This was a significant win for Limerick. I met Eamonn Grimes and Pat Hartigan before the game, both of them members of the last Limerick team to win a championship match in Semple Stadium and that was 1973 — we know what happened that year.
Both Eamonn and Pat were confident Limerick were about to break that Thurles bogey, they liked the cut of this team. How right they were. This was Limerick playing the Limerick way, good and strong, and direct. And, of course, the heart, the passion — that was there in abundance. Even among the supporters you could feel it and that carried out onto the pitch.
Nowhere was it better illustrated than in the full-back trio of Richie McCarthy (some game on Seamus Callanan), Tom Condon and Seamus Hickey and in the half-back line of Paudie O’Brien, Wayne McNamara and Gavin O’Mahony. They fought like tigers in defence.
They were prepared to inflict some pain, yes, but they were also prepared to suffer even more. What they were saying to Tipperary was this — okay, ye might score, but ye’ll earn it, every point.
I have to mention Shane Dowling’s contribution also. I don’t know how much ball he hit from play, but 1-9 from frees, every one of those a vital score. And of course the score he did get from play, that goal — probably the most vital score of the lot.
Donal O’Grady too I must mention, did a massive amount of work and came in with two huge points in the second half when Limerick really needed them.
Above them all though, I want to single out James Ryan. I don’t like to harp back to teams I was with, but when Garyspillane won the Limerick county title in 2005 James was only 17 — he was already a man then, a leading man, and that has never changed. He wasn’t the most skilful, but he had everything you want in a player, in a Limerick player especially — the heart, the hunger, the power, the passion. I’d say he covered every blade of grass in Semple Stadium.
Coming back to the Limerick style, I think much of the credit for that has to go to manager TJ Ryan. TJ — another man I know well from the Garyspillane days — was under enormous pressure for the last few months, since Donal O’Grady left the scene in bad circumstances, all of it very poorly handled by the Limerick County Board.
TJ, though, has handled himself well, stayed on, kept faith with Paul Beary as the coach and also has Limerickmen with him in Mark Lyons and Davy Clarke. Their reward was this win and now, another Munster final.
To Tipperary. I have to be critical here — this team has disappointed so much since 2010. All the talk around them, all the psychology — what they should do is take a leaf from Limerick’s book and go back to tradition. A lot of guys stepped forward yesterday but a few did not — they need to be stronger.
I’d criticise Eamon O’Shea also, and his selectors. They took off the wrong guys — what were James Barry and John O’Dwyer doing wrong? And what were Noel McGrath and Seamus Callanan doing right? I’m not knocking those players — some days it just doesn’t happen for you and this was one of those days for those lads yesterday. They should have been replaced, guys brought in who would help the likes of Bonner Maher and Gearóid Ryan up front.
Big questions are now being asked of this Tipp team and management, and rightly so; maybe they’ll answer them through the back door but they’re going to need changes.
Twice in the second half they went three points up on Limerick, yet failed to hold on. Not a good sign of a team. Makes for an exciting Munster final again though, with Limerick still involved.
A word on the Leinster games: from everything I heard, Galway were very lucky against Laois, which doesn’t augur well for them. I know Laois are improving but they can’t have improved that much since the league. Watch out for Wexford, an impressive win over Antrim.
Yesterday was about Limerick, though; I hope now this silences a few of the critics inside their own county.
Fair dues to their supporters also, who travelled in strength, but a few words of warning to them — 2013! Keep the feet on the ground.