Limerick's late flurry leaves Tipp speechless
Munster SHC Round Robin: Limerick 1-23 Tipperary 2-14
The Munster Championship may no longer be knockout but the new format can still pack a punch.
Limerick landed most of the telling ones in the final quarter, outscoring Tipperary by 1-5 to 0-1 in the closing 15 minutes in the Gaelic Grounds to record their first provincial win since 2015.
The fade-out will be a big worry for Michael Ryan as Limerick hurled with far more intensity, precision and purpose in a period where Tipperary would have been expected to thrive.
Not yesterday. Not only did Limerick look the more determined outfit, they were also slicker and more efficient, leaving Tipperary with much to ponder on before playing Cork in Thurles next Sunday.
The media were anxious to get Michael Ryan's views on why opening day hadn't gone to plan for Tipperary but he opted not to share his views on that - or anything else. It was silence elsewhere in the Tipperary camp too and apparently that's how it will continue for their three other round robin games.
"They're looking at it as a four-match programme and they'll talk after that," explained Tipperary County Board chairman John Devane.
So then, a new approach to how Tipperary go about their off-pitch championship business. Of course, their supporters will be far more concerned with how they actually perform, especially following yesterday's disappointing performance.
That was at its most pronounced in the closing stages when Tipperary were unable to respond to Limerick's surge. Ironically, it looked as if it was Tipperary who had seized the initiative at a crucial stage when Jason Forde scored their second goal in the 50th minute. It levelled the game up for the 11th time and was followed by the lead point by Noel McGrath.
Limerick were facing a searching test of character, one which they passed with top honours. Indeed, their display in the closing stages leaves their supporters with a giddy sense of anticipation as they look ahead at the rest of the Munster campaign.
Manager John Kiely was upbeat too, but moved very quickly to restore context. "It's early doors. This is only round one. We'll have to go back to the drawing board again and look at that game," he said.
Still, he could not have hoped for a more encouraging start. Limerick had to manage their way intelligently through the game, twice recovering from goal setbacks before hitting the net themselves when sub Barry Murphy extended their lead to five points in the 67th minute.
"We were just stronger on the day. Fifteen minutes into the second half, I really couldn't see any other result," said Kiely.
Tipperary cannot argue with his assessment, which makes this week so important for them. Defeat by Cork next Sunday would raise serious doubts about their prospects of making Munster's top three, which is required to remain in the All-Ireland race.
Yesterday's team selection was highly experimental and ultimately it didn't work. Seamus Callanan, Brendan Maher and 'Bonner' Maher were all introduced from the bench in the second half, while James Barry and Michael Breen were among the unused subs, but one suspects that most of them will start next week, for what will be a crucial game.
Limerick, meanwhile, have made the perfect start. Significant progress in the league, which earned promotion to 1A, raised expectations, so yesterday's game was always going to be important in their development process.
The response was emphatic. Granted, they are areas where improvements are required, but the fundamentals are solid so that should be achievable.
The defence conceded too many frees - especially in the first half - and, as Kiely pointed out, they will be unhappy with the circumstances that led to Tipperary's goals but, on the plus side, there was much to admire.
Aaron Gillane (all through) and Graeme Mulcahy (first half) tormented the Tipperary full-back line; Gearóid Hegarty got on a lot of ball; Cian Lynch was neat and effective around midfield while Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon and Dan Morrissey formed an impressive half-back line.
Ultimately, though, it was Limerick's all-round solidity which wore Tipp down.
"We weren't happy at half-time with the amount of frees given away, and unforced errors, and missed chances. But we ground out the win and we move on," said captain Declan Hannon.
Limerick's frustration at half-time was understandable as they trailed by a point (1-10 to 0-12) despite being the better team for much of the opening 35 minutes. However, defensive indiscipline - Forde pointed seven frees - and inaccurate shooting cost them dearly.
They were also denied a goal in the 17th minute when debutant Tipperary goalkeeper Brian Hogan made a brilliant save off a Hegarty flick.
It was important for Limerick to start the second half well, which they duly did and, by the 48th minute, they were three points ahead.
On another day, Forde's equalising goal might have been the catalyst for Tipperary to drive on, but not on this occasion as defiant Limerick raised their game considerably on the run-in.
Scorers - Limerick: A Gillane 0-8 (6f); G Mulcahy 0-4; B Murphy 1-0; D Byrnes 0-3 (2f, 1'65'); C Lynch, G Hegarty, T Morrissey 0-2 each; S Flanagan, D O'Donovan 0-1 each. Tipperary: J Forde 1-9 (8f); D McCormack 1-0; J McGrath, N McGrath 0-2 each; J O'Dwyer 0-1.
Limerick - N Quaid 7; S Finn 7, S Hickey 6, R English 7; D Byrnes 8, D Hannon 8, D Morrissey 7; D O'Donovan 6, C Lynch 7; G Hegarty 7, K Hayes 7, T Morrissey 7; A Gillane 9, S Flanagan 7, G Mulcahy 8. Subs: D Dempsey 6 for T Morrissey (54), B Murphy 7 for Mulcahy (54), M Casey 6 for Hickey (56), P Ryan 6 for Flanagan (61), P Browne for O' Donovan (67).
Tipperary - B Hogan 8; A Flynn 6, S Kennedy 6, D Maher 5; B Heffernan 6, Pádraig Maher 6, R Maher 7; W Connors 5, B McCarthy 6; D McCormack 7, N McGrath 6, S Curran 5; J O'Dwyer 6, J Forde 8, J McGrath 7. Subs: S O'Brien 6 for D Maher (43), B Maher 6 for Connors (50), S Callanan 6 for Curran (53), Patrick Maher for McCarthy (65).
Ref - J McGrath (Westmeath)