In the 54th minute Kyle Hayes galloped into the timeless folklore of Munster’s sacred summer ritual. It started innocently and, anyway, most of those lucky enough to be inside the hot bowl of Páirc Uí Chaoimh were reeling from what they had witnessed in the previous 15 minutes.
Hayes had possession on the left wing, maybe 80 metres out, and started to canter forward, gathering speed: nothing new there. But then he stepped between Brendan Maher and Dan McCormack just before they shut the door and he was through, accelerating and twice hopping the ball as he loomed now, a towering figure in front of Barry Hogan's goal. Even before he rifled the ball to the net, a goal felt inevitable. The occasion demanded it.
Limerick had its Ciarán Carey moment for the 21st century. It was the grace note to a sustained barrage of Limerick brilliance in the sun, when they took just 17 minutes to transform a 10-point half-time deficit into a five-point lead.
And it was an epic response from the All-Ireland champions to the challenge issued by Tipperary, who produced, in temperatures of 26 degrees, a first-half show that Liam Sheedy acknowledged as the best he had seen in his time in charge of the county. Afterwards, he composed himself as he put into words what happened over the second half.
“We lost our structure, especially from midfield up. We had no real structure and they were able to get the ball and deliver quality ball inside. We knew there would be a kick in Limerick. They are not Munster and All-Ireland champions for no reason.
“But, overall, I thought that our first 35 minutes of play were as good as we have ever played. I thought we were outstanding. We had 2-16 and eight wides on top of that.”
The imperious nature of Tipp’s first half sweetens the historical significance of the day. John Kiely’s group became the first Limerick team to win three Munster titles in a row since 1933 on Sunday evening. There was no one turning point.
The introduction of Aaron Gillane, an unexpected omission from the starting 15 on 31 minutes, seemed to change the energy on the field. A fiery exchange with Cathal Barrett just after half-time signalled that Limerick would push this.
A point from Tom Morrissey, one of the few Limerick men who had looked comfortable in the first half, ate into the lead. A slight "maybe" in the air now. And then, Limerick looked like Limerick again. A sublime catch and release from Cian Lynch. Seamus Flanagan, in his first Munster final start, perfectly placed to bat home Hogan's terrific save on Gillane's shot.
Now, the Limerick crowd was on its feet. Barry Nash claimed two balls brilliantly in the air as Limerick’s defence completely obliterated Tipp’s attack: just two points registered between the 35th and 61st minute. By then, the game they had been enjoying so much in the first half had vanished: they were in a different country, with big-boned, familiar foes in green jerseys - Byrnes and Hayes and Hegarty - stampeding through gaps and scoring with ease.
"It was an incredible day," said Kiely when the field was empty and serene. "We didn't turn up in the first half to a certain extent. But Tipperary were incredible. They blew us off the field. They were stringing passes together, shooting from all angles, they were splitting the posts left, right and centre. They killed us with two great goals off the puck-out. Overall they physically blew us off the ball."
It’s true. The quality of Tipp’s opening half could get lost in what turned out to be a story of Limerick’s dream day.
Both of Tipperary’s first-half goals originated from the puck-outs Barry Hogan bombed down towards the inside forward line. Jake Morris’s goal was Tipp’s first score, peeling away as the ball broke and setting the tone with a whistling finish. In the 19th minute, John O’Dwyer found the net from a similar route and the finish contained the signature flourish which delights the Premier crowd.
By then, the All-Ireland champions were under stress in the punishing heat. Dan McCormack, tasked with obscuring the playmaking potency of Cian Lynch, performed it with zeal, limiting the Patrickswell man to two scoring assists and a point. Flanagan landed two points but was asked to win a series of punishing long balls which are bread and butter to Padraig Maher.
They hung in through long distance frees but were struggling to live with Tipp’s touch and movement all over the field: they were as mesmerising off the ball as they were lethal on it. Only 7,000 by the Lee: it was enough. The summer-lust chant - "Tipp! Tipp" - grew louder when O’Dwyer faded an insolent point from the shadow of the south stand.
Jason Forde look unstoppable: 10 points by half-time as he dropped into pockets of space and looked like a man on the practice field.
The Tipperary management applauded their athletes off the field. Spread thinly throughout the stadium, the Premier voices made themselves heard. The excitement was uncontainable. Who knows what it took out of Tipp to produce that inspired opening half?
Last year these teams produced something special in a winter monsoon. Now they did in a true July scorcher. But the Tipp players who had lorded the first half could not locate the game in the second. Sheedy went to his bench and was rewarded with 1-1, the goal a 72nd-minute bolt from Mark Kehoe.
But, by then, the writing was all over the clear blue sky. This is a stunning era for Treaty hurling and on a hot day in the south this is Limerick’s theatre still.
Limerick: 1 N Quaid: 2 S Finn, 3 R English, 4 B Nash, 5 D Byrnes (0-4, 2 frees, 65), 6 D Hannon, 7 K Hayes (1-0); 8 W O'Donoghue, 9 D O'Donovan; 10 G Hegarty (0-3), 11 C Lynch (0-1), 12 T Morrissey (0-6, 1 free); 13 G Mulcahy, 14 S Flanagan (1-3), 15 P Casey (0-5). Substitutes: 21 A Gillane (0-6, 3 frees) for 13 G Mulcahy (30 mins), 23 D Morrissey for 3 R English (30 mins inj), 25 D Reidy (0-1) for 9 D O'Donovan (62 mins), 17 C Boylan for 12 T Morrissey (65 mins), 26 P Ryan for 14 S Flanagan (67 mins), 22 R Hanley for 11 C Lynch (70 mins).
Tipperary: 1 B Hogan, 2 C Barrett, 3 P Maher, 7 B Heffernan; 5 S Kennedy, 6 B Maher, 4 R Maher (0-1) ; 8 N McGrath, 9 A Flynn, 10 J Forde (0-12, 3 frees, 65), 12 D McCormack (0-1), 11 M Breen (0-2); 13 J O'Dwyer (1-1), 14 S Callanan (0-1), 15 J Morris (1-2). Substitutes: 20 W Connors (0-1) for 9 A Flynn (52 mins), 22 M Kehoe (1-0) for 8 N McGrath (56 mins), 25 N O'Meara for 13 J O'Dwyer (56 mins), P Cadell for D McCormack (56 mins), B McGrath for B Heffernan (59 mins)
Referee: Paud O'Dwyer (Carlow)