's Guinness All-Ireland SHC final after hitting five goals past Waterford in a pulsating 5-11 to 2-15 victory in front of 80,546 at Croke Park today, writes Shane Murray.
Limerick got off to a scintillating start and led by 2-09 to 1-08 after a manic first half which saw Donie Ryan and Andrew O'Shaughnessy net for the Treatymen and Stephen Molumphy pull one back for the Deise.
Another Ryan goal opened the second period, and despite an Eoin McGrath goal on 57 minutes, an O'Shaughnessy penalty and Brian Begley goal at the death ensured Limerick were worthy winners.
Limerick, the overwhelming underdogs following their 3-17 to 1-14 reversal in the Munster final, got off to an amazing start when Donal O'Grady's ball into Brian Begley broke for Ryan to open the scoring with an emphatic drive to the net with just five minutes on the clock.
Ten minutes later, O'Shaughnessy turned his marker Aidan Kearney some 30 metres out and raced clear before hammering the sliotar to the net to put his side 2-04 to 0-02 ahead
Waterford manager Justin McCarthy didn't waste any time in trying to stem the incessant Limerick attacks as he introduced Eoin McGrath for midfielder Jack Kennedy in the 25th minute.
And the substitution had an immediate impact as two minutes later Molumphy pulled a goal back to reduce the deficit to 2-08 to 1-04, double scores.
Dan Shanahan was the man who created the opening as he sent in a low drive across the goal from the left touchline, and although McGrath narrowly failed to make contact, Molumphy was on hand to net from the edge of the square.
Another Waterford point quickly followed and, having been ten points adrift at one point, the Deise were back in the game and trailed by just four points at the interval, 2-09 to 1-08.
However, any hopes the Munster champions had of making quick inroads into that lead were swiftly extinguished when Begley broke through and hand passed to Ryan to net his second goal of the game within two minutes of the restart.
Limerick's lead was now back to seven points, but where others may have wilted, Waterford showed the skill and determination that has brought them so many admirers this year to close the gap again.
Substitute McGrath reduced Limerick's advantage to just three points, 3-10 to 2-10, in the 57th minute when he latched on to a left-wing centre and calmly shot past goalkeeper Brian Murray.
With more than 13 minutes left, and with Waterford renowned for their strong finishes, the game hung in the balance.
Waterford sensed another stirring finish and the gap was reduced to the solitary point just minutes later when Tony Browne launched a booming drive which split the posts.
With an equaliser looking imminent and passions roused throughout the stadium, Limerick had other ideas and refused to surrender as dramatically as they had in the provincial decider on 8 July.
This time it was Richie Bennis' men who finished strongest, and the Shannonsiders earned a penalty five minutes from time when Begley was illegally hauled down by two Waterford defenders just yards from Clinton Hennessy's goal.
Up stepped the irrepressible O'Shaughnessy, and following prompting from the bench, he opted to go for goal and duly rifled a textbook drive past the three helpless Waterford men on the line.
That restored Limerick's advantage to four points, 4-11 to 2-13, and although the Deise hit back with two further points, Begley had the final say of an exhilarating contest when he cleverly evaded two Waterford tackles to hammer the ball to the net in the first minute of stoppage-time.
In the end, Limerick were well worth the victory, although Waterford's 17 wides reveal that this was a match they could so easily have won.
Limerick's superb instincts in front of goal, resilience in defence and all-round belief in their own abilities ensured that they avenged their earlier loss to the Deise, and suggests that Kilkenny will have to be at their best if they are to retain their crown against Bennis' rejuvenated side.
Waterford: C Hennessy, E Murphy, D Prendergast, B Phelan, T Browne (0-01), K McGrath (0-01f), A Kearney, M Walsh, E Kelly (0-03, 1f), S Molumphy (1-00), S Prendergast (0-01), P Flynn (0-04f), J Kennedy (0-01), D Shanahan (0-04), J Mullane.
Subs: E McGrath (1-00) for Kennedy, S O'Sullivan for Mullane, S Walsh for P Flynn.
Limerick: B Murray, D Reale, S Lucey, S Hickey, P Lawlor, B Geary, M Foley, D O'Grady, M O'Brien (0-01), M Fitzgerald, O Moran (0-02), S O'Connor, A O'Shaughnessy (2-07, 1-06f), B Begley (1-00), D Ryan (2-00).
Subs: N Moran for Fitzgerald, M O'Riordain for Foley, J O'Brien (0-01) for O'Connor, K Tobin for Ryan, P Tobin for O'Grady.
Referee: Seamus Roche (Tipperary).