By Brian McDonnell at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick
Tipperary 1-16 Limerick 1-11
The Limerick under-21 hurlers were a hunted thing at the Gaelic Grounds on Wednesday night. Prior to the game they were made hot favourites to successfully defend their Munster title in this semi-final and in more breathless calculations the men and women on Shannonside were caught whispering about a potential All-Ireland title. Limerick however discounted Ken Hogan’s hard-working Tipperary team. A grave mistake.
In horrible conditions Tipperary wrestled the initiative away from Limerick and set the tone in a semi-final, while at times disappointing in terms of quality, defined by the honesty and application of the men draped in the blue and gold.
This semi-final was not about aesthetics. It was about application, honesty and endeavour.
And, it was about a battle that Tipperary won hands down against a Limerick team featuring eight of their much-vaunted senior panel.
Tipperary faced a stiff breeze in the second half while nursing a slender two-point lead. Tipp however completely proceeded to completely dominate the middle third of the field and surged seven points clear before a a reasonably fortunate Shane Dowling goal in the 61st minute left a slight stain on an otherwise outstanding defensive performance.
Centre-back Willie Ryan was absolutely immense as was full-back Andrew Ryan - these guys proved key in restricting Limerick to just three measly points from play. Templederry’s Brian Stapleton, especially his reading of the game, caught the eye at right wing-back, Niall O’Meara foraged relentlessly at midfield while wing-forward Denis Maher scored 1-3 from play. Seán Curran provided the penetration at centre-forward and Liam McGrath emerged as a real threat in the second half while Killenaule’s John O’Dwyer, given the greasy conditions, was exceptional from placed balls.
The favourites tag was fastened to the Limerick lads despite the 2009 Tipp minors handing this very bunch a 1-21 to 0-11 defeat. Tipperary drew energy from that affront however and raced into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead inside the opening nine minutes.
Two John O’Dwyer frees got Tipperary, who were playing with a very strong breeze, off the mark while a smashing Denis Maher point from distance forced the Premier three points clear. Shane Dowling (free) responded, but Tipperary were flying and in the ninth minute Denis Maher struck for a three-pointer - the Thurles man had Seán Curran to thank for a clever pass before Maher rifled a terrific right-hand shot into the roof of Aaron Murphy’s net.
To their credit Limerick responded in determined fashion. In front of a vocal home crowd Limerick struck for three points - two Shane Dowling frees and a Kevin Downes effort - which closed the gap to two points by the 13th minute.
Unfortunately, Tipperary’s approach play in the opening half was defined by a determination to pump high balls into full-forward Cian Hogan, a tactic which failed to yield any substantial dividend.
Following a foul on Niall O’Meara in the 17th minute John O’Dwyer left three between the sides (1-4 to 0-4), but two more Shane Dowling frees cut the deficit between the sides to a single point by the 24th minute - 1-4 to 0-6.
Tipperary ‘keeper Paul Ryan then effected a fine reaction save to deny Limerick’s Mikey Ryan a goal after Shane Dowling’s free dropped short before another John O’Dwyer free helped the Premier into a two-point advantage.
Kevin Downes landed a Limerick point in the 28th minute and although yet another John O’Dwyer free helped Tipp into a 1-6 to 0-7 interval advantage supporters of the blue and gold were very concerned at the break. Tipperary had dominated the opening half, but fired 11 wides (Limerick three) and failed to make telling use of the breeze.
Ken Hogan’s men were much improved after the break however. The defensive effort was absolutely immense and Tipperary’s dominance of the dropping and breaking ball in the middle of the field really was something to behold.
Immediately after the break a Shane Dowling free dragged Limerick to within a single point of Tipperary. The Premier responded however in real style with points from Seán Curran, John O’Dwyer and Denis Maher forcing the 2010 Munster and All-Ireland champions into a 1-9 to 0-8 lead.
Then it was the turn to full-back Andrew Ryan to shine - in the 41st minute Kevin Downes was raiding, but the Toomevara star smothered a very real goal chance in expert fashion. A brilliant intervention.
Tipperary then struck for two outstanding points. First Liam McGrath took on the Limerick defence before passing to John O’Dwyer who in turn passed to Seán Curran who flashed over a lovely score in the 46th minute. Then, a minute later, Cian Hogan’s terrific turn and shot handed Tipp a 1-11 to 0-8 lead.
Limerick re-grouped with efforts from Niall Kennedy and Shane Dowling (’65) reducing the margin to four points by the 52nd minute, but the Shannonsiders didn’t deserve to find themselves within four points of a Tipperary team who had now fired 16 wides (Limerick seven).
Tipperary set about redressing the balance with a nice Jason Forde effort and a John O’Dwyer free which left six between them with 54 minutes played - 1-13 to 0-10.
A Shane Dowling ’65 reduced the deficit to five, but a brilliant Denis Maher point from long-range following a smartly-taken Willie Ryan in the 58th minute cancelled out that Dowling effort. And, A minute later John O’Dwyer’s free left seven between them (1-15 to 0-11).
On the hour mark Limerick plundered a goal their efforts hardly deserved when Shane Dowling pulled on a breaking ball following Rober Egan’s long-range free, but Tipperary had the last say in the matter two minutes into second half injury time when the rampaging Seán Curran fouled and the unerring John O’Dwyer did the needful.
Tipperary: Paul Ryan (Upperchurch-Drombane), Stephen Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), Andrew Ryan (Toomevara), Pa Ryan (Clonakenny), Brian Stapleton (Templederry Kenyons), Willie Ryan (Clonakenny), Justin Cahill (Kilruane MacDonagh’s), Niall O’Meara (Kilruane MacDonagh’s), Dan McCormack (Borris-Ileigh), Liam McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney, 0-1), Seán Curran (Mullinahone, 0-1), Denis Maher (Thurles Sarsfields, 1-3), Éanna Murray (Templederry Kenyons), Cian Hogan (Lorrha & Dorrha, 0-1), John O’Dwyer (Killenaule, captain, 0-9, 0-8 frees). Subs: (HT) Jason Forde (Silvermines, 0-1) for Éanna Murray, (58th) Aidan McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney) for Dan McCormack.
Limerick: Aaron Murphy, Alan Dempsey, Dan Morrissey, Stephen O’Reilly, Tom Ryan, Declan Hannon, Robert Egan, Shane Kenny, Seánie O’Brien, Shane Dowling (1-8, 0-6 frees, 0-2 ‘65s), Niall Kennedy (0-1), Mark Carmody, Mikey Ryan, Kevin Downes (0-2), Willie Griffin. Subs: (29th) John Fitzgibbon for Willie Griffin (40th) Robert O’Donnell for Seánie O’Brien, (47th) Mark O’Connell for Shane Kenny, (55th) Adrian Breen for Mark Carmody.
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford).