And to manager John Allen’s delight, the Shannonsiders achieved their target with a 3-22 to 0-17 win that sets up a showdown with Clare and leaves the Saffrons in the second grade for another season.
Said Allen: “After our poor start to the league, this was a chance to put things right and, by half-time, the game was really over. Now we have a chance to get back into Division 1A. It was good to give a good performance — it means a lot to us. As a spectacle it may not have been a great game but we dictated all over the field.
“Shane Dowling’s goals put the game away early on and Conor Allis was magnificent from frees. Gavin O’Mahoney had his best game of the season and the whole half-back line and midfield played well.”
During the first quarter, Antrim matched their opponents in many quarters with Michael Herron, Neil McManus and Shane McNaughton picking off points from play to put the Saffrons 0-4 to 0-2 ahead on 10 minutes. James Ryan and Conor Allis levelled before McNaughton and corner-back Stephen Walsh traded points to leave it five apiece after 16 minutes. Within seconds Dowling fired Limerick ahead and they were never again caught, striding into a 1-10 to 0-5 lead by the 24th minute
The Limerick goal was blasted home by Dowling from a 20 metres free and, when he added another from the same spot eight minutes later for an 2-10 to 0-6 advantage, the writing was on the wall for Antrim.
Limerick led by 2-12 to 0-8 at the interval and, in an effort to stem the tide, Antrim sent in three replacements but it didn’t really make a difference. After McNaughton pulled a point back for Antrim, the winners continued to dominate and when substitute Sean Tobin rifled in Limerick’s third goal for a 3-17 to 0-10 lead, the contest was well and truly over, despite 17 minutes still to go.
Some controversial refereeing by Galway’s Alan Kelly didn’t please the home crowd nor, indeed, Antrim manager Jerry Wallace.
“I’d like to be as generous as I can be,” he reflected, but when we had gone level, during the first half, we were in possession of the ball and it looked as if we had got a free but we didn’t. Limerick got it.
“My players were distracted. I’m mystified at the decision. They (Limerick) then got a free inside and, suddenly, we were four points down. It destroyed what was turning out to be a very entertaining game. The paying public deserve better. They came in expecting to see a fast game of hurling and what they got was a game destroyed by pernickety decisions.”
ANTRIM: DD Quinn; A Graffin, C Donnelly, K McGourty; N McAuley, N McManus (0-1), M Gettins; K Stewart (0-1), P Sheils; S McCrory, M Herron (0-2), E McCloskey (0-2); PJ O’Connell (0-1), C Carson, S McNaughton (0-9, 4f).
Subs: B McFall (0-1) for McCrory (h/t), B McAuley for Shiels (h/t), Scullion for Carson (h/t), J Kerr for Donnelly, inj (47).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Walsh (0-1), R McCarthy, T Condon; W McNamara, D O’Grady, G O’Mahoney; P Browne, J Ryan (0-2); S Dowling (2-4, 2-0 frees, 0-1 pen), D Breen (0-2), C Allis (0-9, 2f, 0-2 ‘65s’); G Mulcahy, N Moran (0-1), T Quaid (0-1).
Subs: S O’Neill for Condon (h/t), S Tobin (1-2) for T Quaid (47), K Downes for Moran (55), S O’Brien for Breen (59), T Ryan for McNamara (63).
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).