Tipperary 3-12 Limerick 1-16: The difference between these teams? Don’t shout all at once. Clear-thinking was an obvious one. Conviction another. Ultimately, though, Tipperary won ugly; Limerick just played it.
For all the genuine questions of Tipperary’s character this last while, they delivered a response yesterday. For over an hour, they had to hurl not just with 14 men but without John O’Dwyer, the best hurler in last year’s Munster championship and one of their scoring pillars. That they made it look like they were the team with the numerical advantage was a fine compliment as much as O’Dwyer will be sorely missed in the confined spaces Waterford will afford them in next month’s final.
List the individual battles and Limerick came out on top in two, at a stretch, three. Grotesque wouldn’t be too strong a word to sum up a lot of what they demonstrated. The only sympathy offered to them came by way of the scoreline. A two-point margin did them more than a service. If it could have told more of a story, it would have given compelling evidence that this performance was worse than their 16-point defeat in last year’s corresponding fixture in the Gaelic Grounds.
Two moments in the second-half illustrated in essence how good Tipperary and bad Limerick were. In the 38th minute, James Ryan cynically took down Brendan Maher as he made a bee-line for the Limerick goal and was duly penalised. Although Seamus Callanan’s free was too low for a score, in the next passage of play Maher exacted his revenge, crushing Ryan with a fair tackle that winded the teak-tough midfielder and eventually saw him replaced. Maher was a rallying force after O’Dwyer’s dismissal.
In the 53rd minute, Limerick allowed Noel McGrath to steal too much space to receive a Seamus Callanan free to point. For a team with an extra player, it was an indictment of the visitors’ alertness at one end. At the other, Tipperary’s backs were returning balls at a rate of knots. Cathal Barrett and Pádraic Maher thrived in winning and clearing.
Limerick’s defenders couldn’t clear their lines as quickly and were turned over on occasions, Patrick Maher and Noel McGrath tormenting them. Seamus Hickey had a strong first-half on John McGrath but was the inferior in the second-half, beaten in the air and turned by his marker for a point in the 47th minute and then guilty of further errors facing other Tipperary forwards for scores in the 56th and 63rd minutes.
Michael Breen’s early goals were strong indications Tipperary, after being held goalless by Cork, were in a meaner mood to belie the wet conditions this time. Patrick Maher was involved in initiating both, putting the ball into Breen’s path for the first in the sixth minute. The midfielder was allowed by Dan Morrissey to make up for a sloppy handpass to Callanan and finish on the ground to the net. The second in the ninth minute came after Breen reacted quickest to Nickie Quaid stopping a Callanan shot, teed up for him by Maher.O’Dwyer deservedly departed for a strike on Richie English and Tipperary for a period looked rattled before Callanan goaled in the 28th minute after Noel McGrath provided him with the chance.
Limerick did reel off four points in a row after that to make it a one-point game but Callanan scores helped Tipperary into a three-point half-time lead, 3-5 to 0-11.
At that stage, Ryan was still optimistic. “I felt at half-time with the extra man, just before half time we were kind of getting on top, we’d plenty of possession, plenty of ball going forward, we needed to get a couple of scores. Obviously, when they’d 14 men we needed to get to a situation where we got level or put the pressure on them or tried to get ahead of them and put them under huge pressure and that didn’t materialise.
“Coming into the second half, we ended up with them dictating the game, their backs played very well, they got a lot of hooks and blocks, we missed one or two chances at the start of the second-half and it wasn’t to be.”
Until Tom Morrissey’s late goal, Limerick hardly came close to troubling Darren Gleeson as Tipperary, led by captain Maher, slowly built on their advantage. But for Declan Hannon and John Fitzgibbon points, the other two second-half points came from Shane Dowling frees. It was no wonder Tipperary’s Michael Ryan was impressed. “I’d acknowledge the work-rate and attitude were super and we were all the time waiting for bodies to tire but they found more. They were outstanding.”
Scorers for Tipperary:
S. Callanan (1-6, 0-3 frees, 0-2 65s); M. Breen (2-1); N. McGrath (0-3); J. McGrath, Pádraic Maher (0-1 each).
Scorers for Limerick:
S. Dowling (0-9, 8 frees); T. Morrissey (1-0); D. Hannon (0-2); B. Nash, C. Lynch, G. Hegarty, J. Ryan, J. Fitzgibbon (0-1 each).
D. Gleeson; C. Barrett, J. Barry, M. Cahill; S. Kennedy, R. Maher, Pádraic Maher; B. Maher (c), M. Breen; N. McGrath, Patrick Maher, D. McCormack; J. O’Dwyer, S. Callanan, J. McGrath.
Subs for Tipperary:
N. O’Meara for D. McCormack (60); D. Maher for R. Maher (inj 64); J. Forde for Patrick Maher (69); K. Bergin for B. Maher, D. Quinn for M. Breen (both 70+1).
J. O’Dwyer (straight, 14).
N. Quaid (c); S. Hickey, D. Morrissey, R. English; D. Byrnes, G. O’Mahony, T. Condon; J. Ryan, P. Browne; G. Hegarty, S. Dowling, C. Lynch; B. Nash, D. Hannon, G. Mulcahy.
Subs for Limerick:
T. Morrissey for J. Ryan (inj 48); K. Downes for B. Nash (55); J. Fitzgibbon for G. Hegarty (58).
J. McGrath (Westmeath)
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