On the other, he wasn’t prepared to discuss losing veteran Carton, who quit having not been used from the bench in the win over Laois.
“I’m only just going to comment on the guys inside in the dressing room. There’s 25 fellas inside who absolutely gave everything for Dublin today. And I’m just delighted for them.”
A bad week appeared to be taking a serious turn for the worse in the first half on Saturday when Limerick’s dominance was reflected on the scoreboard despite also hitting 10 wides. However, those misses proved costly as their half-time advantage — 1-8 to 0-7 — was obliterated thanks to nine Dublin scores without reply.
In a disappointing game, Paul Ryan’s marksmanship with 12 points, six from play, was a delight and either side of the break he scored six points in a row. David O’Callaghan’s 62nd-minute goal, when Limerick’s full-backs failed to negotiate a Shane Durkin pass, eventually put Dublin ahead although it was the courage shown by Liam Rushe and the endeavour of substitute Cian Boland and Ryan — who together scored their side’s last three points — that saw Dublin home.
“It’s been a tough week,” admitted Cunningham. “I’m absolutely delighted. It looked like the week going to continue like that in the first half being eight points down. But I thought the lads showed unbelievable character in the second half. The couple of scores before half-time were crucial in getting us back four points down.
“We were still there in the game. We got a bit of momentum early in the second half and we got some great scores. The lads showed great character to dig deep again. It’s knockout. It’s championship. It’s what it’s all about.”
Limerick had gone eight up — 1-8 to 0-3 — in the 27th minute. A minute earlier, David Breen claimed a ball against Rushe which he had no right to win, before smashing the ball to the net.
But it was Ryan’s steadiness that helped steer Dublin back into the game. “We seemed to be struggling early on,” Cunningham noted. “We took our time. We took a while to get our momentum. We would encourage the guys to use the ball, use the best ball that’s on.
“But I thought some of the scores Paul Ryan put over were absolutely magnificent. I think they were so good, it lifted the whole team. We all know what Paul Ryan is capable of. He’s been doing it for years. I was giving out to him for the one he missed before half-time, I thought it was a crucial one. But Paul Ryan is as good a striker as anyone. I think he showed that in the second half today, not just from frees but from play as well.”
Even at half-time, Limerick manager TJ Ryan wasn’t too downhearted with his team’s profligacy. “I was still happy. We had a four-point lead. You come out the second half and try and start well and get a point or two but they started way better and they got the scores. They seemed to be moving that bit better at the start of the second half. You probably have to say Dublin finished the stronger.”
The losing of this game for Limerick may have originated in the first half but then they mustered just one point from play in the last 15 minutes. The fielding of Rushe was a sight to behold in the closing stages, as he mopped up ball from all across Dublin’s 45 metre line.
“I thought Liam Rushe was phenomenal in the last 10 minutes when we needed it,” Cunningham gushed.
“We caught some brilliant ball and he showed phenomenal leadership there. Liam Rushe can play in a number of positions but his performance, in the (last) quarter especially, was fantastic.”
Cian O’Callaghan was a late change for Dublin with a virus but will be an option for Dublin’s quarter-final. Cunningham reported Peter Kelly and Niall McMorrow could also be in the selection shake-up.
P Ryan (0-12, 6 frees); D O’Callaghan (1-0); D Plunkett (0-2); R O’Dwyer, M Schutte, C Boland (0-1 each).
S Tobin (0-6, 5 frees); S Dowling (0-4, 2 65s, 2 frees); D Breen (1-0); D Hannon (1 sideline), G Mulcahy (0-2 each); P O’Brien, K Downes (0-1 each).
S Tobin for S Dowling, D Morrissey for W McNamara (43); D O’Grady for D Breen (55); D Reidy for D Hannon (65); C King for P Browne (70).
J Boland for N Corcoran (inj 50); C Boland for C Keaney (58); D Treacy for M Schutte (65).
C Crummey (70+1).
C McAllister (Cork).
Paul Ryan’s injury-time score gave Dublin that two-point cushion in the closing stages.
A lot of poor hurling played in greasy conditions not helped by the palpable tension.
Seanie Tobin, a second half substitute, ended up Limerick’s top scorer. It said much about the lack of potency of the starting Limerick forwards.
Even if his fellow starting inside forwards had rough evenings, Paul Ryan thrived playing off the half-forwards. Dropping back Johnny McCaffrey as an auxiliary centre-back to Liam Rushe wasn’t so successful early on but it eventually worked.
Richie McCarthy didn’t deserve to be on a losing team given his display in clearing his lines. But Paul Ryan’s radar was stunning.
TJ Ryan was right: it did appear Limerick had to earn their frees more than Dublin. Cathal McAllister wasn’t why Limerick lost though. Those first half wides cost so dearly.
Dublin could be back in Thurles for their All-Ireland quarter-final on Sunday week, July 26. Limerick face an eight-month wait until Division 1B of the Allianz League.