Up against Tipperary – not necessarily the favorites to annex another All Ireland title, but still with the edge on their rivals – Limerick weren’t supposed to earn a draw on the first day, and if they weren’t supposed to survive extra-time in the second match, you could see their confidence growing.
And then last Sunday at the Gaelic Grounds, they barged through a door that had been left open. Of course, it went to extra-time once again – isn’t that the business of little sporting epics? – and of course, the contest swung this way and that with almost unbearable tension, but in the end, it was Limerick’s commitment, their sheer desire to end that depressing run of defeats that carried them joyously over the line.
Although the home team deserved their 0-22 to 2-13 victory as they surged clear in the second half of extra time with the brothers Ollie and Niall Moran firing over the insurance points, it was easy to sense Tipp’s dejection amid all the celebrations.
The normally voluble Babs Keating, who has had to deal with rumors of unrest in the camp as well as a more obvious spat with his goalkeeper Brendan Cummins, chose to keep his thoughts to himself after the dust had settled. With the task of raising morale and tired bodies before Saturday’s qualifier against Offaly in Thurles, Keating will need all the energy he can muster.
Instead it was selector Tom Barry who agreed to face the music. “The prize was huge, and after three games and two bouts of extra-time, it’s more than just losing out on a Munster final. But we’ve no complaints. It was a hard, honest game as both teams fought tooth and nail. The small things decided it on the day.”
While Tipp head for the quicksand of the qualifiers, Limerick are now on course to meet Waterford in the Munster final, the first meeting between the counties at that stage since 1934. After so many barren seasons for the likes of Mark Foley and Brian Geary who were immense at the back, it was hard to fathom that for the emerging talent Andrew O’Shaughnessy, this was the first ever taste of success in a championship encounter.
With two All Ireland under 21 winners’ medals to his name, O’Shaughnessy had played in a win in the qualifiers over Offaly, but without wanting to denigrate Offaly, he had never regarded it as a true championship match. The hugely talented O’Shaughnessy was a thorn in Tipp’s side especially in the second half, and now he has his sights set on even bigger achievements.
“At least we have something to shout about now anyway, but we have to get our heads screwed back on for the next day. We’ve a Munster final to think about, and if we don’t win that, this won’t be long forgotten.”
It was perhaps as well that the afternoon was damp because the intensity might have scorched the Gaelic Grounds surface. It’s a clich