By Declan Rooney
Limerick have had three weeks to get over the disappointment of missing out on a Munster final appearance, but this was the ideal return to action for John Kiely’s side.
That defeat to Clare came as they struggled to perform for a third weekend in a row in the hectic provincial championship, but after this impressive win they are now back at the same stage as the Banner men.
This time it was Carlow’s turn to falter in the throes of a hectic schedule. Six days on from the triumphant Joe McDonagh Cup win that secured their promotion into next summer’s Leinster championship, they struggled to produce their sharp, accurate hurling against elite opponents. They held strong for 15 minutes, but two goals in a minute ended a positive summer for the county.
Limerick are far from finished. They are back in action next Sunday against KIlkenny — the last time they had pushed on this far in the championship was 2014 and they are now only two wins from a first All-Ireland final appearance since 2007. It’s a significant milestone for this young Limerick outfit.
“It is big, although it’s no different to any game we played in the round robin in Munster and the series of games in the league against Galway, Tipp, and Clare,” said Kiely.
“There’s no real difference to it in that regard, it’s just coming into a different time of the year.
It was Kyle Hayes’s early goal that got Limerick up and running after 30 seconds, and in their best spell Carlow tagged on points from Edward Byrne and Denis Muphy to keep in touch. Unfortunately, they also started to miss the target on a regular basis, which meant Limerick pulled clear easily as soon as they found their own form.
That recovery stemmed from the brilliance of Cian Lynch at midfield. Along with Declan Hannon, he quenched several Carlow forays, while Lynch’s accurate, long passing launched several attacks. Goal number two — Graeme Mulcahy’s effort — came from one of his long deliveries, as did a couple of points, while the bright link-play and finishing ability of Tom Morrissey also stood out for the Treaty men.
“We moved the ball quite well through the lines, plenty of support runners coming on, just sometimes the final pass didn’t come off,” said Kiely.
While Lynch and Morrissey did much of the work out the field, it was Aaron Gillane who was the inspiration inside. His one-game suspension following a red card against Cork resulted in a place on the bench last time out, but he has been Limerick’s top man all year and was not going to spend long in reserve.
His brilliant offloading game continually brought his colleagues into play, while his free-taking was accurate and his goal was an exquisite finish.
All that meant Carlow were a long way second best, but Bonnar says he’s happy to have identified where they need to improve.
“We would’ve had a bit more comfort if we had’ve been a bit closer to Limerick and to say, ‘we’re not that far away’, but Limerick kind of showed us up a small bit in areas we’ll need to work on,” said Bonnar.
“But that’s good because it’s something that we can work on straight away. It’s not like it’s going to happen next February or March. It’s something now, this is what happened so what can we do to get better? What do we need to work on as a group of players?
Scorers for Limerick:
A Gillane (1-6, 2 frees); P Casey (1-3); T Morrissey (0-5); G Mulcahy, D Byrnes (1 65) (1-1 each); K Hayes (1-0); G Hegarty (0-2); C Lynch, B Nash, S Flanagan, D O’Donovan (0-1 each)
Scorers for Carlow:
D Murphy (0-4, 3 free, 1 65), P Abbey, J M Nolan (0-2 each); E Byrne, J Kavanagh, D Byrne (1f), C Nolan, S Murphy (0-1 each)
N Quaid; M Casey, R McCarthy, R English; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; W O’Donoghue, C Lynch; G Hegarty, K Hayes, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, G Mulcahy
Subs for Limerick:
P Casey for Hayes (36), B Nash for Mulcahy (36), D O’Donovan for Lynch (46), S Finn for English (53), S Hickey for Hannon (58).
B Tracey; D Wall, P Doyle, M Doyle; K McDonald, D English, R Coady; J Kavanagh, D Byrne (c); JM Nolan, P Coady, E Byrne; J Doyle, D Murphy, C Nolan
Subs for Carlow:
S Murphy for D Murphy (48), C Foley for P Coady (53), R Smithers for C Nolan (56), E Redmond for M Doyle (57), P Abbey for E Byrne (63)
J Keenan (Wicklow).