Limerick boss Maurice Horan was relieved his side had dug out a win after a poor start while Offaly counterpart Emmet McDonnell took the positives from what he saw as another step for his precocious side.
“We pulled it out of the fire in the end,” admitted Horan. “It was a scrappy enough display on our behalf. We played some nice football at times, strung some nice moves together, but we made hard work of it. I think both teams struggled, maybe the occasion got to us, playing in Croke Park is a big event for both counties.
Every team has a bad patch but what you need is the belief to come through that. We’re happy we managed to do that and it was nice to see the boys going up those steps in Croke Park to receive some silverware.”
As for McDonnell, the result apart, this was exactly what he was looking for from his players. “We’re not happy with moral victories, we’re not happy losing but there are a lot of positives. This is the first time most of our lads have played in Croke Park, we needed this experience before we come back here on June 1 to take on Kildare in the Leinster championship. Niall McNamee had a fantastic game again while a lot of the younger lads played well. Eoin Carroll is only 19 and he did very well on Seanie Buckley. The average age of this side is a good bit younger than Limerick and we’re happy with what we got from our lads.”
So he should be. In ideal conditions Offaly were quickest on the board, 1-4 to 0-1 ahead after 13 minutes, their goal powered home by raiding centre-back Ross Brady after good setup work by Niall McNamee and Ken Casey.
Another side might have panicked — not Limerick. Why? Because, explains wing-back Stephen Lavin, this has become old hat to them, coming back from a slow start. “We seem to do it in every game and that’s a worry. In the championship, against any team but especially against Cork (whom Limerick meet on May 25), you just won’t get away with that. One thing about us though, we don’t stop playing until the final whistle.
With Ian Ryan unerring from placed balls, Limerick gradually reduced the deficit, Lavin himself chipping in with a fine point, the Munster outfit had drawn level by the break (0-8 to 1-5).
Though they did manage the opening point of the second-half, through centre-back Stephen Lucey, Limerick were again sluggish in getting going and ten minutes after the restart it was Offaly again with the upperhand, 1-8 to 0-9 ahead thanks to two spectacular points from McNamee and one from Casey.
Limerick battled back but with just eight minutes remaining those two points still stood between the sides, 1-11 to 0-12. A strong finish, however, four unanswered points (young sub Derry O’Connor had an instant impact, two confident points), was enough to see Limerick crowned.
“Everyone contributed today,” said Lavin. “Young Derry O’Connor came on and got two great points. A team effort and credit to the management also, they brought on the right players at the right times, when it looked like the game was going away from us.”
As for Emmet: “The lads are disappointed with the way the game finished but look, we came here today looking for a good performance and for the most part we got that. We’re a young team, lads will learn from games like this.”
Scorers for Limerick: I Ryan 0-5 (4f); S Lavin 0-2; D O’Connor 0-2; S Lucey, J Riordan, T Lee, S Buckley, E O’Connor, I Corbett, M Sheehan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: N McNamee 0-4; K Casey 0-4 (1f); R Brady 1-0; B Connor 0-2; B Darby 0-1.
LIMERICK: D O’Sullivan; L O’Dwyer, M O’Riordan, P Browne; S Lavin, S Lucey, P Ranahan; B O’Brien, J Galvin; J Riordan, T Lee, S Buckley (c); E O’Connor, I Corbett, I Ryan.
Subs: D O’Connor (Lee 57); M Sheehan (Lucey 58); S O’Carroll (Galvin inj. 67); D Tracey (Ryan inj. 68).
OFFALY: A Mulhall; S Pender, P McConway, B Darby; E Carroll, R Brady, M Brazil; R Dalton, A McNamee; G Guilfoyle, B Connor, N Darby; A Sullivan, N McNamee, K Casey.
Subs: D Kelly (A McNamee 55); W Mulhall (Sullivan 68).
Referee: C Branagan (Derry).