When a losing manager — unprompted — describes a game as a tale of two halves the story writes itself.
At half-time in this Allianz HL 1A clash on Saturday nigh, All-Ireland champions Tipperary were nine points up in Thurles and cruising past a struggling Limerick side.
The visitors were hitting wides. Dropping balls. At odds with themselves.
When the game resumed Tipp pushed that lead to 10 points but by the time we reached the 73rd minute the home side were laying siege to the Limerick goal searching for a green flag to snatch victory. The woodwork denied them.
The 11,867 in their winter best at Semple Stadium got their money’s worth, at least.
Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy sketched the game’s narrative afterwards: “We got a good start and built a nice cushion, went in very happy at half-time.
“We probably knew Limerick were going to come at us in that second half. We got a good start, the first score and built up a nice lead but after that we played second fiddle. They came at us in waves, they could have had another goal near the finish, they were deserving winners on the night.”
Those strolling into the stadium were probably anticipating a display from the All-Ireland champions which would bear all the hallmarks of shaking off the rust of an enjoyable winter. Of acclimatising to a chilly Thurles after the team holiday.
Limerick, on the other hand, had shown in their Munster SHL final suppression of Cork that their eye was in. So much for expectations.
With an attack spearheaded by the smooth-striking Jason Forde, Tipperary bossed the first half. Jason Forde’s immaculate connection gave Tipperary seven points before the break; when he missed with an over-the-shoulder effort there was a general rubbing of the eyes in disbelief.
Further back the field Tipperary looked solid as well, with the Maher brothers holding the centre. Limerick’s pivotal attacker, Aaron Gillane, was starved of possession and men in green further outfield couldn’t find their range.
At the break Tipperary led 0-13 to 0-4 and had spurned half a goal chance through Willie Connors; Limerick had seven wides to put with their four points.
About the only highlight on show was a brief disagreement which necessitated a chat from referee Patrick Murphy of Carlow directed at Padraic Maher of Tipperary and Tom Morrissey of Limerick. Or Padraic Maher of Thurles Sarsfields and Tom Morrissey of Ahane: Conflict is imprinted there on the genetic level.
The game of two halves wasn’t the only cliche made flesh on Saturday night.
With Limerick nine points down at half-time the press gang asked John Kiely later what he had said at half-time to fire up his charges.
“Listen, there was no paint being peeled off the walls,” said the Limerick boss. “It was very simple and straightforward. Paul Kinnerk speaks with the players and the aspects of the game we’re not executing well. After that, we were just looking for an honest effort it the second half.”
That was needed after a rocky start?
“Rocky is one way of describing it. It was shocking.
“We had a very poor first half and, for whatever reason, just didn’t turn up in the first half.We found it very hard to get to the pitch of the game, we weren’t winning breaking ball, getting our passing game going, not winning puckouts, we just weren’t doing anything really.
“Four points was a fair reflection of our first half.”
Limerick were far better on the resumption, hitting 2-10 in the second half. Tipperary managed one more point shooting into the Town End than their opponents hit in the first half.
The league champions were far more aggressive and purposeful. They were also energised by sub Will O’Donoghue, who had a hand in their two goals: Aaron Gillane and another sub, Gearóid Hegarty, both finished to the net well.
In injury-time Tipperary came looking for a goal of their own to win it, but Forde’s late, late free rattled the crossbar and flew outfield.
Sheedy wasn’t that disappointed: “You can train all you like but playing top class opposition like Limerick, that’s where you learn the most, and we learned a lot tonight. I’m sure John (Kiely) and his charges learned a lot as well.
“I’m delighted where we have the group at the end of January, we have some lads to come back from injury so we should be playing from a full deck in February. That’s encouraging.”
For his part, Kiely was hoping his side wouldn’t make a habit of giving themselves mountain to climb: “I’d rather not have to come from nine points down to finish a game either.
“While it’s a nice challenge to face into sometimes, maybe this time of year that’s the type of challenge you have to engage in and embrace.
“At the same time, when you’re after coming in at half-time and not after hurling for 35 minutes, it can be disappointing.”
On close inspection, the comments were characteristic of both men’s management style. Sheedy’s pragmatism and Kiely’s candour were both faithful to the experience.
Tipperary got a good look at some of the younger players in laboratory conditions while being comforted at the same time by the prospect of big names returning in the near future.
Limerick stored a good lesson in application, banking in January the kind of memory that can benefit a team in June.
The crowd was warmed by a real contest, one that suggests keen competition in future league clashes. All things considered, there was something for everyone in the audience last Saturday night.
Scorers for Tipperary: J. Forde (0-10 8 frees, 1 sideline); J. McGrath J. Morris (0-3 each); P. Cadell, W. Connors (0-1 each).
Scorers for Limerick: A. Gillane (1-6, 0-6 frees), G. Hegarty (1-0), D. Dempsey (0-3); T. Morrissey, D. Byrnes (0-2 each); S. Flanagan (0-1).
TIPPERARY: B. Hogan, C. Barrett, R. Maher, S. O’Brien, A. Flynn, S. Kennedy, P. Maher, M. Breen, P. Cadell, W. Connors, J. McGrath, B. O’Mara, M. Kehoe, J. Forde (c), J. Morris.
Subs: P. Flynn and D. Quirke for Connors and Kehoe (53); C. Morgan for A. Flynn (60); C. Darcy for Breen (65); J. Moloney for Kennedy (67)
LIMERICK: B. Hennessy, T. Condon, M. Casey, R. English, D. Byrnes, D. Morrissey, B. Nash, R. Hanley, C. Lynch (c), D. O’Donovan, T. Morrissey, D. Reidy, A. Gillane, G. Mulcahy, D. Dempsey.
Subs: S. Finn for M. Casey (25); W. O’Donoghue for Hanley (30); G. Hegarty for Reidy (48); S. Flanagan for Mulcahy (55)
Referee: P. Murphy (Carlow).
The game in 60 seconds
Limerick’s first goal. They were hot on Tipperary’s heels but they need to kickstart their challenge. Will O’Donoghue helped the ball to Aaron Gillane who shot early to beat Brian Hogan.
Cian Lynch’s terrific improvisation in the second half. Deprived of his hurley, the Limerick midfielder produced a superb flick with his boot to get the ball in his hand before laying it off.
Ask Tipp boss Liam Sheedy: “Limerick bossed the terms on the pitch in the s second half, they shut us down from our puck-out we struggled to get our hands on the ball and they were able to get their hands on the ball.
“And when they got the ball they’re able to work up the pitch and come at you in waves. They’re clinical in their finishing, they got two goals and could have gotten another one.”
Will O’Donoghue was pivotal to Limerick’s improvement, even if he got a second yellow late on. John Kiely was happy with his display: “He’s been out injured for a period of the pre-season but he’s back there the last three weeks and working hard in training.
“We just wanted to get him on the field tonight and get him into playing matches again; he hasn’t played in quite some time. He’s an abrasive player and likes to get stuck in, he broke up a good bit of play and linked it up well.”
“Barry Heffernan has a knock,” said Liam Sheedy.
“The Borris-Ileigh boys have to come back, Noel McGrath is coming back from injury - Bonnar is working away, so is Ger Browne. Niall O’Meara is very close, John O’Dwyer has an ankle injury.”
John Kiely withdrew full-back Mike Casey before half-time: “He just got a bang on the side of the knee tonight from a hurley, so it was very sore and it was more precaution than anything. He’ll be fine in a few days.”
Patrick Murphy of Carlow handled the game well.
Tipperary travel to Cork, Limerick host Galway in a repeat of the 2018 All-Ireland final.