Hanging on by a thread
McCarthy tight-lipped after Tipp drubbing increases the pressure
IF Justin McCarthy thought he was under serious pressure walking into the Gaelic Grounds yesterday afternoon, it had multiplied three-fold by the time he left it.
His fate as Limerick manager was already hanging precariously on a confidence vote at tomorrow night's County Board meeting and that thread was stretched further towards breaking by yesterday's drubbing.
One scoreboard on the Ennis Road ground actually wasn't working and the other helpfully credited the winners with one point less than they had scored. But there was simply no getting away from this: a 22-point hammering by a deeply under-strength Tipperary that will further increase the pressure on McCarthy to step down.
Cynics pointed out that Limerick's losing margin was actually two points less than the 24-point slaughter they suffered at Tipp's hands in last summer's All-Ireland semi-final but that was a game between two very different teams.
Most of last year's Limerick team won't play for the current management and, in fairness, any hope their inexperienced second-string side had of holding the Munster champions to even half of that evaporated once midfielder Dean Madden was sent off for his second yellow card after just 13 minutes.
After that there was only ever going to be one result; their fourth league loss in a row this season with by far the heaviest margin. Limerick's backs battled to the bitter end but their forwards were only able to score two points in the opening 45 minutes and Tipp's defenders, with Paddy Stapleton operating as the spare man, barely broke a sweat.
McCarthy, emerging from the dressing-room flanked on all sides by members of his backroom team, was equally tightly marked by the media afterwards but answered queries on the run, not hanging around long enough for anyone to get in a heavy tackle.
"On Tuesday night, Justin ... "
"Ah no, no. I'm not talking about Tuesday night," he interrupted swiftly, while quipping: "That's another night" over his shoulder with a chuckle.
It is a night expected to feature some very long knives but one man not sticking them into McCarthy yesterday was Tipperary boss Liam Sheedy.
We've all heard of 'mercy killings' and Sheedy pulled off what could only be described as two 'mercy subbings' when he withdrew Shane McGrath and Eoin Kelly 10 minutes into the second-half, after John O'Brien had just scored Tipp's second goal with a 20-yard rasper.
Afterwards Sheedy was particularly empathetic, saying: "Ah the sending-off made a difference. It was very early in the game and it was always going to be tough on Limerick after that."
Shane O'Neill, who starred for South Liberties in their run to last year's All-Ireland intermediate club final, did indeed do a fantastic job on Kelly, holding him to a point from play in his 0-5 by half-time when Tipp led 1-10 to 0-2.
Limerick's other corner-back David Lynch also did very well until he let Timmy Hammersley goal after 25 minutes. McCarthy described their defenders as getting "a baptism of fire" but agreed that they actually battled it like the bravest of firefighters.
Andrew Brennan and Nicky Quaid were strong in the half-backs and, ridiculous though it may sound given the scoreline, their defence gave as good as they got for long periods.
Limerick also could have no quibble with Madden's dismissal. He picked up his first yellow after six minutes so his decision, eight minutes later, to contest a ball that McGrath had already caught brilliantly, was ill-advised and ref Michael Wadding made the right call.
But with their forwards wasteful of the rare enough chances they did create -- the only thing Limerick won all day was the wide tallies, 15 to Tipperary's 14 -- their gutsy defenders were under a constant barrage, and when O'Brien rifled Tipper's brilliant second goal after 45 minutes, the floodgates opened.
"I think Tipp will be the team that'll go a long way this year," McCarthy suggested, but Sheedy would admit he couldn't judge his side on this one.
Padraic Maher was imperious at centre-back and McGrath, who had hands like glue, was brilliant in midfield. But apart from Seamus Hennessy, who scored 0-6 from play, the rest of Tipperary's forwards were far too wasteful and will need to sharpen their sights before facing Waterford next week.
On his full county debut Hammersley scored 1-3 from play and his Clonoulty' clubmate John Devane (0-2) did well when he came on but some of Tipp's shot selections were dubious at times.
As for Limerick, who next face Offaly, the mood locally seemed to be reflected by the elderly man walking past the Gaelic Grounds who said: "The quicker those lads from Ard Scoil Ris grow up the better!"
Scorers -- Tipperary: T Hammersley 1-4 (0-1f), S Hennessy 0-6, J O'Brien 1-2, E Kelly 0-5 (0-3f, 0-1 '65), G Ryan, M Webster, J Devane 0-2, M Heffernan 0-1. Limerick: P McNamara (0-2f), G Mulcahy 0-2 each, B O'Sullivan, P Browne, R McKeogh, A Owens 0-1 each.
Tipperary -- D Gleeson; P Stapleton, P Curran, C O'Brien; D Young, P Maher, H Maloney; B Maher, S McGrath; S Hennessy, S Callanan, G Ryan; E Kelly (capt), M Webster, T Hammersley. Subs: J O'Brien for Callanan (h-t), J Devane for S McGrath (44), P Kelly for Kelly (45), M Heffernan for B Maher (51), T Stapleton for Webster (55).
Limerick -- T Flynn; D Lynch, D Kenny, S O'Neill; L O'Dwyer, A Brennan, N Quaid; B O'Sullivan, D Madden; P Browne, J O'Brien, C Mullane; G Mulcahy, P McNamara, A O'Connor. Subs: P Harty for Mullane (h-t), A Owens for O'Connor (43), R McKeogh for Harty (55), K O'Rourke for Lynch (58), P Russell for O'Brien (65).
Ref -- M Wadding (Waterford).