“Every team will be up for it. It’s the last chance saloon in reality,” he admitted.
Just a short distance down the corridor, the grim expression on Colm Bonnar’s face reflected Wexford dismay nearing the end of a year in which a growing list of injuries contributed to them falling further behind in the Leinster pecking order. And the disappointment of losing a game in which they looked like possible victors on several occasions added to his misery.
The cumulative effect of a number of factors accounted for Limerick’s victory, not least powerful play from their half-backs, with Mark Foley and Seamus Hickey superb.
Paudie McNamara (preferred at full-forward to David Breen), more than justified his selection and a dominant third quarter also had a huge bearing on the outcome.
Ultimately Limerick could thank dual star Stephen Lucey for winning a vital ball against late sub Stephen Banville nearing the end of six minutes of injury time when spirited Wexford were desperately chasing an equaliser.
And, it was from this clearance McNamara produced the last of his four points to ensure their survival.
Seamus Hickey, whose performance was enhanced with a point in each half, admitted that they had been inspired by the county’s gutsy display in the Munster football final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh the previous week.
“For the footballers to do what they did, to come so close...we scraped off some of the pride and passion they had in the jersey and we took it on ourselves,” he commented.
Wexford were a little slow to start, trailing 0-3 to 0-1 after just nine minutes before jumping in front with a splendid Rory Jacob point seven minutes later. And, even after they suffered the blow of conceding a goal immediately afterwards – Andrew O’Shaughnessy beating Damien Fitzhenry with a low shot – they showed even greater determination in coming back to regain the lead in the 24th minute.
The scorer this time was captain Diarmuid Lyng, whose leadership at midfield in the face of a strong challenge from the Limerick pair was supplemented by excellent free-taking. And, while Wexford were out of luck when the impressive Stephen Doyle was foiled by the crossbar shortly afterwards, admirable craft and application had them 0-11 to 1-6 in front at the break.
In praising his team for quickly turning the game around (having had to contend with the loss of key forward Niall Moran with a broken finger after just 20 minutes), the Limerick boss agreed that it had the added benefit of enabling them to finish the stronger. And, critical to their recovery had been the brilliance of Hickey and Foley along with the steadiness of Brian Geary in the centre, Gavin O’Mahony at midfield and substitute Mike O’Brien in attack. Wexford showed a lot of promise in wiping out a three-point deficit by the 59th minute and in drawing level through a Lyng free in the second last minute of ordinary time. But, it was the visitors who seized the initiative. “We made that commitment before the game and it was made again at half time,” McCarthy explained. “The players knew they had to respond. We said we were not going back that long journey in the bus (as losers)...we want to move on and it was that bit of spirit which brought us through. There is life still in Limerick – when push came to shove we stood up that bit more.”
Bonnar struggled to describe his emotions: “When you’re out of the championship, that’s when it kicks in. “It’s the moment you dread, when you walk into the dressing room. Everybody put so much into it.”
Scorers for Limerick: A. O’Shaughnessy 1-2 (0-1 free); P. McNamara 0-4; S. Hickey 0-2; N. Moran, G. O’Mahony (free), D. Sheehan, D. O’Grady and J. Ryan (Bruree) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: D. Lyng 0-6 (0-5 frees); R. Jacob 0-4; W. Doran 0-2; D. Redmond and S. Doyle 0-1 each.
Subs for Limerick: P. Browne for Moran (injured, 20); M. O’Brien for W. McNamara (30); D. Moloney for O’Riordan and J. Ryan (Bruree) for Ryan (49); O. Moran for O’Grady (injured, 58).
Subs for Wexford: M. Jacob for Nolan (56); S. Banville for Redmond and J. Berry for Martin (67).
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford)