Having been nine points adrift as early as the 17th minute, Limerick would have given their right arm if offered there and then a 1-12 to 1-9 interval scoreline.
The reality is, however, that for all their early failings and despite the extent to which they were outfought and outworked by Kilkenny, Limerick should not have breathed a sigh of relief to be only three in arrears at the break. They should, at least, have been on level footing with their opponents.
Treaty manager John Kiely said afterwards his team “struggled a little bit” with their efficiency in front of goal. He was being kind to his charges. Their shooting, particularly before half-time, was terrible.
Between the 26th and 36th minute, the All-Ireland champions hit 1-3 without reply to narrow the deficit to two.
But, crucially, they left as much behind them as they took during this period, with five scoring chances missed.
Diarmuid Byrnes, Tom Morrissey, Aaron Gillane, and Peter Casey all struck wides, while Gearóid Hegarty, instead of taking aim at the posts, played a percentage pass to Gillane that did not stick.
“Kilkenny had a greater outcome from their periods of dominance than we did. We just didn’t make enough of the dominance, when we had it, on the scoreboard. And you have to put it there,” said Kiely.
“Kilkenny brought a ferocious intensity to the first 15 minutes but we responded in kind in the second quarter. We felt very comfortable at half-time that we had the resolve to push on in the second half but probably struggled a little bit with our efficiency in front of goals. They had eight wides, we had 15.”
In total, Limerick converted just 10 of the 25 scoring chances created in open play. There was also two long-range frees sent wide. Kiely insisted there was no regret over not getting Shane Dowling to take a 70th minute free which Byrnes struck wide. He said the players decide who takes what.
“We got [their lead] down to two, then one, then it went out to five and that really gave us a massive challenge. We got it to one and we were probably looking for that one little opening to come where we could get level.
"Had we broken that chink and got level, we could possibly have pushed on but it wasn’t to be.
“There were periods of the game where we could have just downed tools and said, to hell with it, we’ve enough done, but the boys dug in and fought right to the very end.” Saturday was a difficult evening for his typically explosive forward unit.
Outside of Gillane and Mulcahy, no Limerick player managed more than one score from play. And despite the manager’s utterances, there can be no disputing the fact that their half-forward line, of which Hegarty and Morrissey were substituted, was way below par.
“Tom Morrissey worked really, really hard, had a lot of possessions. Gearóid had a lot of possessions, Kyle had lots of possessions.
“Bringing Kyle back on TJ Reid] was a tactical move on our part. It wasn’t as a result of what they were doing as a half-forward line. Declan [Hannon] was after getting a bang.
"We needed to make sure there was no line break in that area because, at that stage, we were eight or nine down. We couldn’t afford another goal to come in.”
Since the introduction of the qualifiers in 2002, on only four occasions have the Munster champions successfully dealt with the gap between the provincial decider and All-Ireland semi-final to book their place in the championship’s concluding afternoon. Kiely was adamant the four-week layoff had not been a factor in their slow start.
Among many other items from the game, the league champions were left to rue the failure of the match officials to spot that Darragh O’Donovan’s late sideline cut had taken a deflection off Cillian Buckley’s hurl. A wide was signalled and the final whistle sounded thereafter.
“We knew it was after taking a touch, [but] what can we do. It was taking a certain flight, it changed, it flew off to a different angle.”
“That defeat won’t define that group. If anything, it will strengthen the resolve of this group to come back again. They are a young bunch, very ambitious, and very united. I’ve no doubt they’ll challenge again in the future.”