Last night in Thurles, William Maher’s relatively unheralded Tipperary U21 team dethroned the All-Ireland champions, and, in the process, secured passage to a first Munster final at this grade since 2013.
Factor in last Sunday’s minor and senior double at the Gaelic Grounds and it’s fair to say it’s been a pretty decent five days for the Premier County. Sure, no silverware was handed out on this occasion, but given the much-vaunted nature of the opposition – John Kiely’s Limerick team carried 12 players who featured in last year’s All-Ireland U21 final win – this win was just as sweet as the respective wins last weekend.
For Limerick, well, a bad week turned sour with this result. Following the seniors’ exit at this very venue last Saturday and the minors’ annihilation at the hands of Tipp the following day, there was a fair amount of pressure on the U21 class to deliver. That they were expected too, yet didn’t, is where the frustration is sure to lie.
In truth, the visitors never really settled into this semi-final contest. Despite leading at half-time 0-8 to 1-4, seven first-half wides and their reliance on free-taker Ronan Lynch to tally the bulk of their scores – the half-forward converted five frees in the opening period – gave a more accurate picture than the scoreline.
A Conor Lanigan goal chance early in the second period pointed to Tipperary’s determination to keep the pressure firmly applied and the underdogs returned in front following successive points from Lanigan and hard-working dual star Josh Keane.
Keane’s fourth point of the evening – this his first from play – was sandwiched by a Lynch dead ball and neat effort from centre-forward Barry Nash. Deadlocked for the seventh time, it was Tipperary who would make the decisive break in the final quarter, even if they were slow to establish daylight. Crucial here was the work-rate of the home defence with full-back Tom Fox particularly effective in keeping quite a Limerick attack in which senior Tom Morrissey was substituted.
Three of the next four scores went the way of the home outfit as sub Jason Ryan, lively half-forward Andrew Coffey and Mark Russell split the posts. Their economy in front of goal during this period lay in stark contrast to their opponents, with Barry Nash and Darragh O’Donovan both shooting wide from scoreable angles.
As he had done for most of the evening, Ronan Lynch provided the Limerick response; the Na Piarsaigh hurler struck over a monstrous free from his own ’65 to reduce the gap to the minimum (1-10 to 0-12). Ryan shot his second to put the gap back out to two and then arrived the game-changer. A Brian Hogan free into the Limerick danger area on 58 minutes broke to sub Ronan Teehan and his ground stroke flew past ‘keeper Eoghan McNamara, 2-11 to 0-12 now read the scoreline.
The visitors, though, weren’t prepared for their reign to end without due resistance offered and Darragh O’Donovan rattled Brian Hogan’s net as the clock ticked into the first of the three minutes of injury-time.
Indeed, O’Donovan was afforded a second goal chance in the subsequent action. On this occasion, the blue shirts moved quicker and his effort was blocked. Teehan brought his haul to 1-1 to settle nerves, with Lynch’s late, late free flying the wrong side of the crossbar from a Limerick perspective.
Earlier on in proceedings, two separate three-point bursts had the favourites 0-6 to 0-4 clear by the 27th minute; Seamus Flanagan and Pat Ryan, aside from Lynch, the only players in green shirts to find the target. A rare opening in the Limerick defence in the subsequent action allowed the home side pour through, Andrew Coffey drilling a low shot to the net after good work by Stephen Quirke and Conor Lanigan. The All-Ireland champions soaked up the goal and replied through Lynch (free) and Tom Morrissey to take control of the lead at the break. Their failure to push on, thereafter, ultimately, was their downfall.
R Lynch (0-9, 0-9 frees); D O’Donovan (1-0); P Ryan, B Nash, T Morrissey, S Flanagan (0-1 each).
A Coffey (1-2); R Teehan (1-1); J Keane (0-4, 0-3 frees); J Ryan, C Lanigan (0-2 each); M Russell (0-1).
B Hogan (Lorrha-Dorrha); P Maher (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), T Fox (Éire Óg Annacarty), D Sweeney (Kiladangan); J Shelly (Mullinahone), R Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), S Ryan (Sean Tracey’s); B McCarthy (Thurles Sarsfields), W Connors (Kiladangan); S Quirke (Moyle Rovers), B Heffernan (Nenagh Éire Óg), A Coffey (Nenagh Éire Óg); J Keane (Golden-Kilfeacle), C Lanigan (Thurles Sarsfields), M Russell (Lattin Cullen).
J Ryan (Toomevara) for Connors (47 mins); P Ryan (Newport) for Lanigan (47); R Teehan (Gortnahoe-Glengoole) for Keane (55); T Nolan (Drom & Inch) for McCarthy (58).
E McNamara (Doon); M Casey (Na Piarsaigh), R English (Doon), Sean Flanagan (Feohanagh); C Ryan (Pallagreen), C Lynch (Patrickswell), A La Touche Cosgrave (Monaleen); D O Donovan (Doon), P Ryan (Doon); R Lynch (Na Piarsaigh), B Nash (South Liberties), D Dempsey (Na Piarsaigh); P Casey (Na Piarsaigh), T Morrissey (Ahane), Seamus Flanagan (Feohanagh).
O O’Reilly (Kilmallock) for Casey (42 mins); L Lyons (Monaleen) for Morrissey (42); D Coleman (Doon) for Seamus Flanagan (44); J Quaid (Effin) for La Touche Cosgrave (57).
C McAllister (Cork).