A case of ‘if only’ and ‘it’s only’

THERE were two very different reactions in Limerick yesterday to this exciting opening round of the Allianz NHL.

‘If only’, reckoned Limerick captain TJ Ryan, making a solid return to full-back in the late absence of Stephen Lucey, referring to their failure to maintain a four-point lead they took into injury-time.

‘It’s only’, said Tipp manager Babs Keating, of the competition and of the time of year when competitive hurling is in its infancy.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t get the result,” said TJ. “We’d been winning every game [Limerick recently won the Waterford Crystal tournament and beat Cork in a challenge last weekend], and you can look at the fact that we’re still unbeaten. But that game was there for us today so we have to be disappointed. We hit some bad wides and there was slack marking for the goals. I suppose the positive is that we didn’t lose it, but we were in position to win. It gives us a few things to work on, for Galway next week.”

Limerick had 13 wides (Tipp hit seven), and several of those were scoreable, first half especially. They would have seen Limerick ahead by more than the 2-7 to 1-9 advantage they had at the break; costly, as pointed out by TJ.

The slack marking? Yes, but great credit must go also to Tipperary, in the creation of their two goals. The first arrived in the 32nd minute, when trailing 0-8 to 1-6, team captain Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady produced an outstanding cross-field pass to top-scoring Seamus Butler, who hammered home a cracker.

The second came two minutes into added time - game-changing substitute John Carroll grabbed a long Philly Maher free, laid off to the onrushing O’Grady and the game was tied.

“It’s only,” said Babs, dismissing the relevance of this game to the Munster championship meeting of the two teams later in the season. “To be honest, looking at the work Limerick have done so far, we didn’t come here expecting to win, or even to draw. But I’ll tell ye, the 14th of May is a different proposition, there will be no similarity between what we saw there and three months time, that will be championship hurling. We’re in the process of learning, eradicating the mistakes.

“We learned a good bit,” added Babs, “there were a few disappointments, but we had a lot of plusses, and we’ll take it from there. I’m glad some of the new lads played fairly well, especially our centre-back [Conor O’Mahony, three pointed 65’s embellishing a fine performance], covered the middle, but we still have a bit to learn. We have Eoin Kelly, Michael Webster, Hugh Moloney, Diarmuid Fitzgerald to come on; it’s not all bad news for the rest of the year.”

Not all bad news for Limerick manager Joe McKenna either. Limerick’s defence was solid until the two late lapses to concede the four-point lead, new wing-back Denis Moloney did well until the introduction of a fit-looking Carroll [“credit to trainer Brian Murray,” says Babs]; the O’Grady midfield duo, Donal and Paul, won their battle, forcing the replacement of their two opposite numbers, while wing-forward Mike O’Brien was a revelation, grabbing ball after ball in the air from a hapless Liam England.

Promising too was the emergence, finally, of Niall Moran and Andrew O’Shaughnessy as a duet. Yesterday they gelled, had a goal apiece in the first-half (Moran’s after a perfect pop-pass by O’Shaughnessy) and created several other good scores - notably one superb diagonal pass from Moran to Mark Keane leading to the best point of the match.

If Limerick can build on that, then with the return from injury of Donie Ryan and Stephen Lucey, return from sabbatical of the prematurely ‘retired’ Peter Lawlor (“we need him, might see him in the next few weeks,” said a hopeful TJ), return to form and fitness of Mark Foley, the continued rehabilitation of full-forward Brian Begley, who played the last half-hour yesterday, they will yet be the force this year predicted by several pundits.

“We made a few mistakes, a few poor shots, lapses in concentration in defence, and it cost us,” said manager McKenna, “but it’s February, we haven’t done a lot of hurling as yet, only under lights, which is very difficult. No matter what time of the year, there’s very little between Tipperary and Limerick. With Galway having lost to Antrim that’s going to make things more difficult for us next Sunday, but one game at a time, that’s all we can do.”

Scorers: Limerick: M. Keane 0-5 (all frees); A. O’Shaughnessy 1-2; N. Moran 1-0; M O’Brien 0-2; O. Moran 0-2 (0-1 free); D. O’Grady, B. Begley, N. Collins, D. Moloney, 0-1 each. Tipperary: S. Butler 1-7 (0-5 frees); G. O’Grady 1-1; C. O’Mahony 0-3 (all 65’s); B. Dunne 0-2; J. O’Brien 0-2.

LIMERICK: B. Murray; D. Reale, TJ Ryan (c), M. O’Riordan; O. Moran, B. Geary, D. Moloney; D. O’Grady, P. O’Grady; M. O’Brien, N. Collins, N. Moran; A. O’Shaughnessy, S. O’Connor, M. Keane.

Subs: M. Fitzgerald (Collins 35); B. Begley (O’Connor 39); W. Walsh (P. O’Grady inj. 70+3).

TIPPERARY: B. Cummins; D. Fanning, P. Maher, P. Curran; E. Corcoran, C. O’Mahony, L. England; E. Brislane, N. Curran; S. McGrath, C. Morrissey, G. O’Grady (c); S. Butler, J. O’Brien, B. Dunne.

Subs: D. McGrath (Corcoran inj. 35); J. Carroll (N. Curran 50); J. Woodlock (Brislane 51); P. Kelly (England 60); J. Enright (S. McGrath 70).

Referee: D. Murphy (Wexford). Good job.

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