Tipperary and Limerick approached this Munster SFC quarter-final from opposite ends of the spectrum, Tipp with the boon of promotion and Limerick with the calamity of relegation.
But in the intense heat of a championship battle, springtime form proved illusory. Limerick’s players have stored up plenty experience of summer football and that proved of immeasurable value in enabling them to stave off Tipperary’s burgeoning side, whose late charge failed to alter the result.
Limerick embarked on a white-knuckle ride to success, which tested the nerves of their supporters in the crowd of 4,673. For the opening half hour they could do no wrong. They totted up 1-6 on the scoreboard, kept Tipperary’s digits at nought and held a singular dominance all over the pitch. And yet when it came to the business of handing out the winning garlands, they were a rickety force, clinging to a 1-10 to 1-9 advantage deep in injury-time and exhaling a huge gale of relief when substitute Kieran O’Callaghan nailed a ‘45 in the 73rd minute that sealed success. The Tipperary camp were an anguished group at the final whistle. They were full of hope and optimism entering this match after league heroics, yet stumbled their way through the opening stages. Within two minutes Limerick registered a goal that was messy in its concession and execution. Pádraig Browne dispossessed Brian Fox near the Tipperary goal and the ball fell to Ian Ryan whose scuffed shot still squirmed into the net. Limerick drove on from there in a determined mood with Ryan kicking a free and impressive corner-forward Ger Collins banged over three points inside the first 10 minutes.
An ample seven-point lead was in Limerick’s possession, but what was more informative was how they were thriving in all critical sectors. They shuffled their cards from the start, Stephen Lucey going to centre-back, Stephen Lavin switching to the wing and Pádraig Browne moving up to wing-forward. All those moves paid off and they were complemented by the serious foothold Limerick gained in the middle of the pitch. John Galvin and Jim O’Donovan lorded the kickouts, and anytime the ball broke Limerick ate up the breaks.
Tipperary’s handling was sloppy and they could not find clear passages against a Limerick defence for whom Shane Gallagher and Mark O’Riordan played with authority.
Barry Grogan did finally get Tipperary off the mark with a 32nd minute free, but a run of points by Collins, Ryan, Pa Ranahan and Cormac Joyce-Power left Limerick 10 points clear. Before half-time Tipperary got a glimmer of hope, Grogan staying calm to wriggle past Johnny McCarthy and when he played it across, Brian Coen was there to palm to the net.
Integral to Tipp’s second-half recovery was sending Kevin Mulryan into action, as the JK Brackens man used his height to disrupt Limerick’s midfield dominance. They received a vital early scoring boost through points from Coen (2) and Grogan, and with the margin down to four, the home support grew.
Paddy Codd and Robbie Costigan attacked the ball at will in defence, while Hugh Coghlan gave a rousing display from centre-back. In attack Sean Carey and Brian Mulvihill began to feed on the scraps from the midfield battle and the play started to flow in one direction. Coghlan struck a beautiful point in the 47th minute and then substitute Aidan Fitzgerald scored to leave them 1-8 to 1-6 adrift.
Limerick were listing but were bailed out in the 55th minute when Stephen Lucey strode upfield to point. That failed to deter Tipperary but a lack of thrust in front of goal and some dubious calls by referee Gearóid O Conámha inhibited their challenge.
Grogan clipped over free, but an outstanding score by Joyce-Power left Limerick 1-10 to 1-7 ahead with time dwindling on the clock. Tipperary came with one last surge, a Grogan free and a Mulvihill point sustaining their visions of victory. But parity proved beyond them and O’Callaghan’s late point dashed their hopes.
Scorers for Limerick: I Ryan 1-2 (0-2f), G Collins 0-4 (0-2f), C Joyce-Power 0-2, P Ranahan, S Lucey, K O’Callaghan (0-1 ‘45) 0-1 each.
Tipperary: B Coen 1-2, B Grogan 0-4 (0-4f), H Coghlan, A Fitzgerald, B Mulvihill 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: S Kiely; J McCarthy, M O’Riordan, S Gallagher; S Lavin, S Lucey, P Ranahan; J O’Donovan, J Galvin; P Browne, I Ryan, S Buckley; C Joyce-Power, J Stokes, G Collins.
Subs: K O’Callaghan for Stokes (42), D Phelan for Buckley (49), L O’Dwyer for Ranahan (60), B O’Brien for O’Donovan (60), T Cahill for Joyce-Power (70).
TIPPERARY: P Fitzgerald; C Morrissey, R Costigan, P Codd; C Aylward, H Coghlan, B Fox; G Hannigan, B Jones; S Carey, P Austin, B Mulvihill; J Tierney, B Coen, B Grogan.
Subs: C Higgins for Morrissey (20), K Mulryan for Jones (31), A Fitzgerald for Tierney (41), D O’Brien for Austin (51), A Moloney for Coen (blood) (55), Coen for Moloney (57).
Referee: Gearóid O’Conámha (Galway)