In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely wonders are Limerick happy to continue being moral losers.
In the end it was a great opportunity wasted.
Limerick had the winning post in sight but they ran out of gas at the most crucial stage in the game. We can only but wonder at what such a win would have done for the game of hurling in this county but mistakes on the sideline proved just as crucial as the lack of fitness in the final quarter of the game.
This was a game that Limerick had full control of with a seven-point lead but, credit to Tipperary, they not only hauled that back but added another five to secure a meeting with Cork in the Munster semi final. At their last training session before the game the Limerick players were handed a sheet with the agenda for last Sunday’s encounter. It contained detailed timings and other information but at the end of the page three words stood out above all others - workrate, intensity, alertness - and for the best part the players gave as much as they could for as long as they could and for that the supporters that did travel to Thurles would be very proud of them.
It was a game of many talking points and very few had given Limerick any chance against one of the most consistent teams in hurling over the past few years.
As I mentioned last week, I felt Limerick would have no fear of Tipperary and that was exactly how it was as they set to work early in this game. Limerick played with great passion and heart. From the throw-in they let rip and for long stages Tipperary were far from the consistent team we know them to be.
Showing no signs of a young man playing for his first time in the Munster Championship, Shane Dowling produced an opening burst that saw him hit four points and Limerick were in a good place after the opening ten minutes. Limerick played an energetic type of hurling that Tipperary found hard to cope with. The forwards were moving well into space while Paul Browne and James Ryan were working deep to help the defence. I liked the way Limerick took the challenge to Tipperary and by the opening quarter they led 0-6 to 0-3. The Limerick full backline was under some pressure but credit where it’s due, they worked exceptionally hard. Gavin O’Mahony was making ground while Tom Condon was in command in his corner.
Tipperary did get the break when Pa Bourke slipped into space and the goal levelled the game for the first time. Despite such a boost Tipperary were in trouble in a few positions but they also missed a few easy frees and this was out of character for them.
The younger players with pace on the Limerick team were doing well, Graeme Mulcahy, Conor Allis and Sean Tobin were troubling their markers and it was a crossed ball from Allis to Mulcahy that resulted in a Limerick goal. Mulcahy produced master footwork that had the Tipperary defenders chasing shadows. It was surprising that after the goal we only added one further point in the final ten minutes of the half whereas Tipperary sent four over. Those points saw Tipperary pile huge pressure on the Limerick backs and for the first time cracks were appearing, silly mistakes were made and possession was coughed too easily.
Only one point separated the teams at half time and from a Tipperary point of view they must have been happy as they had not played well but were only one adrift. Having had most of the play Limerick should been further ahead, they had a blistering spell in the opening 12 minutes of the second half.
Five points were added and the first of them could well have been a goal had Kevin Downes shot not screwed off his hurley. This was a glorious spell for Limerick, Conor Allis, Tobin and Mulcahy were now at their peak and every time the ball came their way they looked dangerous.
At this point Limerick were now seven points up and the clock read 47 minutes gone in the game. Hard to believe we could only manage four more points. Tipperary on the other hand set about pulling themselves back into the game and with every puck they were making progress. It took Tipperary 55 minutes to score 1-10 but they also scored 1-10 in the final quarter of the game to just three points for Limerick.
Such facts tell the story because Limerick, although still battling, could give no more and when the gas levels are low poor choices will be made. In many ways it mirrored what we saw in the League final against Clare and while the Tipperary subs did play a major part the facts are that Limerick were in control and let it slip.
The sideline panicked and the calls they made also played into the hands of Tipperary. The calls that Limerick made and the subs they introduced added little impact at a crucial time in the game for Limerick. Was it wise bringing Declan Hannon to centre forward? Should he not have gone to full forward and given him a chance to adjust to the speed of the game? Did Limerick take too long to make the changes? Brian Geary came on at centre back but to do this, three moves had to be made. Donal O’Grady went to midfield, Paul Browne to half forward and the one man with pace, Conor Allis, was taken off. Sean Tobin and Kevin Downes were also taken off and these to me were also bad calls. Harmony did not exist in the Limerick dugout and when the management reflect they will see that such calls in no way helped Limerick. Making such calls took the stability of the team away.
One would have to be very proud of the way the players applied themselves, they showed some real Limerick spirit but as a county we are becoming very happy losers. Many of the young players showed they have a great future but everyone involved has a duty to make sure these players are prepared to the levels now required at this level.
Limerick has to match what other counties are doing fitness wise and in fairness to Gerry Wallace this was the case last year. Tipperary were there for the taking and a home meeting with Cork at the Gaelic Grounds would have done wonders for the game locally. But, alas, we now face the back door again.
Next week: Kiely’s starting team for the Qualifiers
Next week Martin Kiely picks the Limerick team he feels should take the field for the All Ireland SHC Qualifiers