Limerick 0-20 Tipperary 0-20
A pleasant Saturday evening of spring cleaning for two of the heavyweights of hurling. Consider cobwebs blown. Neither team quite had each other on the rack. Both left the other off the hook. So nothing gained or squandered, in particular, but as a mild May sun fell behind the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick might have shuffled away slightly the happier. Still unbeaten since 2019 - but they had to scrap to extend that shining statistic here.
After 53 minutes Jason Forde put Tipperary 0-19 to 0-14 ahead. Limerick's flow of scores had slowed: just two since half time and nothing from play from the six starters until Seamus Flanagan, a model of industrial efficiency, roved deep to collect possession and strike his fourth from play in the 59th minute.
By then, John Kiely had introduced both reigning hurler of the year, Gearóid Hegarty and the 2018 version, Cian Lynch. Nice reserves to have. But scores had slowed to a trickle at the other end also, Tipp utterly reliant on the dead ball accuracy of Forde as the squeeze came.
Limerick steadily reeled their visitors in, with David Reidy also excellent in his free-taking duties and closing his account with the levelling score in added time. A share felt about right and afterwards, Kiely looked like a man settling in for a busy season of hurling.
“We stuck to the processes, as they say, in inverted commas. I think a draw was probably a fair result. We have worked really hard over the past three weeks and at times we were a bit leggy out there. But the attitude was the big question and I think they passed that test, particularly in the final quarter.”
Forty points shared is no mean total on a day when both sides struggled from play. They will trust that attacking flow will come and both managers were more interested in what was happening at the defensive end. For Liam Sheedy, Brian McGrath had outstanding moments despite shadowing Flanagan for most of the game while Holycross-Ballycahill's Bryan O'Meara had a good outing at half back. Limerick, meantime, started Kyle Hayes at centre back.
“That’s Kyle’s first game in full at six and he is going to need a few of those to settle in there,” said Kiely. “The way Tipp’ played the game it might have been a real challenge for him to play at six- they played the ball down the wings a lot and didn’t waste any ball so it was a challenge for him to be patient.”
There was no disguising that Tipp’ wanted to make a statement here in the opening evening of what will be a high octane season. Early in the second half, the team responded to Sheedy’s overtures on the sideline and reached a pitch that the champions struggled to match. They helped their visitors with a succession of fouls which Forde gratefully converted, pushing Tipperary into that six point advantage. Premier eyes waited to see if they could bolt for home. Instead, Limerick dominated the last fifteen minutes, in which Tipp’ produced a solitary Forde free.
“We struggled to get on quality ball and find space and when we did we didn’t really finish it off,” said Liam Sheedy.
“That is a disappointing aspect of our game. Sometimes the final pass let us down. But let’s not forget, you can play all the internal matches you want. Nothing prepares you for a game like today. You didn’t see that real crisp style and goal chances so our players deserve great credit. It is a big step up. For us to get a point, it was an important point in a lot of ways.”
Limerick's calm and methodical response over the closing minutes was a reminder of how far they have travelled in three years. Diarmuid Byrnes, a handful in the second half, had a late, long range chance to turn the day Limerick's way. The silence, of course, in the empty stadium, became deafening as the endgame approached.
The crowds will be missed again through this league and into the championship and John Kiely acknowledged that the people, ultimately, make the occasion. He nodded at the prospect of no crowds until July.
“Listen, things are changing fast. What they are saying about July could change. Let them at that! That is above my pay grade. I am sure they will be under plenty pressure to get people into these places and get their 20 quid off them as quickly as possible - before we are all broke.
“But if there was a crowd here, yeah, it would have been great. You can imagine us, what, five points down and coming back. It would have been great. So what can we do? We will just have to grind it out for the next few weeks and hopefully we will get people back in the stadia.”
LIMERICK: 1 N Quaid; 2 A Costello, 3 S Finn, 4 R English; 5 D Byrnes (0-1 free), 6 Hayes, 7 B Nash; 8 W O'Donoghue (0-1), 9 D O'Donovan (0-1); 10 T Morrissey, 11 D Reidy (0-8, 6 frees), 12 C Boylan; 13 A Breen (0-3), 14 S Flanagan (0-4), 15 D Dempsey.
Substitutes: 18 P Casey (0-2) for D Dempsey (46 mins), 22 C Lynch for 8 D O Donovan (46 mins), 21 G Hegarty for 12 C Boylan (55 mins), 23 D O’Connell for 13 A Breen (60 mins), 24 B O’Grady for 8 W O’Donoghue (66 mins),
TIPPERARY: 1 B Hogan, 2 C Barrett, 4 B Heffernan, 5 B McGrath; 7 B O'Meara, 6 S Kennedy, 3 R Maher (0-2, 1 free); 8 A Flynn 9 M Breen (0-1); 10 D McCormack (0-1), 15 J Morris, 12 N O'Meara (0-1); 13 W Connors (0-1), 14 J Forde (0-14, 11 frees, 1 65), 11 P Maher.
Substitutes: 24 N McGrath for N O’Meara (52 mins), 26 D Quirke for 11 P Maher (52 mins), 19 R Connolly 13 W Connors (59 mins), 21 M Kehoe for 8 A Flynn (62 mins), 22 P Maher for 7 B O’Meara (67 mins).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).