You have your choice of Munster final metrics this morning.
The Tipperary crowds streaming down the Ennis Road with 10 minutes left to play, or the heroics of goalkeeper Brian Hogan, keeping the Premier in the game? Limerick’s 1-7 without reply in the final quarter-hour or so, or the 12-point margin at the final whistle?
The 44,052 in the Gaelic Grounds came for a contest but were treated to a cruise if they were dressed in green and white. John McGrath’s second-half goal got Tipperary within three points of Limerick at the end of the third quarter, but the All-Ireland champions then stretched for the finishing tape, meeting the challenge and crushing it.
A final scoreline of 2-26 to 2-14 doesn’t need an exclamation mark for emphasis.
Limerick’s response to that McGrath goal, in fact, was their game in miniature: Peter Casey ended the game with 1-5 to his credit but he did the hard lifting on this occasion to set up Kyle Hayes by hunting down James Barry and stripping the ball.
Hayes collected the sliotar and bore down on goal with the memory of a recent fluffed goal chance somewhere in his subconscious, but he finished well to the net. Tipperary then went downfield hunting a goal but Nickie Quaid got a boot to Seamus Callanan’s shot and the ball shot outfield; Jake Morris was levelled by a Hayes challenge and Cian Lynch stuck the ball over the bar.
Hayes epitomised the Limerick lust for contact, rampaging around the middle like a hurling tyrannosaurus. He, Gearoid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey and the Limerick midfielders together created a stifling press which punished Tipperary’s ability to create, and sometimes their ability to breathe. Little wonder both Tipp midfielders were withdrawn before the three-quarter stage.
“We worked really hard and just didn’t give the Tipp half-backs and midfielders the time to pass in quality ball to their forwards,” said Limerick boss John Kiely.
“I think that’s reflected in the scoreboard.
“When you can apply yourself, that high level of work rate, you are going to compromise their ability to get the ball in.
“It’s going to have an impact on the game, and you’ll probably create some chances yourself. We got a good few scores on turnovers as well.”
Liam Sheedy focused on that passage of play around the Hayes goal as a significant period of the game.
“We probably didn’t flow in the first half either, if we were to be honest,” said the Tipperary manager. “We went in losing by two points, probably still in the game. They got a few early scores in the second half, (John McGrath) goal gave us a bit of a life-line.
“They went six ahead again. We got the chance, Seamie (Callanan) very unlucky, shot saved that could have brought it back to three. But ultimately Brian Hogan was the busier of the two goalies all the way through. We just didn’t really find our flow today.
“You have to credit Limerick for that. They brought all the energy, we lacked energy in every sector of the pitch. Brendan Maher and Ronan Maher in front of me were outstanding all day. But ultimately we lost too many individual battles. Therefore, overall we lost the war. But full credit to Limerick, they are a fine side.
“We knew they would up it a gear. But they went up a fair few gears today.”
Sheedy’s analysis is sharp and honest, particularly about Hogan. An unscientific estimate suggests the Lorrha-Dorrha man saved at least four goals which would have made the final scoreline a good deal uglier for the blue and gold.
The preconception that Tipp have the most dangerous forwards in the hurling championship took a battering yesterday, but a close inspection suggests other myths burnt up on Shannonside as well.
Take the first Tipperary goal: we’ve seen Limerick bar the door to Nickie Quaid so often that it was a surprise to see Seamus Callanan not only get the freedom to run at goal at the end of the first quarter, but the Tipp man had the time to check momentarily before cantering on to finish low to the corner.
As the kids say, hat-tip to Noel McGrath for the short free. John Kiely’s demeanour when this was raised suggest a few extra laps at training this week for his defenders.
Then you have restarts, which have become a sacrament in the modern game, attended by ritual and procedure, but Brian Hogan - when he wasn’t keeping Limerick at bay singlehandedly in the first half - went long with the wind at his back and caused consternation.
One of his puck-outs bounced in the large square at the Limerick end and Seamus Callanan’s first-time flick might have found the net rather than flying over the bar.
This was quite the contrast with open play, with both sides working the ball through the lines. They had to, with Padraic Maher and Declan Hannon loose in either half: what does the lack of screaming to ‘let it in long’ tell you about the modern hurling crowd? About your own expectations?
The caveats for Tipp come quickly. Cathal Barrett injured a hamstring in the last game against Limerick but was named in the defence yesterday for Tipperary. Just before throw-in, however, Seamus Kennedy was named in his place.
s fitness tests go, the prospect of an hour in Aaron Gillane’s company is a zero-sum game, and Tipp boss Liam Sheedy’s move of Brendan Maher from the half-back line to mind Gillane was one of Tipperary’s few success stories from yesterday.
(Submerged in this season’s noise has been Maher’s late-career invention as a tagging defender, but that’s a topic for another day.) Barrett may be back for the next day, but Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher will not, making the revival of the Premier after a defeat like this an even taller order. Not every opponent can replicate Limerick’s power in the middle of the field, but every opponent will see Kiely’s approach as the preferred option against Tipperary.
Dublin may be in Tipperary’s future, for instance, and maybe one of the few sides physically equipped to replicate the Limerick way.
For Limerick the summer now opens up nicely. The challenge of bridging the gap between the Munster final and All-Ireland semi-final is one that will occupy Kiely and his management team this week, but they’ll surely bask for a day or two in this afterglow of this win.
When captain Declan Hannon accepted the cup he said he’d see the county faithful in Croke Park in a few weeks, and the response was immediate and full-throated.
To be fair to Hannon, he also wished ‘Bonner’ Maher a swift recovery from his cruciate injury, and that response was equally whole-hearted.
It was a classy touch to an unusual day, with the surprise evidently shared by the scoreboard operators in the Gaelic Grounds.
Over an hour after the final whistle the final score was still up in lights.
Still there to be absorbed.
Anthony Daly reviews the hurling weekend with Brian Hogan, TJ Ryan and Ger Cunningham. In association with Renault - car partners of the GAA.