Limerick’s reign as Munster U-21 hurling champions came to a sudden halt this Wednesday evening.
The champions were defeated 1-16 to 1-11 by Tipperary in the provincial semi-final.
Despite having home advantage in the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick were never serious contenders in this game and a lacklustre performance saw them trail Tipperary for most of the game.
Indeed Limerick’s goal arrived in injury-time to take some of the stark look off the scoreline.
With 11 of last season’s panel on the starting team and with eight members of John Allen’s senior panel, Limerick were installed as 4/6 favourites to advance to a final against either Clare or Waterford - who play Thursday in Ennis in the other semi-final.
But the presence of the eight senior players may not have helped Limerick’s cause for a combination of injuries and senior commitments meant that the panel only trained together as a full unit last Sunday.
And, the performance had all the hallmarks of a side that hadn’t played a challenge game together.
The display was disjointed and lacked any of the swashbuckling intensity that saw Limerick beat Clare and Cork to win last year’s Munster title.
But that Munster title was won in the third year of Leo O’Connor’s management and he had failed to win a game in the two previous years.
But still the 2012 management of John Fitzgerald, Ollie Moran, Natal O’Grady and Frank Houlihan will be left scratching their heads as to what went wrong.
Not for one period of the game did Limerick dominate and over the course of the hour they managed just 1-3 from play - relying heavily on the frees of Shane Dowling to stay in touch.
Tipperary played with the wind in the opening half and led 1-6 to 0-7 at half time. But their lead could have been much greater but for 11 first half wides.
Limerick had just three wides in the half.
Largely the opening 30-minutes was a shootout between free-takers Dowling and John O’Dwyer.
However Denis Maher proved a match changer for Tipp with a return of 1-1 in the opening minutes to give them a 1-4 to 0-4 lead after the opening quarter.
Limerick were struggling to win ball in the middle third of the field and reacted by moving Mark Carmody out as a third midfielder and placing Kevin Downes at wing forward.
Downes surged into the game, winning puckouts and running at the Tipp defence. He returned two points but it was the two-man full forward line that then failed to win possession.
On the change of ends, Limerick needed a good start to kick-start their efforts.
But it was Tipp that raced into a 1-11 to 0-8 lead as the game entered the final quarter.
A Niall Kennedy point in the 19th minute of the half was to be the only score from play for Limerick in the half, aside from the late consolation goal.
SCORERS - Limerick: Shane Dowling 1-8 (6frees, 2 ‘65), Kevin Downes 0-2, Niall Kennedy 0-1. Tipperary: John O’Dwyer 0-9 (8frees), Denis Maher 1-3, Liam McGrath, Sean Curran, Cian Hogan, Jason Forde 0-1 each.
LIMERICK - Aaron Murphy; Alan Dempsey, Dan Morrissey, Stephen O’Reilly; Robert Egan, Declan Hannon, Tom Ryan; Shane Kenny, Sean O’Brien; Shane Dowling, Niall Kennedy, Mark Carmody; Mikey Ryan, Kevin Downes, Willie Griffin. Subs: John Fitzgibbon for Griffin (28mins), Robert O’Donnell for O’Brien (40mins), Mark O’Connell for Kenny (47mins), Adrian Breen for Carmody (55mins).
TIPPERARY - Paul Ryan; Stephen Maher, Andrew Ryan, Pa Ryan; Brian Stapleton, Willie Ryan, Justin Cahill; Niall O’Meara, Dan McCormack; Liam McGrath, Sean Curran, Denis Maher; Eanna Murray, Cian Hogan, John O’Dwyer. Subs: Jason Forde for Murray (h-t), Aidan McGrath for McCormack (58mins).
REFEREE - Michael Wadding (Waterford).