The rise of Limerick footballers has long ceased to be an unusual occurrence, as have mini-crises in Cavan (this was Eamon Coleman’s third straight competitive defeat in his short reign). No, this game could be considered strange because of an erratic refereeing performance.
Sean Farrell gave 78 frees, booked 14 players and dismissed two Cavan players. And while this match was toughand physical, typical of the league in February, it was nowhere near as attritional as Farrell’s packed notebook suggested.
Pearse McKenna and Anthony Forde were sent off within 10 minutes of each other and Limerick took full advantage. However, Farrell’s was the most noteworthy performance, overshadowing both the second-half contributions of Damien Reidy, Jason Stokes and Stephen Lucey and the profligacy of Cavan attack.
Credit must go to the Munster side . Without six regulars, they showed remarkable character, playing into a stiff breeze and two points down at the interval, 0-5 to 0-3.
“This was an important victory for us. We were behind at half-time and going out playing into the wind, and we managed to ground the result out. If we want to continue to make progress, this is the sort of result that will stand to the team,” said Kearns.
On this showing, Limerick haven’t too far to travel to be considered contenders. They never really functioned in a scrappy first half but, in the second half, they displayed to this part of the country, where Gaelic football induces religious fervour, why they are the coming side in the country.
Maurice Horan has well and truly put his frustrations in native Mayo behind him. He not only opened the scoring, but tacked on two excellent points towards the end, as the 13-man Cavan crumbled. Horan looks a prospect, but it will be the performances of Lucey and Stokes that will comfort Kearns most.
Dermot McCabe ruled midfield in the first half, catching ball after ball John Quane arrived to quell McCabe’s influence and Stokes profited handsomely. In the first half, McCabe was at the hub of everything Cavan created, and the home side built up an early lead with Ger Pearson looking particularly sharp in the full-forward line. After Pearson knocked over a free in the 25th minute, the first score for 16 minutes, Cavan were 0-4 to 0-1 ahead. Limerick rallied to make the half-time score more respectable, but the home side, with the wind after the break, looked to be in the ascendant.
It was the same story at Sligo a week before. A good first half followed by a forgettable 35 minutes. Cavan didn’t score from play in the second half and some of their forward shooting was frankly frightening.
Muiris Gavin was almost faultless from the placed ball, tapping over six frees, including two at the beginning of the second half to level matters.
Pearson kept Cavan’s noses in front with a free in the 41st minute, but Gavin equalised with another free.
Then came, what Coleman considered the turning point.
Pearson profited from uncharacteristically sloppy marking in the Limerick full-back line to find himself free in front of Seamus O’Donnell. His shot beat the Limerick keeper, but spun off the cross-bar. The missed chance seemed to slacken Cavan shoulders, while it was the impetus for Limerick to raise another gear.
Even though Eoin Keating fluffed a golden goal chance in the 47th minute, after yet another pinpoint pass from centre-back Lucey, Limerick tails were up. Gavin’s accuracy put Limerick ahead in the 53rd minute, for the first time since Horan’s initial score, and then came controversy. McKenna has no qualms with his dismissal, lashing out at Gavin after the ball had gone. Forde’s red card was more mystifying, as there seemed little wrong with his challenge as Limerick played the ball from defence.
Stephen Kelly, whose tireless running caused Cavan problems all afternoon, chipped a fine effort as the game came to an end and Keating finally got on the scoreboard as the Cavan fans grew angrier.
Horan’s 69th minute point was probably the pick of the bunch, created by the wonderful vision of Johnny Murphy.
Limerick: M Gavin (0-6, all frees), M Horan (0-3), S Kelly (0-1), E Keating (0-1) Cavan: G Pearson (0-4, 2 frees), N Walsh, A Forde, L Reilly (0-1 each)
S O’Donnell; M O’Riordan, J McCarthy, T Stack, P Browne, S Lucey, D Reidy; J Stokes, T Carroll; S Kelly, M Gavin, C Mullane, M Horan, J Murphy, E Keating. Subs J Quane for Carroll(h-t), M Devine for Mullane(62 mins), M Keane for Murphy(66 mins)
E Elliot; S Smith, T Prior, P Brady, K Crother, T Crowe, E O’Reilly; D McCabe, P McKenna; S Brady, A Forde, L Reilly, J Reilly, N Walsh, G Pearson Subs C Collins for Walsh(55 mins), S Maguire for McCabe(60 mins) M Brides for J Reilly(65 mins)
S Farrell (Dublin).