They were struggling for consistency all through the Munster minor round-robin, but Tipperary finally found it on the big day.
A team who had relied on goals in winning two games and losing two more, Tipperary finally put in the start-to-finish performance they craved.
They never topped 15 points in the group, but they had 20 in avenging their opening-round defeat to Limerick. The goal from Mikey O’Shea arrived in the 53rd minute and simply added gloss to an already impressive lead.
Johnny Ryan became the third Tipperary captain to lift the minor cup in four years – all three finals won by defeating Limerick.
“It feels amazing, especially after the last day in the Gaelic Grounds,” said Ryan.
“We were definitely up against it. It wasn’t as easy as the scoreline made it look. The Limerick lads really came at us but to get a victory like that was amazing for all of us.
Everyone gave it everything and that’s what we needed.
James Devanney’s eight points – the final difference between the sides – saw him named man-of-the-match but this was a victory founded on the defensive meanness of Ryan and his colleagues.
There were crucial hooks and blocks throughout as they conceded a mere 1-12 for the second game in a row.
Centre-back Fintan Purcell stopped two second-half shots on goal, while Aaron Browne was excellent in goal when called upon early and late.
Kevin Hayes, Conor Whelan and Conor O’Dwyer were utterly dominant in holding the Limerick full-forward line, and their replacements, scoreless until Bryan Nix’s late consolation goal – a seemingly innocuous shot which dipped into the net.
The Limerick danger-men were in the half-forward line but there too, they were relentlessly hit and spoiled. Sean Phelan even outscored his marker with two fine points.
In attack, Limerick struggled to handle the ever-dangerous Sean Hayes. After the Treaty scored the first two points, Hayes replied by winning the next three balls into the Tipp attack, scoring twice and being fouled for the other – one of those close-range shots a goal chance which bounced off the crossbar on its way over.
Beyond that, and two nervy moments from Bryan Heavey under the dropping ball, Tipp didn’t create as many goal chances as usual.
It was a tactical battle, too. Limerick stood Michael Keane in front of Hayes to try to stem the tide, however Devon Ryan dropped deep to clear ball for Tipperary as they mined nine of the next ten points after Limerick’s quick start.
Devanney led the way from play and frees, while Hayes and Cian O’Farrell continued to thrive under high ball. Ryan Renehan’s pointed sideline further embellished matters.
Cathal O’Neill’s four frees, all but one of which he won himself, had kept Limerick in it at the half (0-12 to 0-7) but Tipp’s tenaciousness was underlined as John Campion and Ryan produced back-to-back blocks, before Hayes dispossessed O’Neill on the stroke of half-time.
Limerick’s best period was the ten minutes after the break, in which time they could only match Tipperary for a point apiece. Five of their first seven shots, all from scoreable positions, went wide. Bob Purcell’s shot at goal was blocked by his namesake Fintan. Only Cormac Ryan, who ended with three points, found the target.
Tipp were creating less now but their efficiency saw them to the three-quarter mark ahead by double-scores, 0-16 to 0-8.
Browne touched a fierce Barry O’Connor shot over the bar as the lead was closed to five, but Devanney pointed and then skinned his marker to play in O’Shea for the goal.
A stunning solo run and point from full-back Whelan was the cherry on top, and even Nix’s late goal couldn’t take from a sweet win.
When asked how lifting the trophy felt, Ryan simply replied: “Amazing – and hopefully more to come.”
J Devanney (0-8, 4 frees, 1 ’65); M O’Shea (1-1); S Hayes (0-3); S Phelan, C O’Farrell (0-2 each); R Renehan (s/l), M Hackett, C Whelan, K O’Kelly (0-1 each).
C O’Neill (0-6, 5 frees); B Nix (1-0); C Ryan (0-3); B Purcell, P Kirby, B O’Connor (0-1 each).
A Browne; K Hayes, C Whelan, C O’Dwyer; S Phelan, F Purcell, J Ryan; M Hackett, J Campion; C O’Farrell, R Renehan, K O’Kelly; D Ryan, S Hayes, J Devanney.
M O’Shea for Renehan (46), J Morrissey for Campion (49), K Maher for Hackett (57), B O’Connor for D Ryan (60+1), F Hanafin for Phelan (60+3).
B Heavey; P Harnett, B Herlihy, M Keane; E O’Mahony, E McEvoy, J Nicholas; P Kirby, B O’Connor; C O’Neill, C Ryan, B Purcell; C Coughlan, D Hegarty, D O’Leary.
B Nix for O’Leary (26), D Hickey for Hegarty (49), M Martin for Coughlan (55), A Shanahan for Nicholas (60+2), C Casey for Kirby (60+2).
T Walsh (Waterford).