Limerick 2-26 Tipperary 2-14
June closed with an imperious statement of intent from the young All-Ireland champions. It’s not often that Tipperary are humbled on Munster showpiece days but this final was nothing like as close as the scoreboard suggested. Limerick are living their dream days, storming to a first ever Munster championship on home soil and their 20th in all through the dusty history of this competition.
True to their precocity, John Kiely’s young team have collected their Munster honours a year after their immortal All-Ireland win. And the hot ferocity with which they disassembled and neutralised Tipperary’s attacking apparatus will shorten the odds on their keeping Liam MacCarthy in the city for another winter. They were formidable here.
Did any Tipp player get an uncontested look over the 75 minutes hurling? Well, maybe Limerick will chide themselves for switching off for the 18th minute quick free which set up Séamus Callanan for one of his rampaging goals. And maybe, too, John McGrath got more room than the Limerick defence would like for his 44th-minute goal which, improbably, left Tipp level on the scoreboard: 1-13 to 2-10.
But those goals could disguise nothing. Tipp would manage just 0-4 through the remains of the day as the evident superiority Limerick had claimed through each line began to tell. Noel McGrath was taken off early, a sight seldom seen. John O’Dwyer, in fabulous form this summer, was taken off early as Tipp tried in vain to get any change out of Limerick’s blistering defensive unit.
In the closing 15 minutes, Limerick contented themselves with reeling off a series of eye-catching points from distance which illustrated their dominance throughout the field. In hitting 2-20 from play, they still had the luxury of firing 17 wides, 10 in the second half which belonged to the ambitious range.
Peter Casey finished with 1-5 from play and a case of concussion after being halted by a clattering Ronan Maher challenge in the last five minutes.
Their half-forward line of Gearóid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey landed 1-8 between them but it was the physicality of that trio around the furious and tight middle third of the field that gave Limerick such a commanding platform.
Mike Casey and Declan Hannon dominated the central column of their defence and returned Tipp's long deliveries with interest. After all the wasted years and short summers and the decades of living in the more regal shadow of Tipperary and Cork, this 71st meeting between the counties will be remembered for a towering performance by the home team. Afterwards, Liam Sheedy would concede that even when his Tipp team looked fine on the scoreboard, things never looked settled on the field.
At half-time, Limerick were given a thundering ovation by the partisan support in the shade of the Mackey Stand. They led 1-11 to 1-9 and it should have been more. The All-Ireland champions had closed that half by narrowing the options and heightening the intensity of pressure on Tipperary every time goalkeeper Brian Hogan sought to restart the game.
Their last passage of play was emblematic of their approach: the short restart was permitted to Brendan Maher, who was forced to play a quick ball to Séamus Kennedy. He turned to face Aaron Gillane and squared up, trying to outrun the Patrickswell man before laying off a lateral ball.
From this moment, Tipp were scrambling just to get the ball beyond their half-way line: to get the ball anywhere, out of the danger zone, even for a few seconds. Instead, they coughed up the ball and a free, which Diarmuid Byrnes pointed.
Just before that, Hegarty had sent two clear shots whistling narrowly wide and drew an exceptional save from Hogan in the 28th minute, with referee Paud O’ Dwyer already playing advantage.
Limerick’s 27th-minute goal originated in a bewilderingly sharp turn by Gillane, who gave Brendan Maher the slip and then flicked a weighted pass which Peter Casey crashed home from close range, to level the game at 1-7.
Tipp were alive on the scoreboard thanks only to their wonderful economy: two opportunist points by Ronan Maher; a classic rampaging goal from Callanan to settle Premier nerves and the reliability of Jason Forde on placed ball duties. But for all of that, as the sunshine broke over Limerick city shortly before 2.45, it was hard to escape the feeling that Tipperary were facing into the brink of something dark.
So it went. The dam broke for Tipp in the 56th minute. All day, James Barry and Brendan Maher had been coping heroically under tremendous pressure from Limerick's inside forwards. When Barry broke forward to collect a low ball, he found himself completely isolated: Peter Casey blocked his clearance and Kyle Hayes was on hand to sweep up possession and fire a goal past Hogan.
On the next play, Limerick's goalkeeper Nickie Quaid made a brilliantly alert save from another Callanan goal chance. With Tipp reeling, Hayes then wrestled possession with a ferocious shoulder to set up Cian Lynch and on the hour mark, Limerick were 2-21 to 2-12 up and coasting.
The totality of Limerick’s relentless pressure game and their unique combination of physically huge half backs and half forwards and the pure illusiveness of their inside trio had the effect of dazzling and finally muddling the decision making of the Tipperary’s players.
They were given no time to breathe, to think or to see clearly. It was an alien world to when the teams met two weeks’ ago. Their one consolation on Sunday evening was that they have time to convince themselves that next time can be different too.
LIMERICK: 1 N Quaid; 4 R English, 3 M Casey, 5 B Byrnes (0-3, three frees); 6 D Hannon, 7 D Morrissey, 2 S Finn; 8 C Lynch (0-2), 9 W O'Donoghue; 10 G Hegarty (0-3), 14 G Mulcahy (0-2), 11 K Hayes (1-2); 12 T Morrissey (0-4) 13 A Gillane (0-4, three frees), 15 P Casey (1-5).
Subs: 19 S Dowling for 10 G Hegarty, 22 D O'Donovan for 9 W O'Donoghue (both 63 mins), 20 S Flanagan for 15 P Casey (66), 21 B Nash (0-1) for 6 D Hannon, 24 D Reidy for T Morrissey (both 70).
TIPPERARY: 1 B Hogan; 3 J Barry, 5 B Maher, 4 S O'Brien; 6 P Maher, 7 R Maher (0-2), 24 S Kennedy; 12 D McCormack (0-1), 8 M Breen; 9 N McGrath (0-1 free), 10 J Forde (0-6, four frees), 14 S Callanan (1-1); 11 J O'Dwyer (0-1), 13 J McGrath (1-0), 15 J Morris (0-1).
Subs: 26 N O'Meara for 8 N Breen (h/t), 18 R Byrne for 9 N McGrath (55 mins), 19 J Cahill (0-1) for 11 J O'Dwyer (61), 22 B Heffernan for 3 J Barry (63), 23 M Kehoe for 13 J McGrath (65).
Referee: P O'Dwyer (Carlow).