Tipp's premier service leaves Limerick bereft
Tipperary 4-23 Limerick 1-16 Munster SH Semi-Final
Tipperary, Kilkenny and Galway were high-rollers to start with, but all three raised the stakes dramatically inside an informative 24-hour period that settled the line-ups for the Munster and Leinster finals.
Galway's demolition of Laois hinted at a new ruthlessness in their approach; Kilkenny's suffocation of Wexford was ominously impressive, while Tipperary's destruction of Limerick pointed to a squad that has a very definite agenda for the rest of the Championship.
A 16-point win - Tipperary's biggest Munster Championship success over Limerick for 53 years - was the most impressive of the three provincial semi-final victories because of the perceived quality of the opposition.
Munster champions two years ago and winners over Tipperary in each of the last two years, Limerick ran Kilkenny to two points in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.
And, with home advantage for yesterday's clash, they had every reason to feel good about themselves.
All the more so, when they cut a six-point interval deficit (2-12 to 0-12) back to a single point (2-12 to 1-14) ten minutes into the second half.
Shane Dowling's penalty in the 39th minute was the catalyst for a Limerick power surge, which must have left Tipperary supporters with an eerie suspicion that the fault lines of the last two years were about to re-open.
Limerick were in full flow for a period, whipping into tackles with ferocious intensity and reaping rich dividends from their quicker reactions in broken play.
The Limerick support in a crowd of 31,488, an increase of 6,326 on last year's clash in Thurles, were in full voice, convinced no doubt that the scripts from 2013 and 2014 were about to be re-enacted.
It was a worrying time for Tipperary. The fluency and sense of adventure that flowed through their game after a slow start was no longer in evidence as they struggled to match reinvigorated opponents.
However, what happened over the next 20 minutes was quite remarkable from both sides' perspectives.
Tipperary not only broke Limerick's momentum but went on to whip up such a powerful storm that it blew a bewildered opposition into oblivion.
Tipperary won the final 20 minutes by 2-11 to 0-2, leaving Limerick a distant speck in their rear-view mirror.
It was a humiliating period for TJ Ryan's crew, who now face the massive task of rebuilding their confidence for the qualifiers.
Quite why and how it turned so sour from what looked such a promising position after 45 minutes won't be easily figured out by Limerick, who lost shape, control and substance in every line.
In contrast, Tipperary grew in authority and efficiency, eventually reaching heights that left nobody in any doubt about their All-Ireland credentials.
All but 0-4 of their 4-23 total came from open play, underlining the exciting scope of their attack.
Seamus Callanan, John O'Dwyer, Jason Forde and 'Bonner' Maher scored 3-14 between them from play, 3-4 more than the entire Limerick team managed by a similar route.
Callanan scored two goals in the opening 27 minutes and, with any luck, would have had two more; Forde made a big statement about his increasing capacity, while Maher's relentless work-rate was supplemented with three well-taken points from play.
However, the really big star was John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer, who scored 0-6 from play. Most of those points were superb efforts, effortlessly tossed over the bar from a variety of distances and angles, usually in very limited space.
It was close to the perfect performance from a star act at the top of his game.
By the end, most of the Tipperary players were hurling with complete authority, making Limerick look like a Division 2 side that had wandered into the wrong venue.
That's a big worry for them - once the flow went against them, there was little they could do to stop it.
There's a lot more to this Limerick squad than they showed in the final 20 minutes yesterday and, luckily, they have a chance to prove that pretty quickly.
Their performance at the start of either half will be the starting point for a re-launch, since it was much more in keeping with the Limerick of recent seasons than the last-quarter disappearance.
Limerick were three points clear after eight minutes, a period in which Tipperary were edgily trying to play their way into the game.
However, it was obvious from the manner in which they kept trying to work the ball into the Limerick goal area that they reckoned it could be a profitable exercise.
