Allianz National Hurling League semi-final: Limerick 1-28 Tipperary 0-25
In the still aftermath of the hurricane breeze John Kiely was asked if Limerick had got all they wanted out of this hurling league.
“Hopefully there’s a bit to go,” Kiely replied, Paul Newman-like glint in his eye.
Bet there is. Any impression Kiely was viewing this league as still only the league was wiped clean before the 11,812 at the TUS Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night, Limerick boldly demonstrating they’ve lost none of their old appetite for destruction.
Despite trailing Tipperary by five points on two separate occasions late in the first half, Limerick came out after the restart a team re-possessed, scoring at a startling will and rate to soon put themselves nine points up. Questions answered, and duly asked.
It sets up a league final showing on Easter Sunday, while handing Tipp their first league loss this season, seventh in succession against Limerick, who they last beat in the league at this stage five years ago.
Limerick finished with a dozen different scores, twice that of Tipp, who they kept to just 0-3 from play in that second half; better still they didn’t give them a sniff of goal, Tipp having scored 14 in their five previous games.
“Listen, we just want to keep improving, week to week, that’s our focus,” added Kiely. “We’ll see can we raise the bar a bit further, and I think the competitiveness in the group, a lot of lads putting their hands up in that second half performance, and that can only be good in terms of team selection.”
Declan Hannon, once again leading in body and spirit, was among their dozen different scorers, across all lines, from Barry Nash at number four to Donnacha Ó Dálaigh at number 15. Aaron Gillane, making his first start of the season, grew into the game as the second half advanced, as did Diarmuid Byrnes, just back from his travels, while Cian Lynch is right back to his best, signing off for the night with a wonder score from distance as a sort of victory salute.
In a typically physical spell of hurling midway through the second half, they out-scored Tipp 1-6 to a single score, Peter Casey making the breakthrough with the goal on 56 minutes, fetching a long ball from Colin Coughlan and then kicking into the net from close range, left foot, despite the best attentions of Johnny Ryan.
By then Tipp were properly rattled, all their early momentum and energy gone up in the still of the night. They put some respect back on the score board with thanks to Jason Forde, by far their best player on the night from placed ball and play (he finished on 0-14).
Liam Cahill, who found Limerick similarly stubborn during his time as Waterford manager, was taking some “massive positives”, as well he might, Gearóid O’Connor and Alan Tynan among those to underline their potential.
The problem is dealing with Limerick’s physicality switch: “I thought we hurled really well, in the first half, but that’s the class Limerick have, and every team in the country not just Tipperary are trying to find a way around that.
“We’re under no illusions of where we’re at, this is a long-term project here in Tipperary. We said before we’d learn a lot more about our players, playing the three-time All-Ireland champions, in their own back yard. When they came out for the second half, put the squeeze on us, they kicked on and showed their class.”
By the 20th minute, Tipp had six different scorers, all from play, Noel McGrath leading from the front and in defence, Jake Morris on target too. With energy to burn, they went five points clear, 0-14 to 0-9, just before the half-hour mark, holding that lead once again, before a Byrnes free just before the break reduced the deficit to four, 0-16 to 0-12.
Kiely pin-pointed exactly what Limerick were doing wrong: “We just didn’t get our hands on the ball enough, simple as that. We were second to the ball, weren’t at it, and if you’re going to be second to the ball, you’re going to be second best in the game. But the response in the first 15 minutes [of the second half] was really, really strong. We got to the pitch of the game, got to the ball, got some possession we could use.”
One score epitomised the game: early in the second half, McGrath dropped a shot short, and from the puck-out, Nickie Quaid found Tom Morrissey, who deftly helped himself to his second score of the night.
Just four weeks out from the first round of the Munster championship, Gearóid Hegarty coming on for the last 10 minutes was another tell-tale sign of what’s still to come.
LIMERICK: 1 Nickie Quaid; 2 Seán Finn, 3 Mike Casey, 4 Barry Nash (0-1); 5 Diarmaid Byrnes (0-6, five frees), 6 Declan Hannon (capt) (0-2), 7 Colin Coughlan (0-1); 24 Barry Murphy (0-2), 9 William O’Donoghue (0-1); 10 Cathal O’Neill (0-2), 11 Cian Lynch (0-2), 12 Tom Morrissey (0-2); 13 Aaron Gillane (0-7, six frees), 14 Peter Casey (1-1), 15 Donnacha Ó Dálaigh (0-1). Subs: 21 Gearóid Hegarty for O’Neill (59 mins), 17 Conor Boylan for Morrissey (61 mins), 18 Richie English for Finn (64 mins), 19 Séamus Flanagan for Gillane (71 mins), 22 Micheál Houlihan for O’Donoghue (73 mins).
TIPPERARY: 1 Barry Hogan; 2 Eoghan Connolly, 3 Michael Breen, 4 Johnny Ryan; 5 Dan McCormack, 6 Bryan O’Mara, 7 Ronan Maher; 8 Conor Stakelum, 9 Alan Tynan (0-4); 10 Séamus Kennedy (0-2), 11 Noel McGrath (capt) (0-1), 12 Gearóid O’Connor (0-3); 13 Jason Forde (0-14, 11 frees), 14 Patrick Maher, 15 Jake Morris (0-1). Subs: 21 Enda Heffernan for Stakelum, 22 Mark Kehoe for P Maher (both 50 min), 23 John McGrath for Morris (55 mins), 17 Conor Bowe for Kennedy (64 mins).
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway).