THEY may have controversially come away empty-handed from the All Stars, but Tipperary hurlers were back on top in this much anticipated derby.
Premier senior stars like Padraic Maher, Lar Corbett, Michael Cahill and Pa Bourke were all to the fore as Thurles Sarsfields, for the second time in three years, knocked Limerick champions Kilmallock out of the provincial club championship.
This quarter-final was as tight, tense and exciting as everyone expected as the locals, managed by Tony Considine, twice fought back from five-point deficits in the second half to close the gap to a point.
But, just like 2010, it was ultimately the two Sarsfields goals that proved the main difference; the first from a short Bourke free after 25 minutes and the second from Corbett in the 43rd minute.
The second goal restored Sars' lead to five points at a pivotal moment and, added to a point at the start of each half, provided Corbett with a useful 1-2 contribution after a season in which he has fielded a lot of flak.
Much of the credit for his goal had to go to Denis Maher's intelligent ball up the wing and Michael O'Brien's insightful cross to the square, which left the unmarked Thurles' sharpshooter with a relatively easy tap-in to finish off the move of the match.
Yet Kilmallock, to their credit, once again refused to quit and Eoin Ryan and Kevin O'Donnell cut the gap to the minimum with six minutes left.
Denis Maher and Shane O'Donnell then traded points and, as time ticked away, Michael O'Brien, off a cleverly kicked pass by Richie Ruth, got a great insurance score for Thurles. In injury-time, Bourke sealed the deal with the last of his six scores.
The home side were left to rue eight second-half wides and some particularly scoreable ones in the final quarter when their barnstorming midfield, assisted by Kevin O'Donnell, really had Thurles on the back foot.
Straight from the throw-in a fired-up Kilmallock went for the jugular and Paudie O'Brien racked up three points in as many minutes and his centre-field partner Robbie Egan added another.
But Kilmallock then went scoreless for 17 minutes and by half-time only Ryan (with a free) had added to their scoring as they trailed by five (1-7 to 0-5) and hadn't yet registered their first wide.
The home support among the 3,000 crowd were clearly frustrated by the dearth of frees coming their way from referee Colm Lyons in that first half, which saw Kilmallock boss Considine, at one point, step on to the field to verbally remonstrate with the man in the middle.
A Sarsfields mentor also had to be ordered off the field in another incident during a tempestuous first half, which threatened to boil over on several occasions. That pulsating opening period included five bookings (four for Kilmallock), but, thankfully, things settled down after the break. "It's a long time ago since I went in to a referee," said Considine, a man who could never be accused of hiding his hurling heart up his sleeve.
"I don't usually do things like that, but I did it today because I just felt that frees were very easily conceded. It's a manly game and I felt, like everyone else in the ground, I think, that we weren't getting them for a long time.
"We got a chance to level it with a minute to go or something like that and missed it. We needed a goal to win it or draw it and it's tough to lose it by just one score, but you certainly couldn't fault our lads' second-half performance," he added.
For Thurles manager Seamus Quinn, whose side now meet the Cork champions of the same name (Sarsfields) in the Munster semi-final, there was huge satisfaction at beating Kilmallock again on their home turf.
"People in our own county question the character of this team and we just keep producing it; this is twice we've done it here," he stressed.
"It should go around now that we have character and we have bottle. That's what it's going to boil down to, if you're going to win these games at this time of the year.
"I said to the boys at half-time that it was going to come down to the last few minutes -- the hooks and blocks and character."
In a game dominated by defenders, Liam Hurley, Liam Walsh and Gavin O'Mahony also starred for Kilmallock, while all of Thurles half-back line were outstanding throughout.
But the visitors always had the greater fire-power. Michael O'Brien only scored once, but the threat and vision he provided, along with Bourke and Corbett, proved to be the difference.
One telling postscript came in Considine's revelation that they're losing at least one player, and possibly also Paudie O'Dwyer, to emigration in the coming weeks. "That's a major concern, that we're losing quality lads who have to go away," he said. "We should be able to keep young fellas like that in the country and keep them hurling, because it's the greatest game of all when played like that."
Scorers -- Thurles: P Bourke 1-5 (4f), L Corbett 1-2, J Enright 0-3 (3f), M O'Brien, D Maher 0-1 each. Kilmallock: E Ryan 0-6 (4f), P O'Brien, S O'Donnell 0-3 each, R Egan, P O'Dwyer, K O'Donnell 0-1 each.
Thurles Sarsfields -- P McCormack; D Maher, K O'Gorman, S Maher; D Kennedy, P Maher (Capt), M Cahill; M Gleeson, J Enright; P Bourke, J Corbett, L Corbett; M O'Brien, D Maher, A McCormack. Subs: B O'Dwyer for S Maher (28), G O'Grady for J Corbett (42), J Maher for Enright (46), R Ruth for McCormack (57).
Kilmallock -- B Hennessy; L Hurley, P O'Loughlin, K O'Mahony; L Walsh, G O'Mahony, B O'Sullivan; R Egan, P O'Brien (Capt); J Mulcahy, P O'Dwyer, E Ryan; G Mulcahy, K O'Donnell, S O'Donnell. Sub: K Kennelly for J Mulcahy (48).
Ref -- C Lyons (Cork)