Dublin 1-17 Limerick 1-16
Two mysteries here to test the sleuthing skills of the multitudes gathered in Thurles on Saturday night. One, how Dublin are still on their feet; two, how Limerick aren’t. The overriding sense walking out of Semple was that this could have finished with either of them flat out on the canvas but it was Dublin who were marginally ahead on the judges’ cards when the last bell went.
You could have stopped it plenty of times before that and they’d have been well behind. Given the level of glass-jaw fumbling on offer, their victory was down to timing as much as anything else.
Limerick should have won but you couldn’t for a moment suggest they were robbed. Instead, they burnt their riches here like they were hell-bent on making some sort of anarchic anti-capitalist statement. Twice in the first half they led by eight points yet they squandered 16 scoring chances before half-time alone.
Dublin showed commendable fortitude to haul them in, with Paul Ryan and Liam Rushe turning in monumental displays the longer the game went.
Limerick should have been a far off rumour to them by half-time and yet TJ Ryan’s team – who, let’s not forget, shot just five wides in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny – kept the game alive thanks to woeful shooting.
“The dressing room is extremely disappointed,” said Ryan of his Limerick side. “We put a lot of work into this. I know we’ll get torn to pieces for the week or two – that’s the nature of the GAA. That’s the way the analysts and you guys have gone.
“Look, when you lose I suppose you deserve that. The players have given everything. From my point of view and the management’s point of view you take the credit but you have to take the kick in the hole too.”
How did it happen though? How did they go from being 1-8 to 0-3 up after 27 minutes to being the first heavyweight to exit the championship? On their own side, the wides and balls dropped short were symptoms of a wider heavy-leggedness. None of Shane Dowling, David Breen or Declan Hannon lasted to the end as Rushe took over the game from centre-back in the second half.
The Limerick midfield, normally such a driver of industry, was routed by the end. And in the full-back line, Richie McCarthy and Seamus Hickey both appeared to have monstrous games and yet Dublin got in for three blood-diamond goal chances in the second half, with Dotsy O’Callaghan y taking one eight minutes from time.
Ultimately, the game came down to a couple of players catching fire at the right time. Rushe was in beast mode for the closing 25 minutes but that only mattered because Paul Ryan had kept Dublin relevant in the game. Ryan is a model Dublin player – athletic, fizzy hands, deadly accurate when his eye is in, maddening in the extreme when it isn’t.
As with most of his teammates, he hadn’t really been in the game up until David Breen scored the Limerick goal on 26 minutes. But he tick-tocked a couple of frees between then and half-time and added a fine effort from play. Throw in one from Mark Schutte and another from Daire Plunkett and an eight-point margin contracted to four at the break.
And just when Dublin needed to get the first score of the second half, Ryan came out and shot the first five. His frees were immaculate but he was roaming all over the half-forward line in open play too and nailing points from distance.
Limerick threw on Seánie Tobin who brought a bit of cut and dash to their attack but though the momentum see-sawed a couple of times, they never threatened a goal. So when O’Callaghan stole in for his at the other end, sweeping home as a long ball dropped in behind Hickey and McCarthy, Dublin had their chance.
You wouldn’t say it was convincing and they certainly won’t be favourites in the quarter-final. But they’re still a going concern, which is more than most of us thought they’d be heading into the weekend.
“It’s been a tough week,” said Ger Cunningham. “I’m absolutely delighted. It looked like the week was goint to continue like that in the first half being eight points down. But I thought the lads showed unbelievable character in the second half. The couple of scores before half-time were crucial in getting us back four points down.
“We got a bit of momentum early in the second half and we got some great scores. I thought the lads showed great character to dig deep again. It’s knock-out. It’s championship, it’s what it’s all about.”
DUBLIN: 1. Gary Maguire; 4. Paul Schutte, 5. Chris Crummey, 7. Shane Barrett; 18. Shane Durkin, 6. Liam Rushe, 2. Niall Corcoran; 22. Daire Plunkett (0-2), 9. John McCaffrey; 11. Eamon Dillon, 9. Ryan O'Dwyer (0-1), 12. Danny Sutcliffe; 13. Paul Ryan (0-12, six frees), 14. Conal Keaney, 15. Mark Schutte (0-1). Subs: 25. David O'Callaghan (1-0) for Dillon (29 mins). 20. Joey Boland for Corcoran (50 mins), 10. Cian Boland (0-1) for Keaney (58 mins), 24. David Treacy for M Schutte (66 mins).
LIMERICK: Nickie Quaid; 4. Seán O'Brien, 3. Richie McCarthy, 2. Séamus Hickey; 5. Paudie O'Brien (0-1), 6. Gavin O'Mahony, 7. Wayne McNamara; 8. James Ryan, 9. Paul Browne; 13. Graeme Mulcahy (0-2), 10. David Breen (1-0), 15. Cian Lynch; 12. Shane Dowling (0-4, two frees, two 65s), 14. Kevin Downes (0-1), 11. Declan Hannon (0-2). Subs: 19. Dan Morrissey for McNamara (43 mins), 21. Seán Tobin (0-6, five frees) for Dowling (43 mins), 22. Dónal O'Grady (capt.) for Breen (55 mins), 25. David Reidy for Hannon (66 mins), 18. Cathal King for Browne (70 mins).
Blood sub: 16. Barry Hennessy for Quaid (34-36 mins)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).