Nobody’s life in the championship was on the line, and yet both teams played like there was no tomorrow
Munster SHC round-robin: Tipperary 0-25 Limerick 0-25
Tidying up the numbers at the end gives the suggestion of order, but really it was chaos. Everything about it was a glorious throwback: the noise, the rabid crowd, the belting and flaking, the rows, the magical touches, the searing pressure, the towering scores. Nobody’s life in the championship was on the line, and yet both teams played like there was no tomorrow.
Like all great championship matches it was tribal and laced with ego and driven by agendas that nobody would declare and everybody could see. Tipperary had never lost four championship matches in a row to Limerick before last summer; in their minds, losing five would have been beyond all reason. And Limerick? They can’t beat Tipp often enough.
They nearly did. With 77:21 showing on the scoreboard clock, John McGrath stood over a free that he had won, a few paces inside the Limerick 65. He had only been on the field a few minutes, and a fortnight ago in Páirc Uí Chaoimh he missed a stoppage-time free, that would have put Tipp in front. In golf, they say all the great champions have short memories. In the spilling rain McGrath drove it over the bar for the final equaliser.
On the run of play a draw was the least Tipp deserved, which was neither here nor there when Limerick came at them in waves in the last 10 minutes, and took the lead for just the third time in the match in the fifth minute of stoppage time. In their breakthrough season, and again last year, Limerick were adept in tight finishes, but the All-Ireland champions are not quite the same as they were, and under Liam Cahill, Tipperary are different too.
Neither team took a backwards step. The tackling was ferocious and relentless. One of the great challenges of playing against this Limerick is to be hot-blooded and cold-blooded at the same time, and for nearly 80 minutes Tipp managed it.
Limerick got the opening score of the game but led for less than five minutes after that. Tipp made them chase. The home team were three points in front on eight occasions in the first half, and even when Limerick wiped out the deficit with a storming start to the second half, Tipp had the wherewithal to recover the lead and go again
“I’m happy with the result,” said John Kiely. “I suppose we could have got the win. We’ll probably feel like we should have got the win too, given the number of scoring chances we had versus the number of scoring chances we converted. We definitely had more than 40-odd scoring chances and didn’t convert enough of them.
“But at the same time I thought the performance was a real incremental improvement again on the last day, so our trajectory is in the right direction.”
By Kiely’s reckoning Limerick created 24 scoring chances in the second half to Tipperary’s 14, and if they were in the whole of their health those numbers would have been more than enough to win. They trailed by two points going into the last 10 minutes against Tipp last year and ended up winning by seven; they trailed by two here with 10 minutes left and spent the rest of the game scrambling and sweating and taking what they could get.
It was by far Tipp’s best performance under Liam Cahill – who was red-carded in a feverish end to the match, shortly after Barry Nash was dismissed on a second yellow. Having conceded seven goals in their first two games the new Tipp goalie Rhys Shelly didn’t have a save to make, and at the other end Tipp’s hard running and smart inter-play caused Limerick endless problems.
In a thunderous first half Tipperary dictated everything that mattered. They brought massive aggression and energy and stressed the Limerick defence down both flanks.
Jake Morris is having the season of life and landed four points from four shots in the opening half alone; Mark Kehoe was just as immaculate in his shooting from three attempts. Tipp’s efficiency was so good that the only wides against their name in the first 35 minutes were two from long range frees by Shelly.
Limerick, though, improved in the second half. Their half-back line stormed into the game, Will O’Donoghue imposed himself in the middle third, and Graeme Mulcahy and Peter Casey both made a difference off the bench, sharing three points, the first scores by any Limerick subs in this year’s championship. Nearly enough.
Tipperary: R Shelly (0-1, free), C Barrett, M Breen, R Maher, E Connolly, B O’Mara, D McCormack, A Tynan, S Kennedy, C Stakelum, P Maher, (N McGrath 0-2, 0-1 sideline), J Morris (0-5), G O’Connor (0-9, 0-8 frees), M Kehoe (0-3). Subs: S Callanan for Tynan 45 mins; C Bowe (0-3) for P Maher 52 mins; B McGrath for Barrett 60 mins; J Ryan for Stakelum 69 mins; S Ryan for O’Connor 69 mins; J McGrath (0-1, free) for N McGrath 75 mins.
Limerick: N Quaid, M Casey, D Morrissey, B Nash, D Byrnes (0-4, 0-3 frees), D Hannon (0-1), K Hayes, D O’Donovan, W O’Donoghue, G Hegarty, C Lynch, T Morrissey (0-4), A Gillane (0-6, 0-3 frees), S Flanagan (0-2), C O’Neill (0-5). Subs: P Casey 0-1 for Lynch 50 mins; C Boylan for Hegarty 57 mins; G Mulcahy 0-1 for Flanagan 62 mins; D Reidy for O’Neill 64 mins; R English for M Casey 66 mins.