Limerick 1-16 Tipperary 4-23
If the sound of Tipperary talking themselves up during the week occasionally came across as a little forced, everyone was forced to pay attention after yesterday’s blitz of recent tormentors Limerick.
Unfortunately for the home side and their expectant supporters, Tipp got their eye in early and rifled home the sort of scores they had failed to take over the past two years when losing to their neighbours both here at the Gaelic Grounds and in Thurles.
Despite the scale of the defeat, Limerick started both halves well, the second to the extent that they came within a disputed call of equalising as late as the 49th minute. From that moment on, Limerick haemorrhaged 2-11 while putting up just two points themselves.
To future eyes it will seem like a footnote to this Munster hurling semi-final but Limerick had done really well to reply to a storming first-half display by Tipperary. Trailing by eight points coming up to half-time, they stitched together an unanswered sequence of 1-4 either side of the break.
Ultimately though, they were beaten because unlike in their victories of the past two years they failed to keep the lid on the opposition forwards.
Séamus Callanan, last year’s Hurler of the Year nominee, picked up a new championship season in lively form. Limerick tried to complicate the task by using corner back Stephen Walsh as a sweeper in front of the Tipp full forward but the knock-on effect was to allow the winners’ backs, the Mahers, Pádraic and Ronan, to pick their passes into the forwards.
Callanan had the run on his previous jailor Richie McCarthy and struck for early goals and could have had a hat-trick when driving a shot wide into the side netting with just 23 minutes on the clock.
John O’Dwyer provided plenty of other headaches, getting out to the ball which always seemed to stick to his acquisitive paw and shooting extraordinary points, the first conjured from so tight to the right sideline he hardly had room to swing over a successful shot.
He also set up the first goal for Callanan.
Despite playing into a significant wind, Tipp got into their stride after absorbing a lively Limerick opening. There were a couple of signs of nerves in defence, where James Barry was punished for two mistakes with points from Declan Hannon and Shane Dowling. After eight minutes Limerick led by 0-3 to no score.
Callanan’s first goal wiped out the carefully-built lead and from the moment O’Dwyer’s outrageous 12th-minute point floated over, Limerick were never again on level terms.
The second goal arrived when McCarthy misread a ball from Brendan Maher and Callanan scooted in to make it 2-7 to 0-5.
The flashing scores were heaping pressure on Limerick, forcing Shane Dowling to try for goal from a close-in free on the half-hour. It was saved by Darren Gleeson – who had a terrific match in goal, making a sequence of saves that further eroded Limerick's belief – although there appeared to be six defenders on the line.
Dowling pointed the consequent 65 but Tipp were getting performances everywhere. Bonner Maher was creating trouble even if he was labouring a little to snap up ball, his physical presence pressuring the defence, and he created the third goal for Forde and also should have had one himself in the second half.
Jason Forde marked his first Munster championship start with his most persuasive display, getting a second-half goal and three points, whereas Niall O'Meara worked like a Trojan, playing deeper than corner forward at times and dropping even farther back to make tackles.
It seemed unlikely that the match would again reach tipping point after the first half with Tipp six ahead having played against a big wind but after a wasteful start from both teams, shooting three wides each, Limerick got a penalty in the 39th minute.
Michael Cahill, on as a sub for the injured Paddy Stapleton, fouled Donal O’Grady after a series of shots had drawn three good saves from Gleeson, who was, however, unable to stop Dowling’s thunderous placed ball.
The Limerick full forward followed up with a free and a 65 and suddenly, this was a one-point match, 2-12 to 1-14. Given the past two years and with the crowd now baying their approval, this was the time for Tipperary to crack.
Events were to move swiftly though – but in the opposite direction.
Firstly Graeme Mulcahy’s shot was deemed wide and, within seconds, instead of being level Limerick were two behind after Forde struck at the other end.
From there it was a procession. Points rained over the Limerick bar – Callanan from a free, Callanan from play. Point from O’Dwyer. Goal from Forde. Death by a thousand cuts.
The game was well up by the time replacement Michael Breen rammed home the fourth goal in injury-time, crowning manager Eamon O'Shea's first championship win in the province.
LIMERICK: B Hennessy; S Walsh, R McCarthy, S Hickey; T Condon, G O'Mahony (0-1), S O'Brien (0-1); J Ryan, P O'Brien; D Breen (0-1), D Hannon (0-3), D O'Grady (0-1); G Mulcahy (0-2), S Dowling (1-7, 1-0 pen, four frees, two 65s), C Lynch.
Subs: P Browne for Breen (half-time), K Downes for O'Grady (50 mins), J Fitzgibbon for O'Brien, W McNamara for McCarthy (both 60 mins), D Reidy for Ryan (68 mins).
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson; P Stapleton, J Barry, C O'Brien; K Bergin, Pádraic Maher, R Maher; J Woodlock (0-1), S McGrath (0-2); J Forde (1-3), B Maher, Patrick Maher (0-3); J O'Dwyer (0-7, one 65), S Callanan (2-5, two frees, one 65), N O'Meara (0-1).
Subs: M Cahill for Stapleton (inj, 35+1 mins), M Breen (1-0) for Callanan (temp 54-61 mins), S Bourke (0-1) for O'Meara (68 mins), B Maher for McGrath (69 mins), M Breen for Callanan (70 mins).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).