Granted, that’s not exactly a prediction to make the bookies tremble. But after the punishment beating received by Wexford in Nowlan Park yesterday, and Tipperary’s double-digit win over Limerick, their conquerors for the last two years, you’d be inclined to see this September resembling last September in terms of participants.
Tipp boss Eamon O’Shea disagreed, unsurprisingly, but we’ll come back to that.
Tipperary were by far the better team for three-quarters of the proceedings yesterday in the Gaelic Grounds. The 31,488 in attendance saw a blue and gold side that were efficient, smooth and sharper than their opponents from the start as they qualified to meet Waterford in next month’s Munster final.
‘Sharper’ is usually a cliche, but here it denoted a Tipp side with deft movement up front which baffled their markers, and, more importantly, skills which held up better in yesterday’s crucible.
John O’Dwyer’s unerring accuracy from top of the right was a case in point. Clive James has a nice line about the marginal centrality of technique which was perfectly applicable to hurling yesterday, because even in the modern game of sweepers and seven-man defences, execution must be rigorous and exact.
Take Tipperary’s first goal. O’Dwyer had space in front of him nine minutes in, but he also had the wrists to relay the ball along the ground to Seamus Callanan. The Tipperary full-forward picked, turned and shot efficiently for the game’s first goal.
The second goal divided the attendance the way the English Civil War split the population between roundheads and cavaliers.
Richie McCarthy charged out to attack a lengthy Brendan Maher delivery the way brave full-backs are encouraged to do, but when it bounced past him to Callanan, you had a choice.
You closed your eyes if, in your heart, you’re a full-back, or your eyes widened in anticipation if, spiritually, you are an attacker. The Callanan finish was wicked and accurate, to nobody’s surprise.
From then ’til half-time, Tipp had Niall O’Meara making space for O’Dwyer and Callanan and, chipping in himself, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher charging at the Limerick rearguard, and Shane McGrath and James Woodlock driving forward to offer an outlet as well. Limerick were barely hanging on at the break, 2-12 to 0-11.
The solace, such as it is, came to Limerick in the third quarter. Cian Lynch, Shane Dowling and Donal O’Grady all had shots saved expertly by Darren Gleeson before Limerick won a penalty, which Dowling buried.
When the same player added a ‘65’ and then another free from his own 65, the home side were within a point, but they couldn’t close the gap.
Tipperary then harnessed the wind and tattooed 1-4 without reply, the goal a fine finish from Jason Forde. From then on it was only a question of the margin of victory, and Tipp weren’t flattered by a 16-point gap at the finish.
“I don’t know,” said Limerick boss TJ Ryan.
“After going three points up, we really didn’t play after that, and our intensity, our aggression, that wasn’t there. The second goal was a killer blow altogether because it was a ball that we had and could have cleared. You give goals to these boys and they’ll punish you.”
After the game, Tipp manager Eamon O’Shea was asked the question at the top of this piece.
“Last year we lost a game against Limerick and we ended up in the All-Ireland final. There’s nothing to stop Limerick being in the All-Ireland final and Tipperary being also-rans.
“It’s just another game in three weeks’ time and I still believe there are five or six teams... we’re playing a team in three weeks who are unbeaten this year. Unbeaten.
“Looking at Galway, they’re putting up 20-point wins every day. Looking around, I still believe there are five or six teams which can win the All-Ireland.
“I couldn’t say enough about Limerick and their approach to the game. They’ll be formidable opponents over the next three or four months.
“We got some breaks today. I’m not downplaying the fact that we hurled okay, but I’d think there are five or six teams.”
A fair assessment on all counts. O’Shea’s forwards will hog the headlines, but their defence - with Cathal Barrett missing and Paddy Stapleton replaced early - held Limerick to 1-16. In addition, Darren Gleeson’s puck-outs were terrific, and his triple save before the Limerick penalty testament to impressive focus.
O’Shea will be less impressed with taking 14 minutes of the second half to register a score, but his assessment of Limerick as formidable opponents was accurate. Formidable, yes, but a hammering like yesterday’s leaves scar tissue. Can TJ Ryan and his management rally their side?
Waterford have beaten Tipperary once already this season, but did they show a little too much in that league semi-final victory? And what does this series of one-sided hammerings, which didn’t start this past weekend, mean for the game in a broader sense?
We started with questions. We’ll end with them.
S. Dowling 1-7 (1-0 p, 0-2 65s, 0-3 fs); D. Hannon 0-3; G. Mulcahy 0-2; S. O’Brien, G. O’Mahony, D. Breen, D. O’Grady 0-1 each.
S. Callanan 2-5; J. O’Dwyer 0-7 (0-1 65); J. Forde 1-3; P. Maher 0-3, M. Breen 1-0; S. McGrath 0-2; N. O’Meara, S. Bourke, J. Woodlock 0-1 each.
B. Hennessy, S. Walsh, R. McCarthy, S. Hickey, T. Condon, G. O’Mahony, S. O’Brien, J. Ryan, P. O’Brien, D. Breen, D. Hannon, D. O’Grady ( c), S. Dowling, G. Mulcahy, C. Lynch.
P. Browne for Breen, HT; K. Downes for O’Grady, 50; J. Fitzgibbon and W. McNamara for P. O’Brien and McCarthy, 60; D. Reidy for Ryan, 66; M. Breen for Callanan, 70.
D. Gleeson, P. Stapleton, J. Barry, C. OBrien, K. Bergin, p. Maher, R. Maher, S. McGrath J. Woodlock, K. Bergin, B. Maher ( c), Patrick Maher, J. O’Dwyer, S. Callanan, N. O’Meara.
M. Cahill for P. Stapleton, 35; M. Breen for Callanan, (blood 53-61); S. Bourke for O’Meara and B. Maher for S. McGrath, both 66.
B. Gavin (Offaly).