12 points and 21 tackles – How the Hegarty and Morrissey double act took down Waterford

ONE OF THE standout images from Limerick’s post-match celebrations yesterday was of Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey with their arms around one another and sharing an intense stare.

The imposing pair were the dominant players in the All-Ireland final as Limerick returned to the summit with their second title in three years.

A 12-point haul from play between them – 0-7 for Hegarty and 0-5 for Morrissey – followed the 10 points they contributed against Galway in the semi-final. 

Hegarty looks like the Hurler of the Year in waiting and Morrissey is another leading candidate for the big prize. To have two wing-forwards as the main contenders for the top individual gong shows how impactful they’ve been this season. 

The numbers show how they’ve been able to combine the defensive work required in the wing roles with attacking brilliance.

Standing at 6’5 and 6’1 respectively, Hegarty and Morrissey are the epitome of the modern day wing-forward. Their physique and athleticism, in addition to their intelligence, skill and shooting ability makes them a very formidable prospect for half-backs to deal with.

Hegarty is just gone 26 and Morrissey is 24. The scary thing is the towering duo are only starting to hit their prime years now.

Liam Cahill knew coming into this game that restricting the Limerick half-forward line was key, but they were still dismantled by the trio of Cian Lynch and, in particular, Hegarty and Morrissey.

They were targetted by Nickie Quaid puck-outs on 10 occasions, coming up with possession four times, indicating that Waterford more than broke even on the aerial exchanges.

But it was on the ground where the damage was done. 

Hegarty had 19 possessions, just ahead of Morrissey’s 17. They commonly started in wide positions but were free in a positional sense, drifting laterally in-field to occupy shooting positions as Limerick worked the ball upfield.

Hegarty converted seven of his nine strikes at the posts, while Morrissey scored five of his six attempts. The former finished the championship averaging four points per game and the latter with just over 0-3 across each match. 

Yet there are subtle differences in how both approach the game. Hegarty backs himself to shoot from most positions but will carry the ball forward with his giant strides if the space opens up in front of him. 

He attempted just one stick pass in the game, compared with six handpasses. Morrissey on the other hand is more of a creator and he assisted six scores, while Hegarty set-up two shots, from Diarmaid Byrnes and David Reidy, both of which sailed while.

Aside from their forward play, they do plenty of hard work without the ball.

The pillar half-forwards are central figures in Limerick’s high pressure game. Between them, they made a whopping 21 tackles. They won two breaks, intercepted two balls and won three turnovers.

Waterford scored just eight points from play. Much of that was down to the pressure put on their players in the middle eight, which meant the ball going into Stephen Bennett and Dessie Hutchinson was rushed. 

The game was just 38 seconds old when Morrissey got involved in a ruck and stole possession from Ian Kenny. He turned and fired over the opening score of the game, just like he did in the semi-final.

Twice in the opening period, Morrissey drifted over to Hegarty’s wing for Nickie Quaid’s puck-out. On both occasions, the number 12 batted down for Hegarty to win clean possession. 

The first such occasion saw Hegarty show tremendous vision to pick out Cian Lynch despite being surrounded by three Deise defenders. 

Lynch bore through on goal but was crowded out as Waterford sensed the danger.

In the eighth minute, Hegarty chipped a sideline cut to Morrissey who turned and dispatched between the posts for his second score of the day. 

Hegarty opened his account in the 23rd minute from the opposite flank following a neat pass forward by Will O’Donoghue.

As Quaid stood over a puck-out in the 29th minute, Morrissey put his hurley up and called for the ball. Standing near the sideline, he rose highest to fetch the sliotar and bombed it over the bar from a narrow angle.

Moments later Morrissey worked back and found himself in the centre of the Limerick defence when they turned Waterford over. He delivered a great ball in front of Aaron Gillane for a second Treaty score in as many minutes.

When Gillane added another from play shortly before the break, it was Hegarty’s decoy run that drew a Waterford defender and left enough space for the sharpshooter to add to his tally.

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Morrissey had a hand in Hegarty’s second score of the opening period. Calum Lyons caught a short puck-out and burst pass Morrissey, but the Limerick forward managed to put enough pressure on his man to force a stray handpass into O’Donovan.

Hegarty received a short stick pass and slotted it over from space in midfield. It highlighted his ability to ghost into scoring positions.

Limerick led by three at the interval and the influence of their wing-forward pair only became more pronounced in the second period.

Hegarty was fortunate not to have been booked for a rash challenge on Joe Canning in the semi-final and likewise yesterday he was lucky not to have received a caution for persistant fouling. 

Of the 12 tackles he made, four were called for frees but Hegarty walked away unpunished. The second period wasn’t a minute old when he left his hurley in and caught Stephen Bennett in the mid-rift, for which he should have been carded.

Former Tipperary defender Paddy Stapleton asked on Twitter during the game: “Does Gearoid Hegarty ever feel that one of his numerous fouls is actually a foul?”

Later in the evening, the reply came from Hegarty: “No”.

No

— Gearoid Hegarty (@GearoidHegarty) December 13, 2020

Morrissey similary caught Austin Gleeson with a loose hurley the groin area during the first-half, leaving the Mount Sion star requiring treatment. Between the pair they shipped six frees but the the majority were too far from goal for Waterford to punish them – tactical fouling at its best.

The half-forward trio of Hegarty, Morrissey and Lynch switched positions constantly, making it difficult for their markers to settle into the game.

Early in the second-half, Morrisey found himself at centre-forward for a well-worked Limerick passing move. 

Byrnes and O’Donovan played it up to Morrissey at 11. Hegarty peeled off his shoulder with another intelligent run.

His team-mate resisted the urge to give a quick pass and instead drew a couple of defenders…

…eventually slipping it to Hegarty for an easy score. 

In the 41st minute, Morrissey showed good strength to win the breaking ball from Nickie Quaid’s puck-out. Again, he played provider for Hegarty who shot over the bar.

It was one of seven passes exchanged between the pair over the 70 minutes, a remarkable statistic considering they were supposed to be playing on opposing wings.

In truth, both men buzzed all over the half-forward line and frequently found pockets of space to pick one other out. Their understanding and ability to find each other in a maze of bodies is highly impressive.

Hegarty twice played sideline cuts to Morrissey, while Morrissey directly assisted three Hegarty points between the 39th and 44th minutes.

Lynch won a puck-out and set-up Morrissey for a score of his own two minutes later, and Limerick were cruising by now. Hegarty displayed his awareness when, after being blocked down by Calum Lyons, he drifted into the middle channel unmarked.

When Limerick won the ball back, Peter Casey transferred it over to their talisman for his sixth of the day.

For the last 10 minutes, Hegarty was shifted to centre-forward. Quaid started to target him with long restarts, setting up a 64th minute point where Hegarty did all the spade work. He showed immense strength to hold off Iarlaith Daly and catch the ball near his thigh.

Within an instant he was gone, powering past the Deise substitute and stroking over his seventh effort of the day. Just like the Galway game, the final say went to Morrissey after a crossfield ball by David Reidy into space. 

The modern wing-forward role is often a thankless job, but this duo can do it all.

They’ve developed into real leaders with and without the ball, and were a big reason why Limerick stood head and shoulders above the rest in 2020.

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