LIMERICK goalkeeper Brian Murray scored as much as all of the Treaty men's starting forwards combined, which encapsulates the extent of the misery heaped on the green and white at Croke Park yesterday.
Limerick would have to trawl a long way back into history to locate such an embarrassing occasion, which left them looking for an escape chute from quite early on after it became apparent that Tipperary were vastly superior to them in every facet of the game.
It was the ultimate humiliation for Limerick as they lurched from crisis to disaster to destruction as Tipperary imposed their wide range of skills with devastating effect. They posted 25 scores -- including six goals -- as they recorded the biggest All-Ireland semi-final win since Cork flattened Antrim in 1984.
Limerick went into yesterday's game as outsiders to dislodge the Munster champions, but nobody could possibly have envisaged the extent of the gulf which would open up between the sides. Granted, Limerick had reached the last four off the easier route -- beating Wexford, Laois and Dublin -- and while it was felt they wouldn't be able to cope with the step up in class, it was assumed that their battling qualities would worry Tipperary most of the way.
The reality turned out to be a whole lot different, much to the disappointment of the 43,808 crowd. The first decisive break came in the fifth minute when John O'Brien's chopped delivery towards goal skidded past Limerick full-back Stephen Lucey and into the path of Eoin Kelly.
Presenting Kelly with a one-on-one isn't recommended at any time, and certainly not on a balmy August Sunday at Croke Park. The umpire was reaching for the green flag even before Kelly picked his spot well to Murray's right. Tipperary weren't just up and running, they were already well on their way to booking a first All-Ireland final clash with Kilkenny since 1991.
The missiles just kept on bombing down on Limerick, who were hit with further goals from Noel McGrath (16 mins) and Pat Kerwick a minute later to leave Tipperary nine points clear with three-quarters of the game still to play. Limerick's fate was already sealed, but they still had another 53 minutes of torture ahead on a day when they had to face up to the unmistakable reality that those qualifier wins left them hopelessly ill-prepared for the latest challenge.
Tipp's touch and timing was so superior to Limerick's that it looked like seniors against juniors. Limerick's half-forwards were wiped out by Declan Fanning, Conor O'Mahony and Brendan Maher, while the deliveries from further out were poorly directed. That enabled the Tipperary full-back line to impose themselves almost effortlessly, while goalkeeper Brendan Cummins was able to pick out unchallenged colleagues with his puck-outs.
To add to Limerick's mounting problems, they wasted several precious scoring chances from open play and placed balls. Gavin O'Mahony, who had been so accurate against Dublin in the quarter-final, had a poor day with his shooting, blasting no fewer than seven wides from long-range efforts. Niall Moran might have thought he had played himself into the game when he pointed in the 32nd minute, but as he ran out to resume his position, his name was called out as the first player to be replaced. In fairness to Moran, any one of his five forward colleagues could have been taken off at that stage.
Justin McCarthy removed two more of them -- James Ryan and Paul Browne -- at half-time and summoned full-forward Paudie McNamara ashore in the 57th minute. It made no difference whatsoever, as the Tipperary defence had everything so tightly secured that Limerick probably wouldn't have made any more progress if they had three extra men on duty.
Tipperary led by 3-8 to 0-4 at half-time and Limerick didn't score in the second half until the 47th minute, when goalkeeper Murray sent a penalty whizzing to the net. Substitute Brian O'Sullivan scored Limerick's second goal in the 54th minute but all it succeeded in doing was provoke Tipperary into a furious surge.
Lar Corbett scored three goals in 10 minutes and, as Tipperary kept the points ticking along nicely too, they took their tally to 6-19, of which 6-10 came from open play.
Corbett (3-1), Kerwick (1-3) and Noel McGrath (1-2) all prospered amid the debris of a Limerick defence which were left mesmerised by the pace and movement of their torturers. Mark Foley battled all the way to the finish but it was very much a lost cause against vastly superior powers.
So, were Limerick all that bad or was this an awesome display by Tipperary which will send tremors of apprehension wafting across the border into Kilkenny as they prepare for the final on September 6? There's no doubt that Tipperary have an awful lot to recommend them, especially in an attack which combines the experience and cunning of Kelly, Corbett and O'Brien with the enterprise and energy of Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Kerwick.
Kerwick had probably the best game of his career so far, while McGrath continues to improve with every outing. He has a lovely economical style and his ability to make room in tight situations is a major plus, which will stand to him in what looks certain to be a long career in the blue and gold.
However, it must be said that, apart from the first few minutes, the Limerick defence offered no real resistance. It was surprising to see so many experienced players beaten quite comprehensively, but then they were up against by far the best forward line they have encountered all year.
Limerick's arrival at the semi-final stage suggested they were in the top four in the country but, in reality, they weren't. The vagaries of the draw despatched Cork, Galway and Waterford on one side while Limerick enjoyed a much easier passage on the other route. It earned them a semi-final shot, but they were clearly out of their depth against a Tipperary team which, Kilkenny apart, has been the most consistent in the country for the past two seasons.
Tipperary couldn't find any downsides in yesterday's performance, except perhaps that they would probably have been much better off if they had a more competitive outing. An easy win in a semi-final isn't always the best preparation for the final, especially when the opposition happens to be the team of the decade.
Still, there wasn't anything Tipp could do about that, as once they went about their business in a highly efficient manner, they must have been surprised to discover just how anaemic the Limerick challenge was.
Remarkably, there were no frees in the game until the 12th minute, when Limerick were awarded one while Tipperary had to wait until the 20th minute for their first free. By then, they were well on their way to a first All-Ireland final since 2001, while Limerick were left wondering how they could be so far off the pace.
This really was a shocking day in Limerick hurling history, one which leaves them facing a critical self-analysis. The record books will show that they reached the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final, but they certainly aren't in the top four by a long stretch.
And now they have the added problem of how to cope with the psychological damage suffered in yesterday's humiliation.
Scorers -- Tipperary: L Corbett 3-1, E Kelly 1-6 (6f), P Kerwick 1-3, N McGrath 1-2, S Callanan, C O'Mahony (2f 1 '65) 0-3 each, J O'Brien 0-1. Limerick: B O'Sullivan 1-1, B Murray 1-0 (pen), G O'Mahony 0-2 (1f), D Breen, N Moran, A O'Shaughnessy (1f), S Hickey 0-1 each.
Tipperary -- B Cummins 7; P Stapleton 8, P Maher 8, P Curran 8; D Fanning 8, C O'Mahony 9, B Maher 8; J Woodlock 7, S McGrath 7; P Kerwick 9, S Callanan 7, J O'Brien 7; N McGrath 9, E Kelly 7, L Corbett 8. Subs: B Dunne 7 for S McGrath (54), G Ryan 6 for Woodlock (62), M Webster 6 for Kerwick (63), P Kelly 6 for E Kelly (65), W Ryan 6 for Corbett (67).
Limerick -- B Murray 6; D Reale 5, S Lucey 4, M O'Riordan 4; S Hickey 5, B Geary 5, M Foley 6; D O'Grady 5, G O'Mahony 5; P Browne 4, J Ryan 4, N Moran 4; D Breen 4, P McNamara 4, A O'Shaughnessy 4. Subs: J O'Brien 4 for Moran (32), B O'Sullivan 7 for Browne (ht), O Moran 4 for Ryan (ht), M O'Brien 5 for McNamara (57), S Walsh 5 for Lucey (62).
Ref -- B Gavin (Offaly).