Tuesday 17 October 2017

Tipp pass the Limerick test with honours

Tipperary 3-12 Limerick 1-16 Munster SHC semi-final

Séamus Hickey in action against John McGrath, left, and Patrick Maher Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Séamus Hickey in action against John McGrath, left, and Patrick Maher Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Tipperary stared down adversity and lived to tell a heroic tale, greatly boosting their confidence stocks as they look ahead to the much bigger examination that Waterford will present on July 10.

Winning a Munster semi-final with a 14-man team for 56 minutes was a seriously impressive achievement, one which called for the highest levels of physical and mental resilience.

Tipperary delivered on both fronts, calmly addressing the unforeseeable challenge which presented itself when John O'Dwyer was sent off on a straight red card, just as the contest was rising through the intensity gears.

'Bubbles' could have no complaints about James McGrath's decision to dismiss him for jabbing his hurley into Richie English but his manager certainly could.

Michael Ryan would have had every right to be furious with his No.13, whose rash action could have wrecked Tipperary's Munster ambitions while also sending them on the treacherous qualifier route at the earliest possible stage.

Limerick had beaten Tipperary in two of their last three championship clashes so as O'Dwyer trudged to the Semple Stadium sideline, no doubt embarrassed to load so much extra work on his colleagues, the omens looked good for the visitors.

Noel McGrath in action against Gavin O'Mahony Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Noel McGrath in action against Gavin O'Mahony Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Balance

Tipperary were ahead at the time (2-1 to 0-3) but Limerick supporters would have expected the balance to assume a green hue, perhaps not initially, but certainly as the game progressed on a surface made very slippery by heavy rain.

It never did. Tipperary led all the way to the finish, having increased their lead to six points in the 68th minute before conceding 1-1 late on.

Tom Morrissey's 72nd-minute goal cut the deficit to two points but Tipperary held on for the final minute, securing a win that underpins their right to be regarded as top contenders for All-Ireland glory.

Granted, their task was made easier by Limerick's failure to exploit all the possibilities offered by being handed such a significant advantage so early in the contest.

They delegated Gavin O'Mahony to the spare man role, a tactic which looked sensible enough in the shorter term. However, as the day wore on and it became apparent that they weren't deriving any great benefit from the extra manpower, it called for a much bolder approach.

Noel McGrath celebrates at the final whistle Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Noel McGrath celebrates at the final whistle Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

That never materialised either. O'Mahony continued to operate quite close to his own goal, acting as additional cover against Seamus Callanan, in particular.

And as the second-half progressed, it became apparent that despite being short-handed, Tipperary were much more structurally solid than Limerick.

Tipp packed their defence as required, completely frustrating a Limerick attack where the main scoring threat came from Shane Dowling's unerring accuracy from frees.

He hit the target eight times (and also scored once from play) but Tipperary had little difficulty in keeping goalkeeper Darren Gleeson well protected until deep in stoppage time when he was caught by Morrissey's opportunistic strike.

It was all so very different at the other end, where Nickie Quaid was beaten twice in the opening eight minutes, with both goals coming from Tipp midfielder Michael Breen.

His timing for both incisions was exquisite, first running onto a breaking ball in the seventh minute and whizzing through before firing to the net.

He struck again shortly afterwards, arriving at precisely the right moment to bat the ball to the net after Quaid had saved.

Michael Breen in action against Paul Browne Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Michael Breen in action against Paul Browne Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

It raised serious questions about Limerick's defensive security which would, no doubt, have come under closer scrutiny if O'Dwyer had remained on duty.

His departure demanded that all his colleagues increased their workload and, in fairness, the response was immediate and effective.

Callanan whipped in Tipp's third goal off a clever delivery by Noel McGrath, leaving Tipperary five points clear after 28 minutes.

Noel McGrath in action against Gavin O'Mahony Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Noel McGrath in action against Gavin O'Mahony Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Limerick countered with four unanswered points before Callanan took his first-half tally to 1-4 with two points just before the break, leaving Tipp leading by 3-5 to 0-11.

Limerick kept Tipperary waiting a few minutes before returning for the second-half, presumably working on a strategy to maximise the extra-man advantage.

The Premier's management had done their homework too, setting up in a manner which made it difficult for Limerick to unhinge them.

They would have been delighted to see Limerick persist with the spare man deep in defence as it meant that if Tipperary played a clever game they could make him largely redundant.

O'Mahony did get in some clearances but that was never going to be enough to make a substantial difference against Tipp's considered, intelligent approach.

Unmarked

Indeed, there were times in the second-half when it looked as if Tipperary had the extra man, as underlined by an incident in the 53rd minute.

Callanan lined up a free close to the sideline and with Limerick obviously expecting him to shoot for goal, Noel McGrath was allowed to drift unmarked into space.

Callanan spotted him and made a quick delivery, presenting McGrath with the opening to strike over a point which put Tipperary five clear.

It was the ultimate in carelessness by Limerick, who needed to be at their sharpest against very focused opponents.

TJ Ryan's men could ill-afford that type of slip-up on a day but then it was illustrative of Limerick's overall performance.

Their failure to close the routes to goal in the opening 30 minutes were very costly as they yielded three goals for Tipperary, which ultimately proved crucial.

Waterford manager, Derek McGrath was among the 25,531 crowd and will, no doubt, have been impressed by the manner in which Tipperary overcame the difficulties arising from O'Dwyer's dismissal.

The defence was especially imposing with Cathal Barrett, James Barry and Padraic Maher leading the resistance.

The Limerick attack could never quite figure how to disrupt them on day when the final score flatters the losers.

Tipperary were worth more than a two-point win, which is quite a tribute to their endeavours in difficult circumstances.

Scorers - Tipperary: S Callanan 1-6 (0-3 frees, 0-2 '65s), M Breen 2-1; N McGrath 0-3, J McGrath, Padraic Maher 0-1 each.

Limerick: S Dowling 0-9 (0-8 frees), T Morrissey 1-0, D Hannon 0-2, B Nash, C Lynch, G Hegarty, J Ryan, J Fitzgibbon 0-1 each.

Tipperary: D Gleeson 7; C Barrett 8, J Barry 8, M Cahill 7; S Kennedy 7, R Maher 7, Padraic Maher 8; B Maher 7, M Breen 9; D McCormack 6, Patrick Maher 7, N McGrath 8; J O'Dwyer 0; S Callanan 8, J McGrath 7.Subs: N O'Meara 6 for McCormack (59), D Maher 6 for R Maher (63), J Forde for Patrick Maher (69), K Bergin for B Maher (71), D Quinn for Breen (71).

Limerick: N Quaid 6; S Hickey 7, D Morrissey 7, R English 6; D Byrnes 7, G O'Mahony 6, T Condon 7; J Ryan 5, P Browne 6; G Hegarty 6, B Nash 6, C Lynch 7; S Dowling 7, D Hannon 6, G Mulcahy 6.Subs: T Morrissey 7 for Ryan (48), K Downes 6 for Nash (55), J Fitzgibbon 6 for Hegarty (58).

Ref - J McGrath (Westmeath)

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