And so in proved in the ninth minute when Callanan whipped in their first goal. It settled Tipperary into an impressive rhythm and by the 23rd minute, they were eight points clear, 2-7 to 0-5.
Callanan had scored their second goal too, capitalising on a defensive error by Richie McCarthy. Limerick recovered well on the run-in to half-time but looked to have an awful lot to do when they headed for the dressing-room six points adrift after playing with the wind.
A significant development before half-time was Limerick's deployment of Cian Lynch well away from the left corner-forward position.
The youngster tormented the Clare defence in the quarter-final but got very little possession in the first half yesterday.
He improved in the second half but with the supply lines drying up after the initial burst, it was very difficult for him to make an impact.
But then, such an experienced squad should not have to rely on a teenager to provide inspiration.
As things progressed in the second half, it became apparent that once Tipperary sorted out the early rebellion, Limerick had nothing left.
They managed just one point from play in a second half where their loss of altitude in the final quarter will be of serious concern for Ryan and his fellow strategists.
It's all so different for Eamon O'Shea and Tipperary.
They needed a win to avoid being eliminated in Munster for a third successive year, a fate not suffered for more than 30 years.
O'Shea repeatedly emphasised that the past was irrelevant but, at the same time, he didn't want to go through his managerial stint (he steps down at the end of this year's Championship) without a single win in Munster.
He must had concerns when Limerick battled back early in the second half but the response from his players was emphatic, effective and eventually overwhelming.
Scorers - Tipperary: S Callanan 2-5 (0-2fs, 0-1 '65'), J O'Dwyer 0-7 (1 '65'), J Forde 1-3, Patrick Maher 0-3, M Breen 1-0, S McGrath 0-2, N O'Meara, J Woodlock, S Bourke 0-1 each.
Limerick: S Dowling 1-7(0-4fs, 1-0 pen, 0-2 '65s), D Hannon 0-3, G Mulcahy 0-2, D O'Grady, D Breen, G O'Mahony, S O'Brien 0-1 each.
Tipperary - D Gleeson 8; P Stapleton 7, J Barry 7, C O'Brien 7; K Bergin 7, Padraic Maher 8, R Maher 7; J Woodlock 7, S McGrath 7; J Forde 8, B Maher 7, Patrick Maher 8; J O'Dwyer 9, S Callanan 8, N O'Meara 7. Subs: M Cahill 7 for Stapleton (35+1), S Bourke 7 for O'Meara (60), B Maher for McGrath (69), M Breen for Callanan (70).
Limerick - B Hennessy 6; S Walsh 6, R McCarthy 5, S Hickey 6; T Condon 5, G O'Mahony 6, S O'Brien 6; J Ryan 5, P O'Brien 5; D Breen 5, D Hannon 7, D O'Grady 5; G Mulcahy 7, S Dowling 7, C Lynch 5. Subs: P Browne 6 for Breen (ht), K Downes 5 for O'Grady (50), J Fitzgibbon for O'Brien (60), W McNamara for McCarthy (60), D Reidy for Ryan (68).
Ref - B Gavin (Offaly)
Game at a Glance
Man of the Match: John O'Dwyer (Tipperary)
Seamus Callanan scored 2-2 from play in an excellent performance but O'Dwyer edges him out on the basis that most of his six points from play were delightful strikes from a variety of distances and angles.
Limerick's tenacity and persistence were crucial to their wins over Tipperary in 2013 and 2014, but those qualities went missing in the final 20 minutes yesterday, a period they lost by 2-11 to 0-2. They will need to figure out why before re-booting for the qualifiers.
O'Dwyer struck a series of wonderful points from play, some with effortless flicks of the wrist, which steered the ball with delightful accuracy.
Limerick had six players on the line (only five are allowed) when Shane Dowling drove for goal from a close-in free in the 31st minute. Otherwise, Brian Gavin had a good day.
Tipp play Waterford in the Munster final on July 12. Limerick enter the first round of the qualifiers on the weekend after next.