By Daragh Ó Conchúir
NIAMH LILLIS has cut a composed figure since stepping into the shoes vacated by Bill Mullaney, who stood down as Tipperary manager in the middle of June for health reasons.
A member of the all-conquering panel that annexed the county’s first All-Ireland 20years ago and went on to complete a three-in-a-row, Lillis had been a key member of Mullaney’s backroom team.
Her transition to the hot seat has been seamless, aided by the invaluable support of Dinny Ferncombe, Eddie Costello, Carmel Bradshaw and Cian Treacy.
As usual though, she deflected attention to the players, who really stood up in the second half, having been placed firmly on the back foot by a Niamh Mulcahy-inspired Limerick in the first half.
Mulcahy has long been a doyenne of Camogie, and while it will be no consolation for the legendary Ahane woman, it is only right that a significantly-increased attendance for the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Quarter-Finals of more than 2,000 at Semple Stadium, as well as those watching live on RTÉ, got to see her stupendous first-half goal is, having been producing such heroics unknown to most for more than a decade.
That Limerick trailed by a point at the change of ends, 1-4 to 1-3, told of their inability to translate superiority in general play to scores, even allowing for the error by goalkeeper Laura O’Neill that gifted a goal to Niamh Treacy.
Mulcahy was uncharacteristically off-key from placed balls, while she also had a penalty brilliantly saved by Caoimhe Bourke in the fourth minute.
Orla O’Dwyer was a lone threat for Tipp in that period and the dual star, who heads for Australia in October having signed a contract to play Aussie rules for Brisbane in the AFLW, was magnificent too in the second half.
Karen Kennedy, Cáit Devane and Mary Ryan also took up the cudgel and with Devane unerring from placed balls, Tipp edged away to confirm a date with neighbours Kilkenny in the Semi-Final at LIT Gaelic Grounds on August 17th, despite playing into a strong wind and losing Ereena Fryday to a second yellow card in the 52nd minute.
Limerick managed just two points in the second half and though they had many excellent defensive performers, including Muireann Creamer and Niamh Ryan, only Caoimhe Costelloe really offered support to Mulcahy in an attacking sense.
“We didn’t start great, we didn’t play a great first half but we upped it in the second half, we held them to two points and they had a very, very strong breeze” said Lillis.
“I couldn’t compliment our backs enough. I thought they were outstanding in the second half (with) their tackling; they came out with more ball there. They were superb.
“We were reduced to 14 players but the smart heads, the Cáits, the Moll (Mary) Ryans, Megan (Ryan) came into it too, that experience told there today.
“We do have runners all over the field and if we can get them on ball, they are very dangerous. I’m delighted for the girls, they deserve to be in an All-Ireland Semi-Final.”
“Relieved would be the word that would sum it up” declared Devane, who was named Liberty Insurance Player of the Match.
“It was a fantastic battle and we were living on the edge even to the last puck of the ball. We’d to dig deep again to finish with 14. It wasn’t easy with the greasy conditions and everything but credit to Limerick, they put it up to us.
“We knew they would, they hadn’t been in the knockout stages of the competition for so long. They showed great hunger in the first half. At half-time we really had to take stock and bring out more grit in the second half but thankfully we did that and got over the line.”
SCORERS FOR TIPPERARY: C Devane 0-7(6fs, 1 45); N Treacy 1-0; E Fryday, O O’Dwyer, M Campion 0-1 each
SCORERS FOR LIMERICK: N Mulcahy 1-2; C Costelloe 0-2; L Stack 0-1
TIPPERARY: C Bourke, J Bourke, Mary Ryan, E Loughman, C Quirke, K Kennedy, A McGrath, G O’Toole, N Treacy, O O’Dwyer, Megan Ryan, E Fryday, E McDonald, C Devane, K Blair.
Subs: for Tipperary: M Campion for Blair (45), N Walsh for O’Toole (49), L Loughnane for Treacy (56). G O’Brien for McDonald (60+1)
LIMERICK: L O’Neill, M Ryan, M Creamer, M Quaid, N Ryan, S Carey, J Mulcahy, K O’Leary, R Ambrose, D Murphy, N Mulcahy, C Costelloe, L Stack, R Delee, D Egan.
Subs for Limerick: C Lyons for Egan (34), L Leonard for Stack (41), L McCarthy for Quaid (44), N Curtin for N Ryan (54), K Hennessy for O’Leary inj (60)
REFEREE: Ray Kelly (Kildare)