Forde in full flow but Tipp squad is vital final factor
Allianz NHL Div 1 semi-final (AET): Tipperary 2-31 Limerick 1-31
For long stages it was shadow boxing ahead of their Munster SHC clash in seven weeks' time but it was an all-out slugfest by the end as Tipperary eventually outlasted Limerick under the Semple Stadium lights.
It took 90 minutes to finally separate these rivals with Jason Forde (2-11) continuing his sensational scoring form to fire a brace of goals in extra time to tip the balance in Tipp's favour and book their final place.
The appetite has been whetted ahead of their provincial clash and if Saturday night's fare is anything to go by, it's going to be a bumpy ride in the Gaelic Grounds on May 20 when the pair renew acquaintances in what could be a special Munster campaign.
There were no signs of Premier boss Michael Ryan holding anything back with delight etched all over his face as they moved one step closer to a first league crown in a decade but the round-robin series is still their priority.
"It will be an absolute belter but we knew it, it's always like that without ever putting this new structure in place. It's novel at this point and it bodes exceptionally well. This is with a twist as three will go forward, two will go out and that's the tragedy of the Munster championship but that'll be after four games," Ryan said.
The unique demands which will see Tipp play on four consecutive weekends have forced Ryan and other county managers to dig deep into their reserves and assemble a bombproof squad with an array of options, but his charges have adapted better than most.
The likes of Alan Flynn, Sean Curran and the red-hot Forde have all put their hands up throughout the spring and Ryan could even afford the luxury of bringing three All-Stars off the bench with Brendan Maher, John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer and Cathal Barrett helping to see them over the line.
With other All-Stars Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher set to return in the coming weeks along with Niall O'Meara, Dan McCormack and Joe O'Dwyer, things are shaping up nicely for the Premier.
"We all had to deepen our squads and make sure that if a guy gets a tap some week in June that he must be able to deliver for you. That is exactly how it is panning out. We are getting a chance to see more fellas," Ryan added.
His counterpart John Kiely has already enjoyed a brilliant spring with Limerick finally earning promotion to Division 1A and there seems to be a different mental steel to this Treaty side.
On five occasions during normal time they trailed by four points or more before rallying to level showing "massive resilience" and they almost recovered from the concession of two extra-time goals and a seven-point deficit to push the home side to the limits.
"We played three really top teams in the last few weeks and we have mixed it up with all three of them. And these teams have ambitions to be in Croke Park in July and August and why shouldn't we have ambitions to be in Croke Park in July and August?" Kiely said afterwards.
"The fact is that we can mix it with the best of them now and we know that. It gives them mental strength and psychological strength to know that they can keep coming back and coming back. You can't buy that, you have to experience that and come through it."
The first half was a slow burner with the sides level at 0-4 each after the opening quarter before Tipp stretched ahead by four with Forde razor-sharp from placed balls and Ronan Maher showing off his vast array of skills.
Seamus Flanagan was on form at the other end, however, and with Kyle Hayes also moving Pádraic Maher out of centre-back, they drew level on the stroke of half-time before Ronan Maher and Michael Breen pointed to leave it 0-12 to 0-10 at the break.
All the focus was on Forde upon the resumption, however, and a quintet of points in the first 15 minutes helped stretch the lead to five, 0-18 to 0-13 after 50 minutes, with Limerick ruing some wayward shooting including a series long-range efforts off target from half-back Diarmuid Byrnes.
In a topsy turvy tie, the Treaty were level just seven minutes later as Gearóid Hegarty sent over a beautiful sideline cut quickly followed by efforts from Tom Morrissey, Gillane ('65) and a point apiece form substitutes Paul Browne and Pat Ryan, 0-19 each.
That stirred Tipp into action again with O'Dwyer, Breen, Curran and the brilliant John McGrath firing over before Ronan Maher sent over a sublime line ball from all of 75 yards with a simple flick of the wrist and followed it with a point from play as they led 0-26 to 0-22 on 67 minutes.
They wouldn't score again in normal time, however, as two excellent Cian Lynch points and a score from Graeme Mulcahy left one in it before Tom Morrissey showed nerves of steel to level matters having taken up free-taking duties following Gillane's substitution.
Over 70 minutes of normal time couldn't produce a goal but the first 60 seconds of extra-time did with Forde intercepting a stray short puck-out from Nicky Quaid and finishing expertly before the 24-year-old seized on a loose ball in the Limerick square and whipped to the net from his knees, 2-28 to 0-29 after 80 minutes.
A 87th-minute Mulcahy rocket brought his side back into it but Tipp deservedly held on despite some nervous moments with Ryan full of praise for a rejuvenated Forde.
"I think he just reached a time, he's won his Fitzgibbons, he's been a main player for UL. I just saw a change in Jayo, he wants more out of this season."
SCORERS - Tipperary: J Forde 2-11 (8f), R Maher (0-2 sideline cuts), J McGrath 0-5 each, M Breen and S Curran 0-3 each, B Heffernan, W Connors, B McCarthy and J O'Dwyer 0-1 each.
Limerick: A Gillane 0-7 (4f, 0-2 '65s), T Morrissey 0-6 (5f), G Mulcahy 1-1, S Flanagan, K Hayes, G Hegarty (0-1 sideline) 0-3 each, C Lynch 0-2, B Murphy, P Browne, P Ryan, B Nash, D Reidy, D Byrnes 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: D Mooney 7; A Flynn 8, J Barry 7, M Cahill 7, B Heffernan 6, Pádraic Maher 7, T Hamill 6; S Kennedy 6, R Maher 8; S Curran 7, B McCarthy 6, J McGrath 8; M Breen 7, J Forde 9, W Connors 6. Subs: B Maher 6 for Hamill (half-time), John O'Dwyer 7 for McCarthy (46), C Barrett 6 for Kennedy (66), D Maher 6 for Heffernan (72), M Russell 6 for Connors (78), C Darcy for Breen (89), S O'Brien for R Maher (91).
LIMERICK: N Quaid 6; S Finn 7, S Hickey 6, R English 7; D Byrnes 6, D Hannon 6, D Morrissey 7; C Ryan 5, C Lynch 7; G Hegarty 7, K Hayes 7, T Morrissey 7; A Gillane 7, S Flanagan 8, B Murphy 6.
Subs: P Browne 6 for Ryan (half-time), P Ryan 7 for Murphy (50), G Mulcahy 8 for Flanagan (59), B Nash 6 for Gillane (61), D Reidy for Hegarty (84), P O'Loughlin for Byrnes (86).
REF - J Keenan (Wicklow)