By Noel Dundon at Semple Stadium, Thurles
Tipperary’s senior hurlers have perhaps played their seasons ‘get out of jail card’ to overcome visitors Limerick in Semple Stadium on Sunday after Declan Ryan’s men came from seven down to win by four in a highly entertaining and competitive encounter in the Munster quarter final.
The Premier lads outscored Limerick by 1-11 to 0-3 in the last quarter and therein lay the key to a victory which will stand Tipperary in good stead when they come to travel south to face Cork in the semi-final clash in June.
Of course, Tipp’s surge also coincided with the return to the fold of Lorrha’s Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher who was highly influential in the outcome of the match. The energetic attacker asked questions of the Limerick defence which remained unasked until his introduction, and as well as gaining a number of assists for his endeavour, he was also fouled on a number of occasions as he headed goalward – referee Barry Kelly (Westmeath) on more than one occasion failed to acknowledge this.
If Bonner was the man in attack, unquestionably Conor O’Mahony was the rock in defence.
The Newport man had one of his finest games in the Tipp jersey and hurled out of skin, especially when the ships hull seemed to be breached. But, Mahony shored things up and swept the lines with growing authority to lay the foundation to Tipp’s victory.
So, the championship finally arrived for Tipp and just in the nick of time too. The brilliant sunshine brought a real air of summer and with the ground firm and fast, it was certainly a case of game on. Yes, it was a fantastic commencement to the Munster championship and with all the ducks lined up in a row, all that was needed now was a great game.
Limerick were predicted to come at Tipp with ferocious intensity and all the indications were that this game would be extremely competitive and hard hitting. It was just the kind of game Tipp needed for the start of the championship and the Shannonsiders would certainly test their mettle to the full.
They did just that and can probably count themselves unlucky to have come up just short in the final analysis – their huge appetite for work possibly resulting in them burning up with the end line in view.
A crowd of 22,068 had watched Limerick dictate the pace of the game early on as they raced into a commanding 0-5 to 0-2 lead by the end of the first quarter – debutant Shane Dowling getting all their scores with two coming from play.
You would have gotten fairly decent odds on Thomas Stapleton being Tipp’s first championship scorer of the season but his long range effort in the 4th proved to be just that, before Pa Bourke opened his account in the 13th.
Limerick were hitting Tipp hard; hunting in packs; and attacking with real flair. Tipp were adopting the long ball strategy and it was yielding little with the attacking division finding the opposition rearguard a resilient and stubborn lot.
Brian O’Meara did find a score, and a good one at that in the 16th, but Sean Tobin cancelled it after catching a high ball and firing over.
However, sluggish and all as Tipp were, they were back on terms in the 18th when Pa Bourke fired brilliantly to the net after Eoin Kelly and Brian O’Meara combined to set the Sars’ man up.
Limerick were undeterred and Conor Allis and Kevin Downes found their range as did Noel McGrath for Tipp. Brendan Cummins dived to the left to beat away a Graeme Mulcahy effort in the 25th and just when it seemed as though the danger had passed, Mulcahy found himself in possession again, and this time made no mistake as he blasted past the custodian to fire John Allen’s men back in front.
Tipp were enjoying little success at midfield and it was James Woodlock who was called ashore as Shane McGrath was sent into the fray. The freshening up worked to a degree with Tipp managing scores from Brian O’Meara, Pa Bourke, Eoin Kelly and Noel McGrath to draw level with half time approaching.
But, the Limerick lads had the initiative at the break thanks to a Sean Tobin point from a tight angle and while their 1-9 to 1-8 advantage was slight, it did give them a psychological advantage which Manager John Allen would work on in the dressingroom.
On the face of it, Tipp were in a good position at the half way mark. A point down having played into a strong breeze; Limerick having done most of the hurling; the Premier engine still to ignite fully. It had been like this too against Cork in first half of the league semi-final and the Rebels went on to win – Tipp needed to ensure the same thing didn’t happen if they were to set up another date with Jimmy Barry Murphy’s men. As it turned out, we saw the two Tipperary’s in the second half – the over-powered, and the over-powering.
Whatever was in Limerick’s tea at the break it worked a treat because they went for the kill as soon as the ball was thrown in. Six points without reply saw them seven up and full of fizz as Kevin Downes, Shane Dowling, David Breen, Graeme Mulcahy, Sean Tobin and Conor Allis did the damage.
Tipp were in disarray and the management reacted with three substitutions in nine minutes – Patrick Maher, Conor O’Brien and Seamus Callanan getting the call in place of Eoin Kelly, Donagh Maher and Gearoid Ryan. They made a difference and slowly but surely, Tipp began to get a grip. Had Limerick shot their bolt too soon?
Conor O’Mahony threw off the shackles and hurled with the kind of abandon only previously seen in sporadic bursts. The Newport man had a fantastic second half and held Tipp together when Limerick threatened to run riot. Still, Tipp had a big deficit to make up and much work to do.
Pa Bourke pointed the way with two scores to ignite the fuse. Noel McGrath, Bourke and Shane McGrath reduced it to a goal, before John O’Brien fired over on the turn.
Seamus Callanan saw a goal chance beaten away by Nickie Quaid in the 27th and at the other end Sean Tobin shoved Limerick three up again.
Patrick Maher’s energy and nuisance value was really showing now and he was fouled to allow Bourke add another Tipp point. Then, ‘Bonner’ ran at the Limerick defence in the 29th and when the ball broke to Brian O’Meara, the Kilruane MacDonagh grabbed his first championship goal in the blue and gold jersey – and a more important one he will hardly score.
Tipp were in the front for the first time and had their tails up.
Pa Bourke and sub Declan Hannon exchanged scores, but Tipp saw the game out with Conor O’Brien, Seamus Callanan, Shane Bourke and Callanan again securing the win against a late Dowling point for Limerick.
Questions will be asked of Limerick’s conditioning following their capitulation especially with departed selector Ciaran Carey having expressed reservations about it. There were also issues in the league division 1 final against Clare. However, deeper analysis of Sunday’s game reveals that Tipperary’s final flourish was founded on having a strong bench to call from.
All, bar Patrick Maher scored, and Bonner’s contribution was quite significant – Conor O’Brien had a rare white flag and received a big cheer for his effort. The subs certainly worked for Tipp and the management can take a bow for this.
There will, however, be concerns at having allowed Limerick to get well into the driving seat – such similar accommodation could prove fatal as the season progresses. Tipp got away with on Sunday, but have been warned.
Limerick will take consolation in their performance but will be most disappointed with having relinquished a big lead once again.
The game will stand to them as they head into the qualifiers but they will perhaps have concerns about their fading tendencies in the crucial final stages.
Perhaps this is a mental thing and an indication of a lack of real self belief. If it is, John Allen has some work to do.
Limerick will point to the performances of Shane Dowling, Conor Allis, David Breen, Richie McCarthy and James Ryan while Donal O’Grady hurled very solidly for 55 minutes.
Footnote: Tipp star attacker Eoin Kelly looked somewhat out of sorts on Sunday having become a father for the first time during last week.
The new arrival has commanded most of Eoin’s attention these last few days– his spring in the step was perhaps dulled by the those late night feeding sessions.
The hope from a Tipp perspective is that the new Kelly family will get to meet Liam McCarthy in Mullinahone later in the year.
Congrats to Mam and Dad.