John Horgan: There's no such thing as a safe lead in modern hurling

Lethal Limerick lanced through Tipperary in a stunning Munster final comeback
John Horgan: There's no such thing as a safe lead in modern hurling

Diarmaid Byrnes of Limerick in action against Séamus Kennedy and Noel McGrath of Tipperary. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

ONCE upon a time, a two-point advantage was considered to be a very dangerous one in the game of hurling.

If a game was in its final few minutes a goal at the other end of the field could change everything and the advantage one team might have looked to have had was wiped out in a split second.

Well, that has really all changed in more recent times and in the more modern game a nine or 10-point advantage could now be considered a dangerous lead.

In recent times we have seen one team ahead by those types of margins, even further in front and when the final whistle was sounded they were behind on the very same scoreboard that they once dominated.

We saw that last season in the thrilling Kilkenny-Waterford All-Ireland semi-final when the Munster team wiped out a one-time deficit of 11 points.

And only last Sunday in the boiling sunshine of Páirc Uí Chaoimh it happened again, Tipperary ahead by 10 points at the interval and in arrears by five at the final whistle.

It was a stunning comeback, a 15-point turnaround that hardly anybody in the 7,000 attendance could have envisaged when the teams went to the dressing rooms.

After all, Tipperary had blitzed the country’s best team over the past five years in the opening 35 minutes.

Even the most ardent Premier County supporter must have been mesmerised by the quality and dominance of their team in that period.

In that 35 minutes, they just mocked the theory that this was an ageing team whose best days were behind them with Jason Forde in the form of his life.

HISTORY REPEATING

Limerick had no ordinary mountain to climb at that juncture, they had an Everest but here on Leeside, we can all recall them doing something rather similar to Cork in 2018 when they turned a six-point deficit after 61 minutes into a four-point victory after extra-time.

That was a fairly dramatic revival in their fortunes but the manner with which Tipp had outthought them and out-fought them last Sunday in the opening half suggested that they were going to be in an All-Ireland quarter-final rather than a semi-final at around six-o-clock.

But the game of hurling never ceases to amaze and what followed in the second half was a joy to behold if you were in the green corner.

Nobody outside the close-knit bunch that occupies a half-time dressing room knows what transpires inside those four walls or what was spoken by those charged with turning the ship around.

But turn it around this superb Limerick team did and in a manner which must now make them almost unbackable favourites to win another All-Ireland.

Cian Lynch of Limerick is tackled by Dan McCormack of Tipperary. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cian Lynch of Limerick is tackled by Dan McCormack of Tipperary. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

But that’s for the future and for now all that we can do is marvel at the character and the quality of a side that appears to be very much in pole position to retain one of sport’s most coveted prizes.

Again the depth of the squad was seen in all its finery when Aaron Gillane and Dan Morrissey were summoned from the bench after half an hour.

It was a surprise that Gillane had been omitted in the first place but when the call came he was ready to play a huge part in their ultimate triumph.

Many will say he should not have finished out the game because he was fortunate to have received a yellow card instead of a red one for indiscretion.

There were many moments of splendour from Limerick in that second half as there had been from Tipp in the first but the goal that was delivered by Kyle Hayes was a thing of rare beauty. It was sublimely executed and a pure joy to behold.

Tipperary are still in the chase for the ultimate prize but this outcome is going to hurt for a while across the Premier County landscape. How damaging it psychologically remains to be seen and they have two weeks to try and reinvent what they produced in the first half.

Séamus Flanagan of Limerick fires a shot past Brian McGrath of Tipperary, which was saved,  in the Munster final. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Séamus Flanagan of Limerick fires a shot past Brian McGrath of Tipperary, which was saved,  in the Munster final. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

In the intense heat of Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday, it would have taken a superhuman effort to maintain that type of display thereafter and maybe Father Time is catching up on some of their marquee names.

You never write off a Tipp team but have they got what it takes to win three potentially massive games to regain the old trophy.

BANNER ROAR

Clare had a very significant advantage over Wexford too last Saturday. And when the latter reduced the gap to just three points it looked like they might make a hames of it. But they regrouped to claim the spoils and they were deserving winners.

And you’d wonder is Davy Fitz’s time on Slaneyside up? They had a great chance in 2019 but they are on a downward trajectory now it seems.

It’s down to the last eight now in the All-Ireland race with Kilkenny and Limerick able to sit back for a while now while the rest try to get into the last four alongside them.

Next weekend’s qualifiers will be revealing but right now the ball appears to be very much in Limerick’s court. 

But maybe this great game will amaze us even more in the weeks to come.

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