HURLING is, quite rightly, described by many as the best field game in the world and, at times, maybe the strangest too.
Let’s be honest, nobody in their right mind could have envisaged one team being ahead of the other by 12 points at the conclusion of last Sunday’s Munster final at the Gaelic Grounds.
Opinion was probably divided 60/40 in Tipperary’s favour to emerge victorious and that was based very much on how they had steamrolled all before them in the round-robin series of the competition.
Conversely, Limerick had not ignited at all, losing two of their four encounters and providing plenty of questions about their ability to justify their tag as All-Ireland favourites before the season had began And, of course, they had been beaten by their opponents in one of those losses two weeks earlier.
There had been a perception in the aftermath of that game that they had indulged in some form of shadow boxing with their team selection, key players starting the game on the bench.
But how things changed so dramatically in the furnace that was the Ennis Road on Sunday, Tipp being blown away in the final 25 minutes or so by the sheer ferocity of Limerick’s surge back to the top of the tree.
This was one of the strongest statements that any team can make at this point in the season.
In fact, this type of performance begs the question, can they be stopped now by anybody in their quest to return the McCarthy Cup to Limerick? At the same time, of course, one might ask, can they be as good again?
After all, prior to Sunday, the question was being asked, can Tipperary be stopped?
In this game, you just don’t know what lies around the corner and how quickly things can change from one week to the next and in an hour and 10 minutes.
Limerick just wore Tipp down on Sunday and when it mattered most, they had the legs and the physicality to near bury their opponents.
Once more they showed that their depth of resources is greater than any of the rest of the pack that is now chasing them.
That was the one fear that had been expressed about Tipp — had they that type of squad depth on their bench?
Would they be able to replace one or two of their marquee names if the need arose?
On Sunday they lined out without Cathal Barrett and Bonner Maher and their loss was immense.
Their much-vaunted attack was built around the presence of Maher on the 40, others were feeding off that presence and in his absence the whole thing broke down.
Apart from a few instances, both of the goals that they scored through Seamus Callanan and John McGrath, their attack, as a unit, didn’t function, or should that be, not allowed to function.
That was down to the work-rate and intensity of the Limerick backs, all six of them, and particularly the inside trio.
Cian Lynch and Will O’Donoghue were powerful influences at midfield and in attack Peter Casey had his best day in a Limerick senior jersey, closely followed by Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey And they had the luxury of introducing Shane Dowling and Seamus Flanagan in the last 10 minutes, not forgetting Barry Nash who secured a delightful point.
Now they are back in pole position in the list of favourites for the All-Ireland, they just have to be after that display.
When the chips were really down this season they had the required answers.
Recall their victory over Clare earlier when they went into that game in the knowledge that a defeat would have brought the curtain down on their year.
That was a pressure situation, so too was last Sunday after being beaten two weeks earlier by the men they were facing again. For now, they can sit back and have a good, hard look at who their opponents will be in the All-Ireland semi-final.
That will almost certainly be Cork or Kilkenny and that’s not being disrespectful to Westmeath who Cork play next weekend.
Cork and Kilkenny will have a ferocious battle in the quarter-final, they will be tearing strips out of each other while Limerick will be coming in a lot fresher into the All-Ireland semi-final.
Of course, there is the other side to it too. Cork or Kilkenny will have terrific momentum behind them going into that game That brings us to Tipp. How will they be able to come back from what, after all, was a humiliating loss in a Munster final?
Prior to Sunday, they had done everything right, but there would have to be questions about their ability to live alongside the ferocity of the challenge that Limerick posed on Sunday and their bench.
But they are still just one game away from where Limerick are right now.
However, and while not taking it for granted that Dublin will take out Laois next weekend, it should be Tipp and the Dubs in the other quarter-final.
That certainly would be a very tricky game for a team that would not be high on confidence after last Sunday. And this is a serious Dublin side now. After all wasn’t it they who ended Galway’s year?
They defeated Tipp earlier in the season in the league so, if they overcome Laois, they won’t have any hang-ups about them.