Super subs lead late charge as Treaty muzzle Tipp's top dogs
Limerick 1-18 Tipperary 1-15
FORTY-FIVE minutes after the end of a fascinating contest in the baking summer sun, hundreds of Limerick supporters were still on the pitch in the Gaelic Grounds, savouring a marvellous occasion which provided hurling in the county with its biggest boost for years.
Thousands of others had fanned out across the city to begin celebrating a victory that only the most optimistic Limerick person could possibly have envisaged. This, after all, was Division 1A against 1B, reigning Munster champions against a county without a win in the provincial championship for six years, a team full of confidence against opposition which had taken some heavy hits in recent years.
Everything pointed to a Tipperary triumph. Everything, that is, except a Limerick team that made a heartfelt appeal to their emotions and were rewarded with a stirring response which lifted them high above the mediocrity that bedevilled them for so long.
They achieved it through an impressive combination of good technique, hard work and solid organisational structure which proved too much for Tipperary. Most of all, Limerick's inspiring success was down to their refusal to accept their perceived role as compliant underdogs who would bark for a time before having muzzles fitted.
Instead, they buried their teeth deep into Tipperary's confidence reserves, biting off large chunks. Ultimately, they outfought Tipperary in the air and ground wars, driving on relentlessly in 24 degrees of heat to book a place against Cork or Clare in the Munster final on July 14.
Thirteen months ago, Limerick led Tipperary by seven points at the three-quarter stage of the Munster quarter-final but lost direction on the home stretch and ended up losing by four points.
Yesterday, Limerick trailed by four points after 50 minutes but readjusted their focus so successfully that they managed to outscore Tipperary by 0-9 to 0-2 from there to the finish.
The final 20 minutes were the best Limerick have produced for a very long time. Trailing by 1-13 to 1-9 after John O'Dwyer goaled for Tipperary in the 49th minute, Limerick were facing the ultimate test of their character, resolve and stamina.
They had led all way to the 48th minute but with O'Dwyer – an impressive half-time replacement for Shane Bourke – helping himself to 1-3 in 14 minutes, it looked odds-on that Tipperary would power on with no great difficulty.
Instead, it was Limerick who raised their game, scoring five points in five minutes, interrupted only once when Eoin Kelly countered with a point. John Allen's re-energised troops quickly made it clear that they were an altogether different proposition to the side that capitulated against Tipperary last year.
They were back level after 57 minutes and when sub Shane Dowling hoisted a pointed free from well inside his own half in the 63rd minute to restore the lead, Limerick supporters began to sense that something special was about to unfold.
And so it proved. Limerick added three more points while Tipperary's sole response was a pointed free from Kelly, their only score in the final quarter. It was as close to a complete shut-out that Tipperary have experienced for a long time and leaves Eamon O'Shea and his support crew facing serious reassessment work as they attempt to relaunch their All-Ireland bid through the qualifiers.
The first area of investigation will centre on how Tipperary were overpowered physically for long stretches. Man for man, Limerick looked no bigger than their rivals but they still managed to win many of the personal duels.
Basically, Limerick were willing to put in as much work as required in order to make things happen while Tipperary played like a team that expected their role as short-odds favourites to steer them to victory. That contrast in work ethic was crucial on a day when Tipperary's six starting forwards, which did not include Jason Forde who had to withdraw due to a stomach bug, scored only five points between them from open play.
Tipperary looked as if they might get away with it when O'Dwyer's intervention yielded such a high return but the extent of their problems in attack were further underlined in the run-in when the Limerick defence were dominant.
Richie McCarthy and Wayne McNamara were imposingly solid down the centre of Limerick's defence, while behind them Nicky Quaid made two exceptional saves from Seamus Callanan and Pa Bourke in the first half. Callanan had another goal chance too but shot wide.
Limerick, who led by 1-7 to 0-7 at half-time, had a few goal chances too, managing to take one when Sean Tobin whipped the ball to the net in the 19th minute. That goal put Limerick five points clear, leaving Tipperary facing up to the reality that it was going to be an extremely difficult day.
Still, when they outscored Limerick by 1-6 to 0-2 in the opening 14 minutes of the second half, they would have thought that it was business as usual, especially since teams who have played at a higher level in the league tend to press on more than rivals who haven't experienced the same level of intensity in the spring campaign.
Not this time. Individually and collectively, Limerick raised their game and, unlike last year when their bench carried no real power, the subs made a telling contribution this time. Dowling and Niall Moran were especially effective and with Donal O'Grady continuing to be the dominant presence around midfield, Limerick's self-belief grew into an unstoppable force.
Tipperary replaced their two midfielders and three forwards in the second half in an attempt to increase the strike rate but, apart from the O'Dwyer burst, little progress was made against the close-knit Limerick defence.
The big challenge for Limerick now is to build on this success while Tipperary are facing a repeat of 2010 when they had to re-route their All-Ireland bid via the qualifiers.
It turned into a successful adventure three years ago, ending with an All-Ireland win but if they are to repeat the recovery this year, they will need to be a whole lot more driven than they were yesterday.
For while Limerick hurled very well in all but the third quarter, it was difficult to escape the suspicion that deep down Tipperary believed they could always turn things their way as required. Their pedigree and rating supported that view but it wasn't backed up by the necessary competitive hardness when Limerick really put it up to them.
Scorers – Limerick: D Hannon 0-9 (6fs, 1'65'), S Tobin 1-1, D O'Grady 0-3, S Dowling 0-2 (1f), J Ryan, D Breen, N Moran 0-1 each.
Tipperary: J O'Dwyer 1-3, S Callanan 0-4 (4fs), J O'Brien 0-3, E Kelly 0-2 (1f), P Bourke, B Maher, N McGrath 0-1 each.
Limerick – N Quaid 8; S Walsh 7, R McCarthy 9, T Condon 8; P O'Brien 7, W McNamara 8, G O'Mahony 7; P Browne 6, D O'Grady 8; D Breen 6, J Ryan 7, S Hickey 6; G Mulcahy 6, D Hannon 8, S Tobin 8. Subs: C Allis 6 for Breen (41), S Dowling 7 for Hickey (48), N Moran 7 for Tobin (61), C King for Browne (65), K Downes for Ryan (68).
Tipperary – B Cummins 7; P Stapleton 8, P Curran 6, M Cahill 8; K Bergin, 6 C O'Mahony 6, Padraic Maher 7; B Maher 6, S McGrath 5; P Bourke 5, Patrick Maher 5, J O'Brien 7; S Bourke 5, S Callanan 5, N McGrath 6. Subs: J O'Dwyer 8 for S Bourke (ht), E Kelly 7 for P Bourke (45), B O'Meara 5 for Callanan (49), C O'Brien for S McGrath (63), L Corbett for B Maher (67).
Ref – B Gavin (Offaly)