While both sides spent much of the opening 25 minutes feeling each other out, there were early signs of what was to come in Limerick’s second half demolition. At this point, only Seamus Callanan’s goal separated the sides, even though Tipperary had a slight wind at their backs. Tipperary had struck seven wides, mostly speculative efforts from distance, while the midfield were getting overran and overpowered by Limerick, with Cian Lynch, William O’Donoghue and Declan Hannon striding through with the ball on multiple occasions. Neither Sean Finn nor Richie English had been overly challenged in either corner, while Declan Hannon and the Limerick wing backs hoovered up well in the half-back line.
None of the Tipperary forwards had yet to establish themselves, aside from a nice early score from John O’Dwyer and Callanan’s excellent goal, which stemmed from a quick free from midfield which Limerick management would have been furious about. Jake Morris’ work rate was admirable in the absence of Patrick Maher, but Tipperary couldn’t find any of their attacking dynamos in easy to score situations, something which they had been so clinical at up to this point in Munster. Not one point attempt had been taken from in or around the Limerick 21-yard line.
Defensively, Tipperary were actually doing quite well up until this point, but handling errors were beginning to creep in. Brendan Maher was marshalling Aaron Gillane superbly, however Limerick would have been happy to see Maher forced inside, even at the expense of Gillane, and out of the half-back action zone. Ronan Maher and Páidí Maher were acquitting themselves well, while Sean O’Brien was dogged in breaking ball situations. James Barry had been placed on Peter Casey, a stark mismatch in terms of speed and elusiveness, and had shipped a score from play to the Na Piarsaigh man. This is where the absence of Cathal Barrett was monumental, as he would have either released Brendan Maher from his own square, or else done a better job of bottling up the corner forwards.
However, most of the Limerick scores up until this point derived from their domination in the back lines, sweeping past the midfield and notching scoreable points from well worked situations.
Limerick’s first taste of blood came just after 25 minutes, when Gillane got his first opportunity to trouble. Dan Morrissey had swept up some breaking ball in the Limerick half-back line and delivered a pass down the left to his bother Tom, who hit it into space in front of Gillane. Maher tracked, but slipped at the vital second as the Patrickswell man stood him up, and he burst inside. He continued past some oncoming Tipperary defenders, flicked a ball to the far post and the oncoming Peter Casey, who had snuck in past James Barry, for the easy goal.
As the ball approached, note James Barry is goal side of Peter Casey.
At this point, Gillane had beaten Maher and Sean O’Brien, while Casey was now unmarked and a stride ahead of Barry.
Moments later, after Jason Forde had notched one back for Tipperary, Brian Hogan made an incredible save to deny Gearoid Hegarty. It was the first of a couple of big moments for the Lorrha-Dorrha ‘keeper, who put in an All Star contending performance from a shot stopping perspective. A goal here would have killed off Tipperary even earlier.
With the sides separated by two points at half-time in Limerick’s favour, three of Tipperary’s six forwards hadn’t had a point scoring attempt in Michael Breen – who was whipped off at the interval – John McGrath and Callanan. The Treatymen were unfortunate not to be further in front, having missed a couple of scoreable shots in the final few minutes, but their foothold on the game was very strong at the break, with the industry and work rate of their half forward line working in conjunction with their midfield and defensive fortitude.
Second Half Domination
Limerick continued where they left off in the first half, as Tipperary didn’t tally a point until seven minutes into the action, but quickly followed that score up with a goal that leveled the game, even despite Limerick’s perceived dominance. Ronan Maher won an excellent ball in the air and recycled it to Dan McCormack, who dropped the ball deep into Limerick’s full back line. It was the first time they were truly challenged one-on-one and with the aid of a clever shove from Callanan on Mike Casey which took him out of the equation, John McGrath was able to gather possession and take the goal.
So often a turning point in games, that was the last time Limerick’s full back line was breached, as they went and scored five of the next six points. It was a fine response, as they continued their surplus of turnovers and dominated across most areas of the field.
With three points separating the side, Limerick finally put some daylight between the scores with a goal from Kyle Hayes. It began with a rare mistake from Paidi Maher, who was comfortable in possession in his own half but his distribution was blocked by the body of Kyle Hayes. The ball was delivered into the full forward line, which was gathered by Barry, but he failed to comfortably secure possession and the ball was flicked from his hurley by Casey. Hayes, who had burst past Maher to get in position, flew onto the breaking ball and was one-on-one with the ‘keeper, and scored nicely.
Hayes (centre) gets up to block Páidí Maher’s pass.
Hayes gathers the free ball and has oceans of space to attack into.
Not long afterwards, Tipperary manufactured a goal chance of their own, but this time Callanan couldn’t convert, as Nickie Quaid denied him with a fine save. Tipperary eventually recycled possession with Jake Morris near midfield, and here captured the perfect illustration of the match-up as Hayes blazed in and blindsided him with a shoulder, overturning the ball, leading to a fine Cian Lynch score.
And that put the nail in the coffin from a Tipperary perspective, as Limerick didn’t take the foot off the gas from that moment onwards. From the 53rd minute to deep into injury time, Tipperary didn’t record a single score.
A further illustration of the gulf in class on the day was in the substitutions. Tipperary’s first two second half switches were Robert Byrne for Noel McGrath, who struggled to get into the game, and the debut of Jerome Cahill. Meanwhile, Limerick had the luxury of bringing on Darragh O’Donovan and Shane Dowling.
It was a major demolition and a stark turnaround from the round-robin fixture two weeks ago. The absences of Barrett and Patrick Maher are notable, but Limerick at full strength – and with excellent options in reserve – is a juggernaut that will be difficult to stop. As both sides emptied the bench, Tipperary to blood young names and Limerick to offer game time to their depth, the home side pulled away to earn a 12-point victory and complete the clean sweep of All-Ireland, League and provincial titles.
Ironically, Tipperary look ahead to arguably the easier side of the Championship draw, at least on paper. While Limerick will have Kilkenny or Cork to contend with, Tipperary’s route to the final will go through Dublin, or Laois should they cause an upset in their quarter-final, and Wexford, who of course are no easy task given their unbeaten campaign thus far.
If these sides do meet again in an All-Ireland final, it would take an absolutely monumental effort from Liam Sheedy’s management and panel to overturn the Munster domination. But right now, Limerick are the chief All-Ireland contenders. The work rate of their half-forward line, the dominance of their half-back line, the score-taking efficiency, and the craft and guile of midfielder Cian Lynch concocts a team who look well on their way to defending their crown.
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