Tipperary go extra mile to book their final spot by seeing off Limerick
Tipperary 2-31 Limerick 1-31 (AET)
Before facing Tipperary in Thurles last night, Limerick had travelled as far as they might have dared to expect, maybe farther, with their baseline ambition of promotion already checked and a thrilling win over Clare in the league quarter-finals.
Their likeness for an ambush might be better served in May when these sides meet again in the championship. But they are usually good for some fireworks when Tipp come knocking. Last night, in the league semi-final, they looked beaten several times over but never wilted and conjured up the last four scores of the 70 minutes to force extra-time.
That sparked a visible change in Tipp's demeanour and they returned for the supplementary period visibly more charged. In the first period Jason Forde scored two goals, the match having lived without a goal up to then. They were 2-28 to 0-29 ahead by the short break and they looked determined not to let their advantage slip. But Limerick don't quit easily. Seven points down with a few minutes left they created another tense finish with Graham Mulcahy firing home a cracking goal and David Reidy pointing. They pressed for the goal that would level it and send the teams to another extra-time period but it didn't come.
Their league odyssey is at an end and Tipp will take their place in the final next Sunday seeking a first title in ten years. Limerick have left enough behind to make Tipp aware of the challenge that awaits them in seven weeks. At times Limerick appeared to be falling too far adrift and they kept responding and making little revivals. When Ronan Maher scored Tipp's last point of normal time, his fifth, in the 67th minute they led 0-26 to 0-22. It looked plenty. But Limerick wouldn't submit and they hit four points in succession, two from Cian Lynch and the equaliser from a Tom Morrissey free, their leading scorer and first choice free-taker Aaron Gillane by then having been substituted.
Tipp will be happy to have won but they have that enduring habit of leaving matches open that should be already closed off. Still, they have reached this point while experimenting freely. Willie Connors made his first senior hurling start and looked tidy and nimble. Seamus Callanan is recovering from injury and John O'Dwyer came on in the second half. They picked off scores easier than Limerick all through. But they couldn't shake them off.
Forde was again their scorer in chief, finishing with 2-11, while John McGrath claimed five points from play. They also had healthy scoring contributions from Michael Breen and Sean Curran, although Billy McCarthy had a quiet game. Last year's league final collapse, when they lost by 16 points to Galway, won't be repeated in a week's time but they still have things to fine tune.
Winning promotion has transformed Limerick's mood after repeated failed attempts to get out of the second tier since they went down in 2010. With the Na Piarsaigh players to add to that mix shortly there is every reason to look ahead to the championship with added confidence although Tipp remain the team to beat in Munster.
The home team led for most of the match and took a two point lead, 0-12 to 0-10, in at half time. Injury time scores from Ronan Maher and Breen offered a smart response after Limerick had drawn level, having fallen four points behind twice in the opening half. That was the pattern. Tipp would build a lead, as much as five points in the second half, and Limerick would then reel them in.
Ronan Maher's final tally included two lineballs, one a monster from inside his own half, and three from play. He had a chance to score a winner with another lineball in injury time of normal time but it went wide, even the intervention of Hawk-Eye falling to alter the decision.
Normal time coughed up only one goal chance which went to Limerick when Alan Flynn's interception of a Tom Morrissey pass attempt aimed for Gillane looked like it might end up being an own goal. Flynn quickly cancelled the threat, with Gillane scoring the resulting 65, levelling the match at 0-4 each after 15 minutes.
Limerick's forwards tried to pick holes in the home defence and their ninth point, from Kyle Hayes, followed excellent link play involving Gillane and impressive Seamus Flanagan. For all that, Tipp looked like they could score with less effort. Their only wide of the first half came from a slightly miscued lineball from Ronan Maher. Limerick dropped four shots short and hit six wides in the same period.
There is more to come in May.
Scorers - Tipperary: J Forde 2-11 (8 fs); R Maher (2 lbs), J McGrath 0-5; M Breen, S Curran 0-3; W Connors, B Heffernan, B McCarthy, J O'Dwyer 0-1. Limerick: A Gillane 0-7 (4 fs, 2 65s); T Morrissey 0-6 (5 fs); G Mulcahy 1-1; S Flanagan, K Hayes, G Hegarty ( 1 lb) 0-3; C Lynch 0-2; B Murphy, P Browne, P Ryan, D Byrnes, B Nash, D Reidy 0-1.
Tipperary: D Mooney; A Flynn, J Barry, M Cahill; B Heffernan, P Maher, T Hamill; S Kennedy, R Maher; S Curran, B McCarthy, J McGrath; M Breen, J Forde, W Connors. Subs: B Maher for Hamill (half time); J O'Dwyer for McCarthy (45); C Barrett for Kennedy (65); D Maher for Heffernan (71); M Ruseell for Connor (77); C Darcy for Breen (88); S O'Bien for R Maher (90).
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, S Hickey, R English; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; C Ryan, C Lynch; G Hegarty, K Hayes, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, B Murphy, Subs: P Browne for Ryan (half-time); P Ryan for Murphy (51); G Mulcahy for Flanagan (58); B Nash for Gillane (61); D Reidy for Hegarty (84); P O'Loughlin for Byrnes (86).
Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).
Sunday Indo Sport