Few people whose breakfast isn't blaa-based are expecting Waterford to beat Limerick today.

Despite a morale-boosting league victory over the All-Ireland champions in May it has been 10 years since the Déise got the better of their provincial rivals in championship.

Limerick have won the last four meetings and a four-point gap between the sides in last November’s Munster final increased to 11 in the All-Ireland decider.

But one thing that could offer some confidence to Liam Cahill and his men in this evening’s semi-final is the extraordinary depth they have built.

Cahill has had to plan without All-Stars like goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe, who stepped away from the panel, and Tadhg de Búrca (cruciate) from the start while Jamie Barron, Conor Prunty and Iarlaith Daly have all missed championship games this season. Pauric Mahony won’t be back from his own cruciate tear until later this year.

Under the circumstances, it would be understandable if Waterford had, literally, limped out in the qualifiers.

They were well beaten by Clare and struggled past Laois but looked back to their best when building big leads against both Galway and Tipperary.

Both the Tribesmen and Tipp mounted comebacks but, in each case, the Déise hung on, primarily because of the impact of their substitutes bench.

Abbeyside 20-year-old Michael Kiely has scored 0-03 from play in 58 minutes on the pitch over three games, including a crucial point when 14-man Waterford were wobbling against Galway.

Neil Montgomery has 1-04 in just over an hour, also across three appearances, and his goal was the decisive score that finished off Tipperary.

Patrick Curran, Billy Power and Darragh Lyons have also had important cameos.

Of the unchanged Waterford team have selected today, only 11 started last December’s All-Ireland final. By contrast, Limerick’s line-up is almost identical, Peter Casey replacing Graeme Mulcahy the only difference.

"They have a new goalkeeper. The only person still in the half-back line is Calum Lyons. They have a new midfield," marvelled former Tipp star Shane McGrath on Game On.

"A serious bench. You have the likes of Neil Montgomery, Mikey Kearney, Michael Kiely. These guys are coming in and making a big difference all the time.

"Waterford will have learned an awful lot from last year’s All-Ireland final. 3-25 from play the last day against Tipp and they were by far the better team throughout.

"But it’s very hard to look past Limerick. Against Tipp in the third quarter they took 13 shots and scored 11 times. 1-10 to a point. That’s what they can do to you."

A feature of Limerick's success last year was the scoring of their subs. But that has dropped off a little in their two championship games so far this season.

Mulcahy managed a point against Cork and David Reidy has hit three (one free) over the two games but Aaron Gillane, who was on after just half an hour against Tipp, is the only other replacement to have scored.

By contrast, seven substitutes have made the scoresheet for the Déise.

"Are Limerick as strong coming in off the bench?" wondered Henry Shefflin in this week’s RTÉ GAA podcast.

"Will Graeme Mulcahy have as much impact as he would have had previously?"

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Of course, Limerick could be out of sight by the closing stages, as they were against Tipperary, Cork and Waterford (in last year’s final), lessening the importance of the subs.

And if Waterford are ahead, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that Limerick would be more ruthless in chasing them down than either Galway or Tipp were.

The intriguing variable is the difference in rest time between the teams.

Waterford are playing their fourth game on the trot. Will they be tired or more match-fit and full of confidence?

Limerick have had a break of three weeks. Could there be a bit of ring-rust against a team that has made a habit of furious starts?

"I think it’ll be very close up until maybe the last water break," says former Limerick forward Shane Dowling.

"The four weeks in a row, it has to tell. Waterford have had three hard games in a row.

"It’s not so much the playing but if you pick up an injury all of a sudden you only have three or days to recover.

"I’m sure they’re mentally strong but if Limerick can turn the screw at all in the last seven or eight minutes it will play on their mind."

If a place in the final is still in the balance at that juncture, Waterford will hope their supporting cast can once again play a starring role.


All-Ireland semi-final previews


Follow the All-Ireland senior hurling championship semi-finals this weekend with our live blogs on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app.

Watch Limerick v Waterford live on RTÉ2 or RTÉ Player from 4pm Saturday, and Kilkenny v Cork live on RTÉ2 or RTÉ Player from 2.30pm Sunday.

Watch highlights of all the weekend's action on The Sunday Game at 9.30pm on RTÉ2.

Listen to live and exclusive national radio commentaries on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday and Sunday Sport.