Limerick find an extra gear to end Tipperary’s summer hopes

Champions remain the team to beat as they secure their passage to All-Ireland series

We move on. Hurling’s round-robin championship has all but taken shape in Munster. Champions Limerick negotiated Sunday’s stand-alone fixture with Tipperary – with a little more difficulty than anticipated – to book their place in the All-Ireland phase.

A brisk finish compensated for uncharacteristic foostering for much of the game – to the extent that manager John Kiely chose not to dwell on his team's achievement in opening the road to high summer.

“Being honest with you, it’s of little consideration to me because I’m going to be very, very focused this week on just a much better performance next weekend.”

He did pay tribute to his defenders, by consensus the best in the business.


“Our scramble defence was really good, I thought. We got back in numbers and we got back quick.”

Kiely will be in the happy position of deciding how hard he wants to go against a rising Clare team in Ennis, where four years ago in the inaugural year of the format they rounded off the Munster championship with a weakened team and a big defeat – but on course for a first All-Ireland in 45 years.

One man's road ahead is another man's tumbril ride. If Tipperary manager Colm Bonnar was aware of the planet alignment required for his team to advance – theoretically, two defeats for Waterford and Tipp beating Cork – he wasn't dignifying the prospect with serious consideration.

“We came down here to win and we wanted to keep some hopes alive in terms of the championship. We know now that’s gone beyond us. We’re devastated over that because we didn’t want to be out of the championship. This wasn’t on the plan and we just have to go back to the drawing board.”

The match had seen Tipperary battle the champions with an understrength team – already stripped between retirements and long-term injuries of key personnel from the All-Ireland win of three years ago – in the unforgiving context of their struggles with Limerick in recent years.

Even this time after 65 minutes of relentlessly going toe-to-toe with the champions, the match went up in flames for them in the time remaining, as Limerick launched a late flurry of 2-4 with just 0-3 in reply.

Kiely acknowledged that the demanding schedule of the round-robin format made consistently high levels of performance difficult.

A challenge

“It’s hard to maintain a constant upper trajectory but I suppose that’s the challenge of the competition. You do find [when] you’re under the cosh from the opposition or maybe not playing that well yourself that you can still find a way to keep your composure and limit the damage the opposition are doing and find ways of creating some scores – but it is a challenge.”

Noel McGrath put on a Herculean display for Tipperary, shooting 0-13, mostly from placed balls, and keeping his team going for as long as they managed to stay with the contest.

“Yeah, Noel has been tremendous,” according to his manager. “Noel is one of the leaders of the team. He brings huge experience with him and when he speaks all the younger lads listen.”

McGrath himself was defiant about the team’s third successive defeat but their best performance.

“There was a massive crowd here from Limerick and the roars were driving them on at the end. To be fair to the Tipp players and all the panel, I’m proud to be part of the group. I’m proud of every player and delighted to be part of it with the management team and the players because everyone gives what they have.

“There’s an honesty there among the players and the management that maybe we weren’t given credit for over the last couple of weeks and we’ll stay fighting.”

“Maybe there were a few little things that we can learn going forward, as regards being a bit more clinical, execution, things like that that put those games away when you’re in the driving seat.

“Ten minutes to go coming down the straight we were in a position to win that game, unfortunately we just didn’t get there but they’re the things you learn and unfortunately in sport it’s a cruel game when you don’t take your chances.”

On Limerick's evolving injury profile, Kiely welcomed back Kyle Hayes and Séamus Flanagan and said Cathal O'Neill had been replaced because of an ankle injury but he had good news of other convalescents, including All Star Peter Casey, who damaged his cruciate in last year's All-Ireland victory.

Huge kudos

“Peter and Barry Murphy are coming on really, really well. They’ll be integrated into full training over the coming weeks but they probably have four more weeks to go. Delighted with the progress they’re making and huge kudos to them for the work they’ve put in.”

He was also pleased with Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch’s recovery from a hamstring injury.

“He’s had a couple of weeks rest and he’ll be engaging in his rehab after that - so far, so good.”

For Bonnar, it’s a work in progress with a young team. There remains the slightly surreal prospect of Munster’s legacy fixture being a very dead rubber.

“We do have one championship game and that’s against Cork and Cork still have something to play for. They have to play Waterford. It’s our last game and we want to finish on a high.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times