By Brendan Larkin
INCREDIBLE scenes seldom if ever seen at the famed Semple Stadium greeted the final whistle at the end of last night’s enthralling Munster under-21 hurling championship final replay.
Limerick emerged winners and in the process created history by winning their third title in a row.
For Tipperary, there is little consolation for having being involved in a second magnificent hurling match in four days but they contributed enormously to a game that will go down in the annals of this particular competition as one of the greatest. The champions had many heroes, particularly in defence where goalkeeper Timmy Houlihan, Damien Reale, Michael Cahill, Eoin Foley and Paudie O’Dwyer stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Outfield, Niall Moran, Conor Fitzgerald, Kevin Tobin and Andrew O’Shaughnessy were magnificent but it would be hard to single out any particular player as they all played themselves to a standstill.
Tipperary’s Eoin Kelly, Dermot Gleeson, John Devane and Lar Corbett did all they could to pull this game out of the fire but, on a night of high drama, Limerick were worthy champions.
The Shannonsiders were forced to line out without regular full-back, Brian Carroll, and midfielder Michael O’Donnell, both of whom failed late fitness tests. But it mattered little.
The game was played in glorious sunshine and got off to a lively start when Eoin Brislane was yellow carded after 20 seconds. That incident set the scenes for a gripping contest that held the 17,505 attendance spellbound.
The teams levelled six times in the opening half and only once was there more than a point between them when Kevin Tobin slipped over Limerick’s seventh point to lead 0-7 to 0-5 after 25 minutes. Tipp moved to try and break the Limerick stranglehold on midfield where Peter Lawlor and Niall Moran were totally dominant, by bringing Lar Foley out, moving Eoin Kelly to right half forward and Brislane to right corner forward, and the sides were level for the sixth time just on half time after Kelly hit two points.
There was no let up in the intensity of the action on the changeover. As Limerick, without the injured Peter Lawlor, moved Eoin Foley to midfield. Tipp in turn replaced Kevin Mulryan with Colm Ryan and moved Eoin Brislane to full-forward where he set up a goal for MacDara Butler in the 39th minute.
Limerick were rocked by that goal and it go worse for them a minute later when John O’Brien billowed the net and, with Tipp in full cry, Donal Shelley tacked on a point to lead 2-8 to 0-9 after 40 minutes.
Sensing victory, Tipp went for the kill but Limerick’s defence with Reale and Cahill in particular outstanding, held firm before hitting back with three points in a row by Mark Keane.
It was now Tipp’s turn to soak the pressure as Limerick came forward in waves and Andrew O’Shaughnessy brought the best out of Tipp keeper Damien Young. While his contribution in terms of scores was little, Lar Corbett did magnificent work for Tipp in defence. A Mark Bourke point put the home side four points clear as the game entered injury time and Limerick’s chance of three in a row victories looked to have finally come to an end.
However, the old cliche that champions die hard was never more evident and amid incredible tension, Andrew O’Shaughnessy kicked home a goal before Kevin Tobin brought the house down with the equalising point to send the game to extra time. Too tired teams resumed in extra time and after they were level twice more, Limerick edged in front with points by Eoin Foley and Conor Fitzgerald to lead 1-18 to 2-13 at the end of the first period.
The second period was equally tense as Tipperary battled back but a resolute Limerick defence gave nothing away and Conor Fitzgerald’s point in the 77th minute was good enough to win any match.
Scorers for Limerick: M Keane 0-7 (0-6 frees); K Tobin, E Foley (0-2 frees) 0-4 each; A O’Shaughnessy 1-0; P Kirby, C Fitzgerald 0-2 each; N Moran 0-1.
Tipperary: E Kelly 0-6 (0-5 frees); E Brislane 0-3; M Butler, J O’Brien 1-0 each; D Shelley 0-2; P Morrissey, L Corbett, M Bourke 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: T. Houlihan; D. Reale, E. Mulcahy, M. Cahill; E. Foley, P. O’Dwyer, M. O’Brien; P. Lawlor, N. Moran; C. Fitzgerald, J. O’Brien, K. Tobin; A. O’Shaughnessy, P. Kirby, , M. Keane. Subs. R Hayes for Lawlor; P Tobin for Fitzgerald; C Fitzgerald for P Tobin.
TIPPERARY: D. Young; D. Gleeson, P. Curran, M. Maher; T. King, J. Devane, K. Mulryan; S. Maher, E. Brislane; D. Shelley, M. Butler, L. Corbett; E. Kelly, J. O’Brien, P. Morrissey. Subs. C Ryan for Mulryan, P Buckley for Brislane, M Bourke for S. Maher, S Mason for M Maher, C McGrath for P Morrissey, E Brislane for Buckley.
Referee: S McMahon (Clare).