Difficult to distinguish the winners from the losers here. Because the scoreboard told only half the story.
With both teams meeting again in Limerick in 13 days’ time, you couldn’t say Tipperary have half the job done.
Those Gaelic Grounds ghosts from last year, the nightmare of where, when and against whom their 2018 season went into freefall, can only be laid to rest there.
There was an eeriness to this game too and the Tipperary dressing room afterwards, perpetuated by the serious injuries sustained by Cathal Barrett and Patrick Maher.
The large 39,115 crowd in attendance, the considerable traffic tailbacks, harked back to when the Munster competition was knockout, yet both sets of supporters had reason to be merry when news came through from Ennis that Clare had denied Cork a Munster final spot.
The deluge of rain that stuck around for most of the first half also took away from the atmosphere the fans could create.
Those soaked Limerick followers populating the Town End had plenty to cheer as Tipperary strung together a series of early wides but their collective voice lessened as the half wore on and they were all but silenced following Seamus Callanan’s 38th-minute goal at the other end.
Callanan was a deserved man of the match for showing that his team could take the body blows of losing Barrett and Maher. It was he who provided the next score after Maher was stretchered off in first-half additional time and his goal followed two unanswered Limerick points.
Jason Forde too had been instrumental in keeping Tipperary eyes on the prize and his two second-half sideline cuts were sublime executions of skill.
For those who queried how Callanan and Forde can play alongside each other when both their favoured position is full-forward, here was another example that they can.
They mightn’t often play in the same line but their dexterity yet again made them relevant.
Without injured captain Declan Hannon, Limerick didn’t have a launchpad. Before his injury, Maher had impressed against Diarmaid Byrnes and too often it seemed Limerick were forced to go through the lines to clear them.
But then the relentlessness of the Tipperary forwards’ spoiling did play a part.
“When the team is sharp and you’re on the top of your toes and you’re moving and it’s linking up, those balls always go to hand,” reviewed John Kiely, “But give credit to Tipp, yeah, they put a lot of pressure on our ball retention back there and they put in some very good tackling back there.
And at times some of our handpasses weren’t as clean as they might need to be so it’s an area we need to work on now for the next two weeks.”
Tipperary led 0-12 to 0-8 at half-time, three-quarters of their scores from play, in contrast to Limerick who relied on Aaron Gillane for five of their points.
By the end, Gillane had 10 from placed balls and Tipperary, in picking up four second-half yellow cards, had mixed cynicism with mistimed tackles.
It’s a cocktail that hasn’t caught them yet but it was also evident in the opening day win over Cork.
“I think it was 16 to six (free count) there with about five minutes to go,” pointed out Liam Sheedy.
“In fairness to Seán (Cleere), it’s a tough job out there but we just felt maybe some of the ones that were borderline, we weren’t getting them. But that’s the nature of the game, it’s an area of our game that if we are to be in the business end of this All-Ireland series we will have to correct.”
Kiely, in contrast, argued Limerick could have earned even more frees.
“I suppose from where we were looking at it, yeah, we felt that there was a few got away from us, couple of lads clean through on goals, dragged down or pushed and whatnot but listen, it is what it is, we just have to move on, that’s it.”
But much more will have to come from Limerick in general play if they are to become the first Munster team since Tipperary in 2011 to back up an All-Ireland title with a Munster crown.
Tipperary’s return from play - 95 points of 125 in their four wins - needs little improving and their spread of scorers here - nine - was again noteworthy.
But when they digest this win, what it cost them in losing two of their men, and consider the fate of the team they vanquished is the same as theirs, they might wonder how much was it worth.
As rave music boomed from the Limerick dressing room afterwards, it hardly suggested they were too despondent. A second defeat of the summer, yes, but they can afford a third one on June 30 and their title defence remains alive.
A loss that didn’t count for much and for Tipperary a win that won’t register a whole pile either.
Scorers for Tipperary:
J. Forde (0-8, 4 frees, 2 sidelines); S. Callanan (1-4); Pádraic Maher, N. McGrath (1 free), J. McGrath (0-2 each); B. Maher, M. Breen, J. Morris, J. O’Dwyer (0-1 each).
Scorers for Limerick:
A. Gillane (0-12, 10 frees), T. Morrissey, D. Byrnes (2 65s) (0-3 each); S. Dowling, G. Mulcahy, C. Lynch (0-1 each).
B. Hogan; S. O’Brien, J. Barry, C. Barrett; B. Maher, Pádraic Maher, Ronan Maher; M. Breen, N. McGrath; J. Forde, J. O’Dwyer, Patrick Maher; J. Morris, S. Callanan (c), J. McGrath.
Subs for Tipperary:
A. Flynn for C. Barrett (inj 32); D. McCormack for Patrick Maher (inj 35+1); R. Byrne for M. Breen (47); M. Kehoe for J. Morris (62); W. Connors for J. McGrath (68).
N. Quaid; M. Casey, R. English, S. Finn; D. Byrnes, D. Morrissey, P. O’Loughlin; D. O’Donovan, W. O’Donoghue; S. Dowling, K. Hayes, T. Morrissey (c); A. Gillane, S. Flanagan, P. Casey.
Subs for Limerick:
G. Mulcahy for S. Flanagan (h-t); C. Boylan for S. Dowling (43); P. Ryan for P. Casey (52); C. Lynch for W. O’Donoghue (56); D. Reidy for K. Hayes (65).
S. Cleere (Kilkenny)
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