A win, but no triumph. We gained the expected visa to Cork but not in anything like the generally predicted fashion. Kerry’s progress to a parallel clash with the Rebels hadn’t a lot of comfort, either.
Credit Tipp. for a fine recovery but debit the side for sinking into such serious arrears in the first place. It took wholesale use of the reserve bench to right our ship and deny Limerick what had all the look of a sensational result when they led by seven with about twice as many minutes remaining. The remedial moves by the favourites had a vital recruit in Patrick “Bonner” Maher and useful work from Conor O’Brien, Seamus Callanan and Shane Bourke as Tipp. doubled their tally in that battle against the odds.
It may be held that having trouble at home to Limerick is no great send off for the trip to Cork, but at least a degree of realism may have been gained by Sunday’s stressful experience. If it was felt that John Allen’s team did not require Tipp’s absolute best choice in all positions, that we had the luxury of resting one or two - like Shane McGrath and the thrusting “Bonner”, we went awful close to paying for the presumption. For quite a long time - up to O’Meara’s goal, the threat of a lost provincial title and of the indignity of Saturday duties, was all too real.
The wind factor was a big item on a scorching Stadium day, but Limerick defied it through the third quarter and beyond. To be one down at half time had not really seemed threatening. Limerick from the outset showed neither nerves nor hesitation through the field. Pa Bourke’s goal akin to his All-Ireland one, off an O’Meara pass eased the scoreboard out of its early deficit. Parity, though, didn’t last, as Limerick’s spirit was similarly rewarded by Graeme Mulcahy as the return off a brilliant Cummins stop, “Buggy” was by now emerging as a main attacking threat in a generally frustrated sextet. The pattern of a good early effort by the outsiders and a later fade out might have been anticipated at the break but it didn’t happen. Instead of Tipp. asserting their authority it was the lads in green who found form that drew roars of louder volume from their followers and had us looking at one another with deepening anxiety. Each one of the six Limerick forwards shared in building up their advantage to a level that presented Tipp. with a high hill to climb. Shane McGrath’s arrival for James Woodlock was clearly not enough of a revision of our forces. Taking off the iconic Eoin Kelly was the next call and bringing in “Bonner” the obvious alternative, though some felt there were one or two doing less than Eoin in the sector. The later summons for Callanan and Shane Bourke confirmed that view. All the newcomers, Conor O’Brien for Donagh Maher was a defensive change, did well right from their arrival and the nibbling away at the deficit began. Whether Limerick’s changes were as justified is another matter, certainly they didn’t pay dividend. Noel McGrath, a Pa Bourke free, Shane McGrath, John O’Brien had it down to two before Tobin retorted, things were still serious. After Pa’s next point came the crucial episode and the saving one. A typical head down “Bonner” push brought him in on goal. The ‘keeper advanced to swell the defending group. Would referee Kelly deem Maher to have over carried? Not so. The sliotar dribbled back through the struggling pack to be tapped home by the alert “Buggy”. The Tipp. shouts were of huge relief. The one-up position survived an exchange of points before the margin grew to a flattering four with Callanan and Bourke endorsing the wisdom of their appearances at the time of crisis. As come backs go it was a bit of an epic. It also had in the manner of the O’Meara goal, a welcome trace of sheer good luck. Quite a beginning to the Munster Championship in terms of tension and the possibility, maybe probability, of sensation.
The losers’ feat of pushing the holders to the brink of defeat won’t really console Limerick after getting into what at the time, looked a winning position. Yet they have to be admired for a bold effort that, had it succeeded, would have shattered many preconceptions. For most of the game their defending was both confident and capable with quick pouncing and rousing drives to clear and to set up attacks. Their forcing of so many changes in our initial attacking sector was a tribute to their work. They had won midfield hands down till Shane McGrath improved our share. Shane Dowling was from the start their most productive forward in making our rearguard quite uneasy. It is questionable whether Tobin or allies should have been called ashore after much fine play by both, or Mulcahy moved from the front line.
What of Tipp.? The championship atmosphere might have been expected to find us stepped up in pace and class after a modest League and to deal readily with a side that remains in the lower division and had lost Hickey in the build up to Sunday. Again, However, we could not find early control and conceded the initiative. Not too worrying in view of the wind direction but more than worrying when we had its aid. In advance, one had doubts about the midfield choice and the omission of “bonner” after he had played a couple of practice games quite well. Surely at this stage we know how effective the Lorrha player is among the ball players we have in fair numbers. He had a dramatic impact when introduced, taking on the defence like an individual “rolling maul”. Brian O’Meara was another to illustrate the part strength and drive plays.
Defending had its problems, too, with only Conor O’Mahoney at all consistent and steady, he rose to greater heights in the last quarter. For once, Padraig Maher was only intermittently involved until winning a few vital balls when the tide was turning. The withdrawal of Donagh Maher seems to throw the corner back spot into renewed uncertainty. The other backmen were under considerable pressure from the mobile Limerick attackers till the traffic began to flow towards Killinan and salvation became possible for the odds on favourites. No doubt Sunday’s displays will give the mentors food for deep thought vis-a-vis Cork. Lar Corbett’s return logically leads to a restored place. Competition will be intense among a range of candidates for a start on June 24th. The gulf in football’s pecking order was never evident in the tilt with Kerry. Tipp. succeeded in making the visitors rather ordinary and, on that showing, up against it with Cork. There was lots to admire in Tipp’s methodical approach and very much so in a fine defence which never let the favourites run riot. What a pity Coughlan’s rasper didn’t beat goalie Kealy, a goal would have posed Kerry a tougher question and electrified our support. Their display offers some encouragement for the qualifiers.
Late Leo Dooley
Sunday’s silent tribute to Leo Dooley was both sad and apt for the day, a double bill of Tipp. and Kerry victories. Leo was a talented all round sportsman. He lined out at full forward in hurling for the 1958 opener against Limerick and a full back for the footballers of 1960 against Kerry. With Roscrea he was both a goalkeeper and an outfielder. His ability did not stop at Gaelic games. He became a very capable golfer with an easy swing that reflected his amiable temperament, indeed he actually played golf for Tipperary in the now defunct intercounty championship. He was on many Senior Cup and Barton Shield teams for the Roscrea club. As a contemporary of his in a couple of those codes and having often enjoyed his pleasant company, I was more than sorry to learn of his decease.