They might have been biblical conditions in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but Limerick right now are hurling’s alpha and omega.
Clare mightn’t have laid a fingertip on last weekend but in the teeth of a storm and facing a champion team eager to get back at them for their last Munster SHC meeting they delivered with aplomb.
Cian Lynch, Gearóid Hegarty and Aaron Gillane seemed impervious at times to the weather and Tipperary. On a day when ducks would have drowned, a much-maligned surface held up to incredible scrutiny and allowed these teams to play something like hurling, Limerick faring far better and above all else backing up their physical game with pragmatism and the occasional dash of panache.
For the second Championship in succession, Tipperary must batten down the hatches after they were scuttled by Limerick.
This experience – it might be a stretch to call it a game – will stand to them as Limerick’s outing against Clare did to them but unlike previous Munster defeats that were followed by All-Ireland successes they have no time to lick wounds.
Pádraic Maher had an off-day that Liam Sheedy tried to explain had a lot to do with a knee complaint that ruled him out for three of the five weeks leading up to the game. The loss of Barry Heffernan will be felt given they are already without the aerial ability of Seamus Kennedy and oh how injured Patrick “Bonner” Maher would have revelled in the gruel of this clash.
Hoping that Limerick would be slow to use the wind after they won the toss was a risk for Tipperary given the Munster champions have rid themselves of any cobwebs the Sunday before. Limerick were 0-6 to 0-1 up after eight minutes and 0-9 to 0-4 after 18.
Jake Morris’ 19th minute goal, sublimely set up by Seamus Callanan who was surprisingly scoreless, made it a one-point game but for less than a minute, Gillane booting the ball to the net in the next attack.
Five unanswered points before the break gave Limerick a comfortable, deserving 1-17 to 1-8 advantage at half-time. Tipperary opened the second half positively with three of their own but they found themselves two points worse off than the interval when Gillane hit them for 1-2 in five minutes, his 48th minute penalty goal courtesy of Hegarty forcing Cathal Barrett to make a desperate attempt to stop his advance.
Tipperary more than halved that deficit by the 57th minute, John McGrath’s goal key to their revival although it appeared Noel McGrath may have picked the ball off the ground in setting up his brother.
The Limerick players vigorously appealed its legitimacy but the decision to let it stand didn’t upset them. With substitutes David Reidy and Seamus Flanagan sending over points and Gillane pointing another free, they were eight up once more.
After another sub Pat Ryan split the posts, Ryan and Reidy had shots saved by Brian Hogan before Flanagan in additional time placed a ball past the Tipperary goalkeeper to give a more accurate reflection to the scoreboard.
Other than their display what else was remarkable about Limerick here was their shapeshifting. A team, it seemed, too rigid to accommodate for Tony Kelly last week, they were malleable here in pushing Kyle Hayes to wing-back and Cian Lynch to No 11 in the first half.
Tipperary only went long with their puck-outs for a sustained period towards the end of the second half, although Sheedy was dismayed they did so at all even with the wind.
“I thought ultimately Limerick are very strong in that sector. Diarmaid Byrnes was a rock. When you’re pumping ball down, they love to see it high, himself, Declan Hannon and Kyle Hayes back there today, Tom Morrissey, all those guys are very strong in the air.
“We would have felt our strength was to try and create a bit of a gap and get good ball in and work it through the lines. We never done that today and for us that’s very disappointing.
“We probably hit the emergency button with the long puck-out all of the time. If you become one dimensional against a team like Limerick you’re going to pay a heavy price.”
As much as Sheedy has, Kiely’s been here before. There was hardly a puff of wind over the LIT Gaelic Grounds on June 30 last year when they spanked Tipperary by 12 points only to be caught by Kilkenny and see their neighbours beat the Cats in the All-Ireland final.
After this game, Kiely was asked if he expected Tipperary to still have a say in the Championship. His quiet, earnest tone was telling.
“Absolutely, yeah absolutely. Obviously, that’s their first game so they will benefit from that big time. It’s only one day at a time, and that’s it.”
This was one occasion when the cliche was justified. Limerick learned that the hard way.
They played hard. The beginning to the end.
A Gillane (2-6, 1-0 pen, 0-5 frees); S Flanagan (1-1); D Byrnes (0-3, 2 frees); T Morrissey, G Hegarty, W O’Donoghue, C Lynch, G Mulcahy (0-2 each); P Casey, D Reidy, P Ryan (0-1 each).
J Forde (0-10, all frees); J Morris (1-1); J McGrath (1-0); N McGrath (0-2); B Maher, N O’Meara, M Breen, A Flynn (0-1 each).
N Quaid; S Finn, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes, D Hannon (c), K Hayes; D O’Donovan; G Hegarty, C Lynch, T Morrissey; P Casey, A Gillane, G Mulcahy.
D Reidy for T Morrissey (57); S Flanagan for G Mulcahy (59); P Ryan for D O’Donovan (63); D Dempsey for G Hegarty (69).
B Hogan; C Barrett, R Maher, S O’Brien; B Maher, P Maher, B Heffernan; N McGrath, A Flynn; J Forde, J McGrath, N O’Meara; J Morris, S Callanan (c), M Kehoe.
M Breen for M Kehoe (45); J Meagher for P Maher (51); D McCormack for N O’Meara (54); J O’Dwyer for J Morris (61); P Cadell for B Heffernan (inj 68).
L Gordan (Galway).