For the third year running Limerick were denied promotion to the upper echelon of the competition in heartbreaking fashion and the pain of this defeat will linger for a long time yet if O’Brien’s attitude is a marker.
The key now is to channel that raw hurt as John Allen’s men prepare for a championship date with Tipperary in early June.
“You get what you deserve from this game and we didn’t deserve anything more,” said O’Brien.
“You take what you can take from any game; we didn’t win and this is just becoming too familiar for us.
“We had too many missed chances. We had eight wides in the first half, conceded six consecutive frees at the start of the second half. The best team always wins and the best team won tonight.”
How can you possibly argue with that? Yes Limerick had their chances, twice denied goals in the opening half by magnificent saves from stand-in Dublin ’keeper Alan Nolan, while the Shannonsiders recorded eight wides in that half to none for their opponents. Limerick’s cause wasn’t helped by those refereeing calls that went against them at the start of the second period, but despite all this, the game was still there for the taking in the final 20 minutes with Limerick holding a three-point lead.
In that final critical quarter, however, it was Dublin who did most of the hurling. It was they who did most of the scoring too. It was Dublin seizing the initiative and with it, the game.
“I don’t want to go to town on the referee,” added O’Brien, “He did give those frees against us which was a bit rich, all you want is that the same rules are applied to both teams but I’m sure he did his best — we’re all only doing our best. Now we just have to go back and reflect.”
When they do they’ll be pointing the finger at their own reflections because this was a game Limerick could have won. After eight minutes they led by three points to nil and would have been 2-3 to nil but for two brilliant saves by Nolan, plus the first of those eight first-half wides.
Then Dublin began to roll, racked up four points on the trot, before the body-blow, a goal conceded from Paul Ryan’s quickly taken free in the 23rd minute that was ricocheting around the back of the net while the Limerick goal-line defenders were still getting themselves organised.
Limerick recovered, O’Brien himself starting the fight-back with a long-range point, full-forward Declan Hannon goaling with a more conventional powered 20m-free strike, efforts which helped the Munster side to a slim 1-7 to 1-6 interval lead. Again however, it might have been much more but for the wayward shooting.
The second half saw fortunes sway first one way, then the other, Dublin outscoring Limerick four points to one to take a 1-10 to 1-8 lead by the 42nd minute. Limerick then hit five on the run to overturn that deficit (1-13 to 1-10) before that decisive late charge by Dublin. Free-taker Ryan was deadly from placed balls, full-forward Dotsie O’Callaghan proved his worth as both playmaker and finisher before midfielder Joey Boland landed the winner.
All bodes well for Dublin, big winners on the day as they now assure themselves of a place at the top table next year, also earns them another day out in this campaign, facing Tipperary in the semi-final in two weeks. Rest assured, Dublin will give a good account of themselves there.
For Limerick and Paudie O’Brien, a body-blow, two months now to regroup and ready themselves for their Munster championship date with Tipperary on June 9 at the Gaelic Grounds.
O’Brien admitted: “It’s a huge setback, but we’re hoping the GAA might have another look at the structure and change it and allow us up next year. Then again we don’t want to go up by default either. We want to earn it. It’s like two different seasons — you finish the league, take a week off, go back to the club, take time to reflect, then try to get back in the groove again for the championship.
“This was a goal for us, this was something we wanted to win and I’m not going to pretend any different now that we’ve lost. We threw it away.
“But championship hurling is really what you want and 10 minutes into that game no-one is going to remember this one.”
Scorers for Dublin: P Ryan 1-8 (1-8f); D O’Callaghan, C McCormack, D Sutcliffe, J McCaffrey (s/l), S Lambert, J Boland, N McMurrow, D Treacy, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Limerick: D Hannon 1-7 (1-6f, 0-1 ‘65); G Mulcahy 0-2; S Hickey 0-2; C Allis 0-2; K Downes, P O’Brien 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: A Nolan; R Traynor, P Schutte, P Kelly; M Carton, L Rushe, S Durkin; J Boland, S Lambert; C Keaney, J McCaffrey, D Sutcliffe; C McCormack, D O’Callaghan, P Ryan.
Subs: R O’Dwyer (McCaffrey 35); N McMurrow (Keaney 46); D Treacy (Carton 50); E Dillon (McCormack (64); N Corcoran (Schutte inj. 66).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; P O’Brien (c), W McNamara, G O’Mahony; J Ryan, P Browne; D Breen, S Hickey, C Allis; G Mulcahy, D Hannon, K Downes.
Subs: S Dowling (Breen 59); N Moran (Downes 64).
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).