A pair of Ger Collins penalties and Darragh Tracey’s palmed goal in the final play wrapped up a fine victory for the Treaty men in front of 727 spectators.
Limerick looked a poor side when they exited the Munster championship to a rampant Tipperary, but Brudair thinks his reinvigorated team have a great chance of launching another good qualifier run.
“If we play the best we played today over a full stretch we would be a tough opposition for any team,” he said.
“Against Tipp we were hoping with youth we might match their athleticism and have the experience to come on later. But in the last few weeks we’ve swapped it around and had youth to come on.
“We’ve learned our lessons. I know our lads have upped their performances but you can’t beat games either. We’ve had three or four games in-a-row and that will build cohesiveness and unity. It’s an upward curve the whole time, we have a very young panel and a very new panel and half of them weren’t involved last year.”
Afterwards, Antrim manager Liam Bradley lashed the performance of referee Martin Higgins for what he called ‘hometown decisions’, especially a free awarded against Kevin Niblock in the build-up to the crucial first penalty in the 42nd minute.
“The reason we got beat today lies with the man in the middle with that mistake that he made with Kevin Niblock not getting a free,” Bradley said.
“He pinged him for lifting the ball off the ground and the ball was two foot off the ground. He wasn’t up with the game so he didn’t know what he was doing at stages. The first goal was a killer for us, we tried to set ourselves a target the other day, that we weren’t going to concede any goal and we go out and two penalties are given against us.
“I thought a lot of the time we saw this hand going up for advantage, we weren’t getting advantage. We were being pulled and dragged all over the place but we weren’t getting advantage.
“Either these boys implement the rules or they can forget about them, plain and simple. That guy in the middle, Martin Higgins from Fermanagh, cost us the game today, nobody will tell me any different,” said a livid Bradley.
A free count of 23-22 in favour of Limerick hardly points to a ‘hometown’ performance from the referee, but Bradley was correct that Collins’ first successful penalty turned the game.
Despite the loss of Justin Crozier with a dislocated elbow, Antrim led 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time and should have at least doubled their advantage after the restart but for some very poor shooting.
The Saffrons were well on top at that stage, but after the terrific John Galvin was fouled and Collins converted, Limerick improved.
When his second spot-kick hit the net 12 minutes later Limerick led by three points and Brudair felt it was a fair reflection of their enthusiasm for the challenge.
“I think there was two or three more goal chances for us there in the second-half with our direct running.
“Teams have done it to us this year but we’ve reversed the tables today. I’m delighted with the way the lads have applied themselves in the second-half especially,” he said.
Wins over London and now Antrim have given Limerick a real boost and afterwards they remained in a tight huddle and looked a united, determined bunch.
Excellent performances from Galvin, Pa Ranahan, Mark O’Riordan and Seanie Buckley helped the Treaty men to the win, but this morning’s draw will play a large part in how their summer pans out.
John Galvin. After a sticky first-half, Galvin charged into the second period like a young stag. He kicked two battling points from play after the restart at moments when his side really needed a leader.
Limerick look a different team since they exited the Munster championship. Granted wins over Division 4 opponents in consecutive rounds is nothing to sing about, but small steps of progress will pleased John Brudair.
Seanie Buckley. The Dromcollogher/Broadford man was superb. Hardly a blade of grass at the Gaelic Grounds went untouched as he carried Limerick into the next round. Outstanding.
The only apparent black card should have been handed to Delargy when he pulled down Seanie Buckley for Limerick’s penalty. In the end a yellow card was shown to the wrong man.
John Brudair can be satisfied with his lot. After punting on youth earlier in the season, a return to experienced faces has brought positive results. Sprung the youngsters from the bench late on to inject pace and enthusiasm.
The assessor’s report might not make for pleasant reading for Martin Higgins. Questions have been raised surrounding some of his decisions by Liam Bradley, and he’ll be disappointed to pick out the wrong man for the penalty punishment.
Round 3A of the qualifiers beckons for Limerick next weekend while Antrim must enjoy the championship as spectators.
— Declan Rooney
Scorers for Limerick: I Ryan (0-4, 3fs), G Collins (2-0pen), D Tracey (1-0), K Phair, J Galvin (0-2 each), T Lee G Hegarty, M O’Riordan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Antrim: P Cunningham (0-8, 7fs), P McCann (0-2), M Sweeney, N McKeever, M McCann, R McGrady, P McBride (0-1 each).
LIMERICK: B Scanlon; S O’Dea, P Browne, M O’Riordan; I Corbett, J McCarthy, P Ranahan; T Lee, J Galvin; S Buckley, D Neville, G Hegarty; G Collins, K Phair, I Ryan.
Subs for Limerick: D Tracey for Lee (42), S Lucey for Corbett (44), E Hanrahan for Phair (63), M Brosnan for Neville (65), J Mullane for Hegarty (69), G Noonan for Ryan (73).
ANTRIM: P Flood; N Delargly, S McVeigh, K O’Boyle; T Scullion, D Lynch, J Crozier; M McCann, N McKever; P McCann, K Niblock, M Sweeney; P Cunningham, B Hasson, T McCann.
Subs for Antrim: M Johnson for Crozier (28), R McGrady for Hasson (46), P McBride for P McCann (53), R Johnson for T McCann (65).
Referee: M Higgins (Fermanagh).