LIMERICK 2-14 TIPPERARY 2-14 Munster SHC RELIEF dropped like a gentle dew all across Limerick and Tipperary last evening as they contemplated how close they both came to having their Guinness Munster hurling championship ambitions dismantled on the very first day.
First, it was Tipperary who appeared to be heading for the All-Ireland qualifiers when they trailed by five points after 45 minutes, but they responded courageously to lead by a point deep in injury-time.
However, deeper still into stoppage time, Limerick summoned one last surge and midfielder Paul O'Grady hoisted over the priceless equaliser.
So then, it's back to the Limerick Gaelic Grounds for the replay next Saturday (6.30) with both sides believing that the lessons learned in Thurles yesterday will give them the crucial edge.
For instance, Limerick will have realised the importance of being more ruthless when their opponents are struggling, while Tipperary will, no doubt, attempt to extract a much bigger contribution from their half-forward line.
Two of them - Francis Devanney and Benny Dunne - were replaced, while John Devane hadn't fared any better until the second minute of injury-time when he pounced for a crucial goal after Paul Kelly had floated in a sideline cut.
Limerick half-backs Ollie Moran, Brian Geary and the imperious Peter Lawlor played extremely well, while Damien Reale did a good marking job on Eoin Kelly.
In fairness to Kelly, he got few decent opportunities as the half-forwards weren't able to move the ball to their inside men. Kelly moved outfield midway through the second half, with sub Ger 'Redser' O'Grady switching to full-forward where he pilfered an excellent goal in the 53rd minute.
A Tipp burst yielded 1-3 between the 53rd and 59th minutes, wiping out Limerick's five-point lead which they had carefully compiled in the third quarter.
Given Limerick's fragile state in recent years, their supporters must have feared the worst but, on this occasion, they needn't have worried. Substitute Pat Tobin increased the firepower in attack, firing over two fine points and Limerick actually led by two before the injury-time drama left it all square.
Although it was Limerick who snatched the levelling point, Tipperary will be quite happy to have earned a second chance as there were periods when they looked to be in serious trouble.
They relied almost exclusively on Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett in attack until O'Grady arrived. He injected some urgency into their efforts, but was betrayed by poor shooting as he blasted three good chances wide, much to the frustration of the Tipp fans. However, he earned their forgiveness by scoring the goal that launched their revival and is now in a strong position to gain a starting place next Saturday.
Paul Kelly hurled well at midfield and also contributed handsomely from frees, slotting four long-range frees over the bar, while in defence, David Kennedy, Philip Maher and Martin Maher all resisted forcefully.
Maher had a tough time on TJ Ryan, but stuck gallantly to the demanding task until Limerick redeployed their powerful No 14 to the half-forward line in the second half.
Ryan's return to attack after some years in defence was a success for in addition to scoring 1-7 (0-2 from play), he was very much a point of reference for his colleagues as they considered their options when in possession further out.
Ryan had good reason to be annoyed with referee Diarmuid Kirwan in the 48th minute when he was crudely fouled by Paul Curran as he got in his shot which flew wide. The referee booked Curran but, inexplicably, didn't award a free in at a time when a point would have put Limerick six clear.
Niall Moran was an able and willing accomplice for Ryan as they took on the Tipperary defence, while Donie Ryan and sub Pat Tobin also had some enterprising moments. Midfielders Paul O'Grady and Donal O'Grady started slowly, but once they settled into a rhythm they imposed themselves on the game.
It looked early on as if Limerick's problems were still very much on board as they found themselves three points down after six minutes. And when Andrew O'Shaughnessy threw away a glorious chance of a point by retaliating after being awarded a free in the ninth minute, Limerick must have feared that it was going to be another frustrating day.
It called for courage and conviction and, this time, Limerick responded. TJ Ryan scored three points in nine minutes before Donncha Sheehan squeezed home a goal in the 19th minute after Brendan Cummins had saved from O'Shaughnessy.
Limerick led by 1-7 to 0-8 at half-time and increased their advantage to five points four minutes into the second half when TJ Ryan drilled a penalty to the net after Curran fouled Donie Ryan.
Limerick continued to win lots of possession over the next ten minutes, much of which was due to poor clearances by Tipperary, but they failed to exploit it, leaving them vulnerable when Tipp launched a revival package.
O'Grady's goal provided the catalyst for the recovery which ultimately put Tipperary in a winning position before Limerick grabbed the equaliser just when it looked as if they would lose to Tipp by a point for the second year in a row.
It was the least Limerick deserved on a day when they restored real pride to their game and ensured that they made headlines for on-field exploits rather than off-pitch bickering. Limerick, and indeed hurling in general, will be all the better for that.
SCORERS - Limerick: TJ Ryan 1-7 (1-0 pen, 0-5f), D Sheehan 1-0, N Moran 0-3, P Tobin 0-2, C Fitzgerald, P O'Grady 0-1 each. Tipperary: E Kelly 0-7 (5f), P Kelly 0-4 (4f), G O'Grady, J Devane 1-0 each, T Dunne, L Corbett 0-1, C Morrissey 0-1 each.
TEAMS AND PLAYER RATINGS
LIMERICK - T Houlihan 6; S Lucey 6, D Reale 7, M Foley 6; O Moran 7, B Geary 8, P Lawlor 8; P O'Grady 7, D O'Grady 7; C Fitzgerald 5, N Moran 8, A O'Shaughnessy 5; D Ryan 7, TJ Ryan 8, D Sheehan 5. Subs: P Tobin (8) for Sheehan (61), M Cahill for Fitzgerald (72). Booked: O Moran (6), M Foley (17), D Reale (21).
TIPPERARY - B Cummins 7; M Maher 7, P Maher 7, P Curran 6; D Fanning 6, E Kennedy 7, E Corcoran 5; C Morrissey 6, P Kelly 7; J Devane 5, F Devanney 5, B Dunne 5; P O'Brien 5, E Kelly 7, L Corbett 7. Subs: G O'Grady 7 for Devanney (ht), T Dunne 7 for B Dunne (43), D Fitzgerald 6 for Corcoran (62), M Webster for Morrissey (66), D Egan for O'Brien (71). Booked: D Kennedy (9), P Curran (47).
REF - D Kirwan (Cork)
ATTENDANCE - 28,532