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Tipp claw their way to victory after epic battle

TIPPERARY 2-13 LIMERICK 0-18 (after extra time) DERMOT CROWE at the Gaelic Grounds WE looked poised for a third outing as Limerick bore down on Tipperary's goal in the final moments of extra time. History was on its side. Tipperary blew leads in the drawn match and they squandered another in normal time last night. Then, leading by a goal nearing the end of extra time, two scores from Donal O'Grady left them clinging on again.

Somehow they survived. The final whistle sounded and Limerick hurlers fell on the wet turf, the rays of bright sunshine breaking through an otherwise impregnable grey cover of little consolation to a team that had fought gallantly during 160 minutes of tense, nerve-wracking, if only sporadically sublime, hurling, but ultimately had little to show for it.

Tipperary lived on their nerves but improved greatly on the first day. Tommy Dunne came in at centre-forward and scored four points from play. The defence, Diarmuid Fitzgerald in particular, excelled once it stopped conceding needless frees and by the finish of normal time all of the Limerick half-forwards had been taken off. There the gains and losses were made.

Limerick had good spells but plenty poor ones too and in the final analysis their lack of forward punch told. Of the 18 points eight came from TJ Ryan placed balls. They also failed to score a goal. Tipperary had two at timely intervals, the first from the increasingly talismanic Ger Redser O'Grady which proved vital when the sides finished level, 1-11 to 0-14, at the end of normal time.

In the opening period of extra time Limerick regained the lead for the first time in 65 minutes, a stupendous stretch in a tight match, when Ryan sent over his sixth point from a free. But Evan Sweeney, just introduced, then raced through for a decisive second goal. On first sighting it looked as if he had taken a generous amount of steps, twice over, though the finish was emphatic.

Tipp turned over 2-13 to 0-16 ahead, Dunne scoring his fourth point from play in the process, but no one could bank on them to complete the job on recent evidence. It was an edgy finale with Limerick attacking from deep when raids closer to goal began to be snuffed out by a resolute opposing defence. Near the finish both Donal and Paul O'Grady had chances to level, unable to follow Donie Ryan's equaliser at the end of normal time.

Limerick, hoping for a semi-final against Clare in two weeks' time, had lost their way by the second half of normal time. Their growing concern was illustrated by a double substitution in the 48th minute, Pat Tobin and Sean O'Connor replacing Conor Fitzgerald and Andrew O'Shaughnessy. Niall Moran hadn't been influential either and soon joined the discarded, the entire half forward line liquidated.

Tipp started Eamonn Corcoran at corner-back, with Diarmuid Fitzgerald switching to the wing. With 50 minutes played they led 1-10 to 0-10 and with the greasy underfoot conditions and tight exchanges making scoring scarce, Limerick badly needed a fresh impetus. After nine scoreless minutes, they finally breached the blue and gold lines, though it took a free from Ryan, his sixth. Suddenly, there was momentum; Paul O'Grady popped over another from play. It was down to a point again.

Tipperary sensed the match swinging the other way so John Carroll made his grand return, having only been added to the panel during the week. He replaced the struggling Michael Webster 12 minutes from the end and five minutes from time fielded near goal but failed to finish.

Up stepped Tommy Dunne on whom obituaries are already penned with his third point from play; this was the best, a sweet strike from out on the sideline. It put two between them. Kevin Tobin, a sub, clipped one off the deficit for Limerick, the minimum between the sides again. Then, in injury time of normal time, Donie Ryan saved Limerick with a hard fought score.

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For much of the first half of normal time the better hurling came from Limerick yet, like the first day, they made hard work of making it count. At one point Niall Moran was steaming through, a point for the taking, but the dander was up and he over-indulged, putting the ball back on his stick, then shooting off the hurl wide.

Ger O'Grady's goal changed the course of the match though even if it wasn't one that rated highly on technique. Who cares. When the side needed someone to show leadership last weekend he stepped forward and in spite of not starting last night he repeated the feat. Introduced for John Devane in the 24th minute at a stage when the sides were level, 0-5 a piece, O'Grady poked the ball home in a goalmouth scramble, after Colin Morrissey's effort has been heroically blocked by a lunging Stephen Lucey.

That piece of drama came three minutes after O'Grady's arrival and before his entrance there were points from Tommy Dunne and Eoin Kelly to put some light between the teams.

Five points up, Tipperary lost concentration and in the time left before half time conceded three needless frees, each punished by TJ Ryan, leaving Limerick just 0-8 to 1-7 down at the break. Limerick were more promising until O'Grady's goal and led 0-3 to 0-1 after five minutes, with confident scores from Niall Moran and Andrew O'Shaughnessy rising the home crowd.

Paul O'Grady was much improved on the first and ran midfield, while Tipperary's defence took a while to settle, Eamonn Corcoran starting in the left corner in a swap with Paul Curran.

Diarmuid Fitzgerald, Webster and Dunne all started, with O'Grady added in the first half, and the Tipperary selectors made a medley of positional switches.

Limerick, the happier after the drawn match, kept the same side but Lucey played at full-back this time, the excellent Damien Reale in the corner on Eoin Kelly who didn't score from play until the 44th minute but never stopped fighting the Tipperary cause.

Amid all the changes, there were suggestions that, at one point during extra time, Tipperary actually had 16 players on the pitch for a short period of play.

SCORERS - Tipperary: E Kelly 0-7 (0-6 fs); G O'Grady, E Sweeney 1-0 each; T Dunne 0-4, P Kelly, L Corbett 0-1 each. Limerick: TJ Ryan 0-8 (all fs); D O'Grady 0-2; P Lawlor 0-1 (f); P O'Grady, C Fitzgerald, N Moran, A O'Shaughnessy, D Sheehan, K Tobin, D Ryan 0-1 each.

Limerick: T Houlihan; D Reale, S Lucey, M Foley; O Moran, B Geary, P Lawlor; P O'Grady, D O'Grady; C Fitzgerald, N Moran, A O'Shaughnessy; D Ryan, TJ Ryan, D Sheehan. Subs: P Tobin and S O'Connor for C Fitzgerald and A O'Shaughnessy (48 mins); K Tobin for N Moran (61); N Moran for O'Connor and O'Shaughnessy for K Tobin (78).

Tipperary: B Cummins; D Fitzgerald, P Maher, E Corcoran; D Fanning, D Kennedy, P Curran; P Kelly, B Dunne; C Morrissey, T Dunne, J Devane; E Kelly, M Webster, L Corbett. Subs: G O'Grady for Devane (24 mins); M O'Leary for Corbett (injured 44); J Carroll for Webster (58); C O'Mahoney for B Dunne (63); E Sweeney for O'Grady (70); F Devanney for O'Leary (80); P O'Brien for Carroll (85); P Morrissey for O'Mahoney (89).

Referee: A Mac Suibhne (Dublin).

Attendance: 20,812.


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