Limerick 1-23 Tipperary 2-14: After giving a post-match TV interview, Limerick captain Declan Hannon was jumped on by a group of celebrating supporters.
His reaction was one of embarrassment.
In the past, a defeat of Tipperary in the championship would have given him cause for joy. But not this one.
Limerick are heading in the right direction, having taken one giant step, yet it is just one.
Six points was the difference and it could have been so much more. As young as they are, they must school themselves in ruthlessness, but beating a proven side, like their neighbours, will go a huge way towards that education.
For Tipperary, they find themselves facing the same questions that haunted them after last year’s Division 1 final loss to Galway, and which returned to spook them after an almost-as-chastening defeat to Kilkenny at the same stage last month.
With a total of 2-5 from play, and a second-half total of 1-5, their troubles are as evident upfront as at the back.
They must learn that all is not lost, but it was their younger opponents doling out the lessons in the Gaelic Grounds.
A healthy crowd of 20,423 turned up to see Tipperary almost inexplicably go into the break a point up, 1-10 to 0-12, a late Jason Forde free being the difference.
Placed balls kept Tipperary in the game, when they could have lost John McGrath to a red card for a lash-out at Seán Finn (he was yellow-carded in the 14th minute) and could have conceded a goal, Brian Hogan diving superbly to deny Gearóid Hegarty two minutes later.
Both teams were dreadful in their shot-taking in the opening 17 minutes, evidenced by Tom Morrissey’s uncertainty in taking on the posts in the 16th minute. He took three extra steps to steady himself and struck wide.
The wide count read six apiece at the break, but the game came alive in the 20th minute, when Billy McCarthy emerged from a series of challenges to send a diagonal ball into John McGrath. His one-handed shot cracked the post, but Dan McCormack followed it up to find the net.
Limerick were level within a couple of minutes and ahead in the 29th minute. Forde frees were key to Tipp going up at the interval, but if Seamus Hickey was finding him a handful, then Donagh Maher was struggling badly against Aaron Gillane and was switched onto Graeme Mulcahy, who was also starring. Maher eventually made way, in the 43rd minute, after being dispossessed.
The sides were level for a 13th of 15 times, in the 45th minute, when Limerick put some daylight between the sides, Gillane (free), Gearóid Hegarty, and Diarmuid Byrnes (from a 65) giving the scoreboard a reflection of their general dominance.
But they were then hit with a goal against the run of play, McCarthy again sending the ball in long and in-form Forde doing the rest.
The next score was Tipperary’s, via Noel McGrath, but Limerick fired over the next four, one of them another Byrnes 65. A ninth Forde free made it a two-point game, but, from the resultant puck-out, Nicky Quaid aimed long and the ball broke to substitute Barry Murphy to place the ball past Hogan. A third Byrnes 65 split the posts and Tipperary, oblivious to score difference, were unsuccessful in their late goal attempts, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher coming the closest.
John Kiely had never any doubt about his defence holding steady. “The lads were very calm at the back,” he enthused.
“Even though there were a few moments where Tipp were trying to push through and get that goal, we coped with that really, really well. Showed a lot of composure. We worked the ball forward then, created three or four scoring chances. Could have tagged on three or four points. It didn’t happen, but I was very happy with the manner in which we closed out the game.”
Keeping his Na Piarsaigh men on the bench might have been seen as a risk, but Kiely had complete faith in his young assassins.
“They’ve done well. They’ve adjusted well to it. They just want to play. They’re not carrying any baggage, either, which is half the battle. Sometimes, you could have seven or eight seasons under your belt, seven or eight seasons of baggage.
“These boys are coming into it fresh and free. They know exactly what we want from them. When you’re clear in what is expected, it’s very easy deliver it.”
Afterwards, it was left to the wise-old head of 25-year-old Hannon to keep feet on terra firma. “It’s the first round of the championship and we’re going to judge ourselves on results this year. We’ll know in a couple of months’ time where we’re at.”
Champagne on ice, then, but plenty of it coursing through the veins of this promising Limerick side.
Scorers for Limerick:
A. Gillane (0-8, 6 frees); G. Mulcahy (0-4); B. Murphy (1-0); D. Byrnes (0-3, all 65s); T. Morrissey, C. Lynch, G. Hegarty (0-2 each); S. Flanagan, D. O’Donovan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Tipperary:
J. Forde (1-9, 0-9 frees); D. McCormack (1-0); J. McGrath, N. McGrath (0-2 each); J. O’Dwyer (0-1).
N. Quaid; R. English, S. Hickey, S. Finn; D. Byrnes, D. Hannon (c), D. Morrissey; D. O’Donovan, C. Lynch; T. Morrissey, K. Hayes, G. Hegarty; A. Gillane, S. Flanagan, G. Mulcahy.
Subs for Limerick:
B Murphy for G. Mulcahy, D. Dempsey for T. Morrissey (both 55); M. Casey for S. Hickey (inj 56); P. Ryan for S. Flanagan (62); P. Browne for C. Lynch (blood, 62-64); P. Browne for D. O’Donovan (67).
B. Hogan; A. Flynn, S. Kennedy, D. Maher; B. Heffernan, Pádraic Maher (c), R. Maher; W. Connors, B. McCarthy; D. McCormack, N. McGrath, S. Curran; J. McGrath, J. Forde, J. O’Dwyer.
Subs for Tipperary:
S. O’Brien for D. Maher (43); B. Maher for W. Connors (50); S. Callanan for S. Curran (53); Patrick Maher for B. McCarthy (66).
J. McGrath (Westmeath).
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