A crowd of 3,224 is not what you expect for a first-round Munster SHL fixture on a cold and, at times, wet evening in mid-December. Then again, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill pre-season blowout.
In one corner, you had a county who had not lost a competitive fixture since June 17, their string of victories thereafter captured and documented in the yearbook and DVD which were on sale underneath the Mackey Stand before throw-in.
In the opposing corner, you had a county who had not played a competitive fixture since June 10 and were without a win since March 31. Ironically enough, that victory had come at the expense of the team they provided with a guard of honour to this evening.
The spoils, in the end, went to Liam Sheedy and Tipperary; the former enjoying his first win as Tipp manager in eight years, his players bridging an eight-month gap to the last occasion they came out on top. Eight was also the number of players on the Limerick team who started the All-Ireland final win.
Tipperary, heavily reliant on Seamus Callanan for scores and having not found the target from play until the 14th minute, led by 3-6 to 0-11 at the break. Their four-point advantage was eked out in the three minutes before half-time, the visitors to the Gaelic Grounds taking their hosts for an unanswered 2-1.
With Aaron Gillane and Colin Ryan both having swollen their personal tallies to 0-3 to move the hosts in front (0-9 to 1-5) for the first time on the half-hour mark, Tipperary fired back with Callanan taking advantage of a Dan Morrissey slip to register his second goal. The delivery for that score was provided by Dan McCormack and it was roles reversed in the ensuing passage of play as Callanan teed up the Borris-Ileigh man for a point.
On 34 minutes, Sheedy’s charges bagged their third goal, Jason Forde and Callanan putting Mark Kehoe clear, with the All-Ireland U21 winner duly obliging.
Unfortunately, this three-minute burst of scores and fairly fluent hurling which accompanied it was out of kilter with an opening half which produced 20 wides (11 to Limerick, nine to Tipperary).
The visitors kept up the pace upon the change of ends, a Callanan free followed by a Patrick Bonner Maher goal on 37 minutes which shoved the Premier men 4-7 to 0-11 ahead. Not since January of this year had John Kiely’s charges been hit for four or more goals.
The game continued to move away from the All-Ireland champions as another Callanan free and a point from debutant Colin English put nine between the sides.
David Reidy buried the sliotar past Brian Hogan at the end of a free-flowing move involving fellow half-forwards Gearoid Hegarty and Barry O’Connell to put a dent in their opponents’ lead. And while Gillane and O’Connell succeeded in paring the margin to five (4-10 to 1-15), four in a row from the blue and gold took them across the line.
Limerick peppered Hogan’s goal with shots at the end, but only one, from Gillane, found its way across the white paint.
Tipp back to winning ways, Limerick back motoring. Everyone, well almost everyone, left satisfied.
Scorers for Tipperary: S Callanan (2-8, 0-7 frees, 1-0 pen); P Maher, M Kehoe (1-0 each); R Maher, J Forde (0-2 each); C English, D McCormack (0-1 each).
Scorers for Limerick: A Gillane (1-8, 0-6 frees); D Reidy (1-3); C Ryan (0-3); B O’Connell (0-2); A La Touche Cosgrave (0-1).
TIPPERARY: B Hogan; S O’Brien, J Barry, D Maher; B Heffernan, S Kennedy, T Fox; M Breen, W Connors; C English, R Maher, D McCormack; J Forde, S Callanan, M Kehoe.
Subs: Patrick Maher for Kehoe (HT); J O’Dwyer for S O’Brien (49); J Morris for Breen (54); J Cahill for Connors (64); M McCarthy for Forde (65).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Finn, D Morrissey, W O’Meara; A La Touche Cosgrave, D Hannon, P O’Loughlin; C Lynch, C Ryan; B O’Connell, D Reidy, G Hegarty; G Mulcahy, A Gillane, P Ryan.
Subs: S Flanagan for Mulcahy (29 mins, inj); C Boylan for O’Connell (56); O O’Reilly for P Ryan, D Byrnes for Hannon (both 60).
Referee: R McGann (Clare).