The Midlanders started brightly, but once Limerick shook off the rust, their class told. So did their physical strength.
Laois boss Damien Fox was in no doubt afterwards about where the game was won and lost: “We probably lacked a little in the physical stakes,” he said. “Limerick are a big, physical side and the pitch was quite heavy.
“We started quite well, but we didn’t score when we were on top. We’ve lost two of the full-back line side since last year and we had to bring off our new full-back (Brian Campion) at half time through injury. And in the first half, during a seven or eight-minute spell, Limerick kicked on ahead.”
Pat Tobin was the central figure in those seven or eight minutes. Limerick manager Richie Bennis will hope the Murroe-Boher attacker keeps some of his good stuff for the summer: between the 24th and 26th minutes yesterday he snaffled 1-2 alone.
At that stage Limerick needed a boost. Just before Tobin’s goal, Joe Fitzpatrick meandered through to place John Brophy for a goal which gave Laois a three-point lead. By the time Tobin’s splurge was over, and Ciaran Carey lookalike Paudie O’Dwyer had pointed a free from distance, Limerick were three points ahead. They led 1-12 to 1-7 at the break, and Tobin added two more points within a minute of the restart.
Limerick had opened the gap up to 13 points by the time Andrew O’Shaughnessy outdid Tobin’s first-half exploits, banging home two goals within two minutes to make it 3-18 to 1-9. The last quarter was a matter of going through the motions.
At the final whistle Pat Tobin’s name was the first card dealt to Limerick boss Richie Bennis.
“Pat was on fire today but he has the potential to be on fire the whole time,” said Bennis. “We’ll be hoping to keep him at that now, because Pat has fierce potential.
“Consistency is important, and you also need a panel. It’s a game about 22 players rather than 15 nowadays and we think we have a panel nowadays. Brian Begley may tog out next Sunday, for instance, but Brian Geary is a more long-term issue. We’re thinking in terms of May or June, I’d say.”
Damien Fox strengthened Bennis’ strength in depth argument: “You see the subs Limerick could bring on — Mark Foley, Mike Fitzgerald. To see those lads coming on when you’re 11 points down is pretty disheartening, but our lads plugged away.”
The Limerick boss admitted that his side are only now getting down to ballwork in training: “We’re getting at it, but the pitches were unavailable. But we’re happy with today. This was a potential banana skin, given that we made the All-Ireland final last year it was easy for Laois to motivate themselves. But we got a good few scores — and very few wides. That’s a change from last year.”
That difficult second season may be only just beginning, but Limerick have made a promising start.
Scorers for Limerick: A. O’Shaughnessy 2-6 (0-4 frees), P. Tobin 1-7, S. O’Connor, O. Moran and P. O’Dwyer (1f, 1’65) 0-2 each; D. O’Grady, M. Fitzgerald, W. McNamara and K. Tobin 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: J. Young 0-5 (frees), W. Hyland and J. Brophy 1-0 each, Z. Keenan 0-3, T. Fitzgerald 0-2, P. Russell 0-1.
B. Murray, M. O’Riordan, S. Lucey, S. Hickey, Maurice O’Brien, P. O’Dwyer, D. Clancy, D. O’Grady, Mike O’Brien, S. Lavin, O. Moran, A. O’Connor, A. O’Shaughnessy, S. O’Connor, P. Tobin.
Subs: K. Tobin for Lavin, P. Browne for O’Connor, 50; W McNamara for O’Grady; M. Foley for Clancy, 54; M Fitzgerald for P. Tobin, 64.
P. Mullaney, J. Delaney, B. Campion, C. Dunne, E. Browne, M. Whelan, J. Phelan, J. Fitzpatrick, S. Norton, T. Fitzgerald, W. Hyland, Z. Keenan, J Brophy, J. Young, P. Russell.
Subs: J. Walsh for Browne, 13; N. Holmes for Norton, C Coonan for Campion, HT; J. Dunne for Russell 55.
M. Wadding (Waterford).