Tipperary survive with 14 men to hold off Limerick challenge

Munster champions forced to battle hard after John O’Dwyer’s early sending off

Séamus Callanan celebrates scoring Tipperary’s  third goal in the Munster SHC semi-final against Limerick at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Séamus Callanan celebrates scoring Tipperary’s third goal in the Munster SHC semi-final against Limerick at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Tipperary 3-12 Limerick 1-16

With all of the excitement surrounding the Waterford-Clare exchanges of the previous weeks it was easy to forget that Tipperary are the GAA Munster hurling champions. On the evidence of this provincial semi-final in Semple Stadium, the holders won’t be easily separated from the title when they face Waterford in three weeks.

A stuttering challenge from Limerick was never able to capitalise on their opponents being reduced to 14 players after John O’Dwyer gave Richie English a dig with his hurl and received a non-contentious red card in the 14th minute. Replacement Tom Morrissey got a goal late in injury-time to cut the deficit to two – the smallest margin of the second half – but with just seconds to play, it was immaterial.

Having to face nearly an hour’s hurling a man short ultimately made the victory more worthwhile for Tipperary than if they had simply ran away with the match, as they had been threatening to do in the first 10 minutes by which stage they had scored two goals, both from centrefielder Michael Breen – who also got one against the same opponents last year – whose energetic driving runs caused consternation in the Limerick defence.

His first was a follow-up after the ball went loose at the end of one such run, whereas the second was set up by Séamus Callanan whose shot was blocked by Limerick keeper Nickie Quaid, but Breen nipped in to touch the ball to the net.

Having banked a decent lead Tipperary then lost O’Dwyer and had to sustain the most intense pressure as their opponents determinedly chipped away to reduce the margin to a single point on two occasions. Cian Lynch, Gearóid Hegarty, James Ryan and Shane Dowling all scored from play but it was Dowling’s frees that provided nearly half of Limerick’s scores.

The winners were kept afloat by a third goal, as Callanan got on the end of a good run by Noel McGrath to crack the ball to the net and renew the challenging task facing the opposition, who trailed by three at half-time 0-11 to 3-5.

Limerick’s use of the extra man wasn’t terribly effective. Gavin O’Mahony took on the role after O’Dwyer’s dismissal but it only appeared to signify an extra body in defence – a tactical arrangement to which Callanan is fairly accustomed.

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With the Tipperary full forward roaming free it was surprising the opposition didn’t try to restrict the space – sufficient according to one observer to sail the Titanic through – more effectively. There was further criticism that the advantage should have been used to beef up the attack, as Limerick were in dire need of scores.

After the good showing by Callanan and O’Dwyer against Cork it was certainly disappointing for Tipperary to see the latter revisit the poor discipline of last spring and in the process weaken the team. Even Callanan, although he played wholeheartedly, wasn’t at his best and one 38th-minute free in front of the posts, which he just managed to plop into the hands of Quaid, was especially frustrating.

But the story of the afternoon for Tipperary was impressive. They knuckled down to compensate for the loss of O’Dywer and every player appeared to work harder, compete more aggressively and as a collective turn the screw of doubt on Limerick.

All sectors of the field played their part. The defence was magnificent in the second half, making scores hard to get for Limerick and not allowing any of the opposing forwards to get into the game in any meaningful way. Of the forwards only Declan Hannon scored more than a point from play.

The half-back line of Séamus Kennedy and the Maher brothers – Pádraic got a terrific point from play to conclude Tipp’s scoring, tearing down the left wing to score – were formidable and the full-back line, in which Cathal Barrett was excellent, were safe and secure.

In O’Dwyer’s absence there was the cheering sight of Noel McGrath bouncing back into form and reeling off three points from play – one a masterpiece of larceny after filching the ball off Séamus Hickey’s stick – and a level of work-rate that made life hard for the Limerick defence.

Limerick never appeared to muster the conviction for a serious crack at the champions. Too often their efforts were reactive and indecisive – almost as if they were carrying the disadvantage of being down to 14 men.

The handicap made the win more satisfying for Tipperary and they take the defence of their title to next month’s final against Waterford, which is likely to be staged in Limerick.

Michael Ryan and his team will presumably have to negotiate that without O’Dwyer but there were plenty of balancing positives that suggests the team will once more be a major obstacle for anyone who wants to win the All-Ireland, and perhaps the display is reason for even greater confidence than that.

TIPPERARY: 1 Darren Gleeson; 2 Cathal Barrett, 3 James Barry, 4 Michael Cahill; 5 Séamus Kennedy, 6 Ronan Maher, 7 Pádraic Maher (0-1); 8 Brendan Maher, 9 Michael Breen (2-1); 10 Dan McCormack, 11 Patrick Maher, 12 Noel McGrath (0-3); 13 John O’Dwyer, 14 Séamus Callanan (1-6, three frees, one 65), 15 John McGrath (0-1).

Subs: 23 Niall O’Meara for McCormack (61 mins), 22 Donogh Maher for R Maher (64 mins), 20 Jason Forde for Patrick Maher (69 mins), 17 Kieran Bergin for B Maher (71 mins), 24 Daire Quinn for Breen (72 mins).

LIMERICK: 1 Nickie Quaid; 7 Séamus Hickey, 3 Dan Morrissey, 4 Richie English; 5 Diarmaid Byrnes, 6 Gavin O’Mahony, 2 Tom Condon; 8 James Ryan (0-1), 9 Paul Browne; 10 Gearóid Hegarty (0-1), 12 Barry Nash (0-1), 15 Cian Lynch (0-1); 11 Shane Dowling (0-9, eight frees), 14 Declan Hannon (0-2), 13 Graeme Mulcahy.

Subs: 26 Tom Morrissey (1-0) for Ryan (48 mins), 25 Kevin Downes for Nash (55 mins), 23 John Fitzgibbon (0-1) for Hegarty (58 mins).

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).

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