Galway are into a first Allianz Hurling League final since 2010 after Conor Cooney’s second-half goal saw them past Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds.
Galway dominated for the most part, other than a bright start to the second-half from Limerick that closed the gap to three points. But after Cooney’s goal and five unanswered points Galway cruised to the final on a scoreline if 1-21 to 1-11.
Limerick hit 17 wides, a tally sure to annoy manager John Kiely ahead of their Munster championship semi-final against Clare in June.
Galway captain David Burke won the toss and elected to play with the advantage of the very strong wind in the first-half at the Gaelic Grounds and that decision helped his side to a 0-13 to 1-5 lead at the interval.
Like when the sides met at the same venue three weeks ago, there was a bite to the action as both teams showed great tenacity under the breaking ball, while the hits carried championship intent rather than national league politeness.
But even without the wind advantage Galway looked the better team as the points flowed from play easier than at the other end.
Two minutes in Cathal Mannion hoovered up a break off the post to score his first of three points from play before the break, while Shane Dowling responded with a free, Conor Cooney tapped over two excellent points to give Galway a 0-03 to 0-01 lead.
When the sides last met Joe Canning proved the difference between the sides with his 0-10 haul, but Declan Hannon put the shackles on him in the early stages, until he was forced from the field after 16 minutes.
His replacement Gavin O’Mahony brought some quality to the half-back line as the quality of ball into his forwards improved thereafter, although Canning then grew into the game.
By the time Hannon left Galway were 0-06 to 0-03 ahead as Padraic Mannion and Conor Whelan added points from play, but in the 20th minute Limerick’s revival was given a boost when William O’Donoghue kicked to the net after David Demspey’s clever pass sent him clear.
Galway’s response was controlled as Johnny Coen scored off Canning, before the Portumna man fired over two frees to restore Galway’s four-point lead.
A brilliant block form O’Mahony denied Canning a point on the half-hour mark and after an immediate counter attack drew a foul, Dowling added a point for the home side.
But that inspiration was fleeting for Limerick as Galway hit the last two points of the half as Canning added a free and an assist as Cathal Mannion gave Galway a five-point cushion.
Dowling missed his first free of the second-half as he struggled to judge the wind, but he hit a fine points from play a minute later to cut Galway’s advantage to four points.
But Canning added a free and David Burke hit his first of the game in the 46th minute as Galway edged further clear, only for three Limerick points in four minutes to give the home crowd some hope.
But 14 minutes from time the dream of a first league final title in 20 years disappeared when Conor Cooney crept inside the full-back line and batted past Nickie Quaid for the clincher.
Final score Galway 1-21 Limerick 1-11
Galway: C Callanan; Adrian Tuohy, J Hanbury, A Harte; P Mannion (0-01), G McInerney, Daithi Burke; J Coen (0-01), David Burke (c) (0-02); P Brehony, J Canning (0-07, 0-06f), J Cooney; C Whelan (0-02), C Mannion (0-03), C Cooney (1-04).
Subs used: T Monaghan (0-01) for Brehony (53), P Killeen for Hanbury (55), N Burke for J Cooney (63), J Flynn for Whelan (66), S Loftus for David Burke (68),
Limerick: N Quaid; R English, R McCarthy, M Casey; D Byrnes (0-01), D Hannon, S Hickey; A Dempsey, W O’Donoghue (1-00); S Dowling (0-05), D Dempsey (0-01), G Hegarty (0-01); C Lynch (0-01), K Hayes, G Mulcahy.
Subs used: G O’Mahony for Hannon (16 mins), S Finn for Hickey (38), B Nash (0-02) for Mulcahy (48), J Ryan for A Dempsey (53), J Fitzgibbon for D Dempsey (53),
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow).