THERE was more heartbreak for the Limerick hurlers in Semple Stadium on Sunday as Tipperary staged a late revival to record a 2-20 to 1-19 win in the Munster SHC quarter-final.
Just like last year in the Munster championship against Waterford, Limerick defied the form lines to produce and outstanding performance, but yet again they were denied at the death.
Last year it was John Mullane’s late goal and this time round it was a late ‘blue wave’ of attack from Tipperary that saw them overturn a seven-point lead in the final 20 minutes.
Limerick were 5/1 outsiders ahead of this opening round clash and so many question marks surrounded their preparation.
Yet John Allen’s side set the tempo for much of the game.
There can be no denying that Limerick gave every once of energy on a sweltering hot afternoon in Semple Stadium.
They appeared to have Declan Ryan’s 2010 All-Ireland winners in all sorts of problems but just three points in the final 20 minutes was to prove the Limerick downfall. Indeed in this period, Tipperary hit 1-11.
All agreed that Limerick needed a good start and that’s what they got.
In his senior championship debut it was Shane Dowling that settled Limerick with five points in the opening 15 minutes. Four came from frees, while in the seventh minute he pointed from play to help the underdogs into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead midway through the opening half.
Graeme Mulcahy joined Dowling on the scoresheet as the scoreboard read 0-6 to 0-3.
But then all was tied-up when Pa Bouke struck for goal. John O’Brien was the creator with a clever handpass to Brian O’Meara and he fed Bourke, who fired low to the net.
A response was key and it came from Conor Allis to regain the lead.
Kevin Downes then followed in the 22nd minute.
Three minutes later, Limerick got a tonic score when Mulcahy rattled the net.
The Kilmallock man looked destined to goal moments earlier but a superb save from Brendan Cummins denied him. The breaking ball was recycled and Allis delivered a pin point delivery from the right side and Mulcahy jinked around the cover to fire to the net for a 1-8 to 1-4 lead.
But Tipperary’s experience came to the fore as they fired over four unanswered points in reply.
Finally, 10 minutes later Limerick built on the goal when Sean Tobin became the fifth member of the attack to score from play.
In front of 22,068, that left it 1-9 to 1-8 at the break. It was a half where Tipp hit six wides and Limerick just two. The sides were level on four occasions and Tipp never led.
Just like the opening half Limerick came flying from the traps on the resumption.
Na Piarsaigh trio Kevin Downes, Dowling (free) and David Breen rattled off points in the opening four minutes as the lead was out to four points.
Limerick fans were beginning to dare to dream as Eoin Kelly was taken off just six minutes into the second half.
Mulcahy, Tobin and a superb effort from Allis had the lead out to seven points and Tipp were yet to score in the second half, which was now 12 minutes old.
But Tipp were now introducing the cavalry with Bonnar Maher, Seamus Callanan, Shane McGrath all playing key roles.
Downes looked to have teed up Breen for a goal chance in the 48th minute but it went abegging.
The arrival of Declan Hannon was to add impetus to the attack but bit by bit Limerick were retreating into defensive mode.
Dowling, now at full forward, pointed to make it 1-16 to 1-9 with 17 minutes to play.
Then came the Tipp response and it would be over 10 minutes before Tobin got Limerick’s next score.
In the interveening minutes, Tipp hit five points and the comeback was underway.
But the score that clinched the win was the Brian O’Meara goal in the 64th minute.
Patrick Maher looked to have over-carried and his progress was stopped by a crowded defence. But when the ball fell loose, O’Meara arrived at the right time to flick to the net.
Six minutes from full time and it was the first time that Tipperary were ahead.
They piled forward and subs Conor O’Brien, Shane Bourke and Callanan put the icing on the win with late points.
SCORERS – Limerick: Shane Dowling 0-8 (five frees), Graeme Mulcahy 1-2, Sean Tobin 0-3, Conor Allis, Kevin Downes 0-2, David Breen, Declan Hannon 0-1 each. Tipperary: Pa Bourke 1-8 (0-5 frees, 0-1 ’65), Brian O’Meara 1-2, Noel McGrath 0-3, Thomas Stapleton, Shane McGrath, John O’Brien, Conor O’Brien, Shane Bourke, Seamus Callanan 0-1 each.
LIMERICK – Nickie Quaid; Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy, Tom Condon; Wayne McNamara, Donal O’Grady, Gavin O’Mahony; Paul Browne, James Ryan; David Breen, Conor Allis, Shane Dowling; Graeme Mulcahy, Kevin Downes, Sean Tobin. Subs: Declan Hannon for Kevin Downes (50 mins), Brian Geary for Conor Allis (63 mins), Niall Moran for Sean Tobin (65 mins), Tomas Ryan for Wayne McNamara (injured - 69mins).
TIPPERARY – Brendan Cummins; Donagh Maher, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill; Thomas Stapleton, Conor O’Mahony, Pauric Maher; James Woodlock, Brendan Maher; Gearoid Ryan, Noel McGrath, Pa Bourke; Eoin Kelly, Brian O’Meara, John O’Brien. Subs: Shane McGrath for James Woodlock (28 mins), Patrick Maher for Eoin Kelly (41 mins), Conor O’Brien for Donagh Maher (48 mins), Seamus Callanan for Gearoid Ryan (51 mins), Shane Butler for John O’Brien (61 mins).
REFEREE – Barry Kelly (Westmeath).