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Tipp's grace under pressure produces late victory flourish

A HURLING diamond which, when polished by the context of history will glisten proudly alongside the most sparkling of its generation, was mined from Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.

A HURLING diamond which, when polished by the context of history will glisten proudly alongside the most sparkling of its generation, was mined from Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday by two sides who simply wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.

Their dynamism, skill, energy and sheer will on a day when the temperatures soared well above the comfort zone stand as a tribute to the players' utter resolve to land the Guinness Munster crown and advance to the All-Ireland semi-final on August 12. In the end, the trophy went to Tipperary, who had that little bit extra craft and experience when the furnace was at its hottest.

Whereas Limerick kept trying to seize the prize from the searing fire with their bare hands, Tipperary were more patient and ultimately managed to grab it with two quick snatches in the final five minutes.

Points from Brian O'Meara (68) and sub John O'Brien (69) proved the most priceless of all in a game which produced 36 scores.

As Limerick reflect on how their bid for Munster glory fell agonisingly short, they will look back ruefully on missed chances in the second half. They had taken Tipperary's best shots but were still standing tall and true as the game entered a critical phase in the final ten minutes.

Not only that, they had also built up an impressive momentum which looked as though it would peak in triumph but instead of pushing on and placing the Limerick flag on the summit, they lost their bearings.

Limerick missed a few easy chances at a time when the sides were level (2-14 to 1-17) with five minutes to go and they paid a heavy penalty as Tipperary steadied themselves before knocking over two great points which earned them their first Munster title since 1993. A year earlier, Tipperary had lost the Munster final to Cork by two points and now it was Limerick's turn to suffer similar heartbreak. In many ways, there were comparisons between Tipperary 2000 and Limerick 2001. Tipp were conceding priceless experience to Cork last year, just as Limerick had a seasoning deficit this year.

It showed at times too as wrong options were taken, principally when it came to shooting. A mixture of haste and eagerness prompted Limerick to shoot on sight, even when being smothered by Tipperary's defensive blanket.

Quite often the Limerick player in possession had a colleague in a better-placed position but didn't unload the ball, choosing instead to fire under pressure.

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For all that, Limerick can begin preparations for the All-Ireland quarter-final on July 29 with genuine hope that their season still has plenty of exciting twists ahead. They matched Tipperary in many of the game's more important facets and are certain to gain from yesterday's experience.

Tipperary set Limerick a test which many thought was beyond Eamonn Cregan's squad but they have swatted diligently since being hammered by Clare in the National League in April and came very close to getting all the answers right. Tipperary have moved up a notch too from their Munster semi-final win over Clare and are now a very formidable unit who are certain to have a major influence on the destination of the McCarthy Cup.

Early on, it looked as if they would blow Limerick into oblivion as they raced into a 0-6 to 0-2 lead after nine breathtaking minutes. With the exception of Eoin Kelly, all the Tipperary forwards had scored while midfielder Tommy Dunne had also chipped in with a point.

It was Limerick's first real crisis and they responded superbly, scoring 1-3 in the next four minutes, the goal coming from excellent championship debutant Sean O'Connor in the 13th minute.

And so it went. Limerick's two-point lead had turned into a three-point deficit by the 19th minute after Tipperary had scored 1-2. Declan Ryan's 16th minute goal was followed by another from Lar Corbett in the 22nd minute to extend the lead to five points which was wiped out by a Limerick surge before half-time. It was level (Tipperary 2-8 Limerick 1-11) at the break and while there were genuine fears that the pace would drop in the second half, quite the opposite happened. Tipperary switched Brian O'Meara to centre-forward and sent on Eugene O'Neill for Eddie Enright and it yielded immediate dividends with Tipp opening up a three point lead by the 46th minute.

They scored just a single point in the next 21 minutes, during which Limerick's survival instincts yielded four to bring them level and within touching distance of victory. However, Tipperary held their nerve and delivered a decisive finishing flourish.

While Limerick are understandably depressed this morning, they cannot deny that Tipperary deserved their victory. Tipp were marginally the more tidy when the exchanges were at their fiercest and with their key men responding at the most crucial times they nearly always looked the more likely to snatch victory. Their solidity started with goalkeeper Brendan Cummins, who is a model of organised authority. He brings great order to the goal area and also gets in some massive puck-outs and clearances which inspire his colleagues.

Philip Maher, Paul Ormonde and Eamonn Corcoran defended with an impressive mixture of defiance and method, while Paul Kelly hurled lots of ball around midfield. Eddie Enright started as if he was going to have a memorable day at centre-forward, whipping over two points in 15 minutes but faded subsequently and was replaced at half-time.

Brian O'Meara, who had an outstanding day, and Declan Ryan took the battle to Limerick all day while Lar Corbett and Mark O'Leary made sound contributions too, scoring 1-4 between them before being replaced in the final 12 minutes.

Limerick had several heroes too, not least left half-back Mark Foley, who produced a memorable exhibition of power, touch and intelligence, all of which was underpinned by a relentless zeal for hard work.

Timmy Houlihan, TJ Ryan, Ciarán Carey, Brian Geary, Ollie Moran, Sean O'Connor, Brian Begley and sub Damien Reale can also be pleased with their performances, if not the result.


SCORERS Tipperary: D Ryan, L Corbett 1-1 each, M O'Leary 0-3, E Enright 0-2, B O'Meara 0-2, E Kelly 0-2 (2f), T Dunne 0-2 (1f), P Kelly, E O'Neill, L Cahill 0-1 each. Limerick: S O'Connor 1-3, P O'Grady 0-5 (5f), M Foley 0-2, C Carey, M O'Brien, J Foley, O Moran, J Butler, B Begley, B Foley 0-1 each.

TIPPERARY B Cummins 9; T Costello 7, P Maher 8, P Ormonde 8; J Carroll 7, D Kennedy 8, E Corcoran 9; T Dunne 8, P Kelly 8; M O'Leary 8, E Enright 7, B O'Meara 9; E Kelly 8, D Ryan 8, L Corbett 8. Subs: E O'Neill 7 for Enright (ht), N Morris 7 for Carroll (50), J O'Brien (8) for Corbett (58), L Cahill for O'Leary (63). Booked: John Carroll (49); Paul Ormonde (54).

LIMERICK T Houlihan 8; S McDonagh 6, TJ Ryan 8, B Geary 8; C Smith 7, C Carey 8, M Foley 9; M O'Brien 7, J Foley 7; P O'Grady 8, O Moran 8, S O'Connor 9; J Butler 7, B Begley 8, B Foley 7. Subs: D Reale 8 for McDonagh (39), O O'Neill for Butler (52), M Keane for O'Neill (inj 60). Booked: Mark Foley (46); Damien Reale (58).

WIDES Tipperary 11, Limerick 13.

FREES Tipperary 8, Limerick 12.


REF P Horan (Offaly).

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