The underdogs’ lightning start would prove a pretty solid foundation when Dublin sought to chisel into Limerick’s advantage midway through the second-half of this, at times, one-sided semi-final contest and while the Leinster champions were successful in reducing a nine-point interval deficit down to four (1-16 to 0-15) with eight minutes remaining, they failed to move within striking distance of their opponents on the home stretch.
Yesterday’s win, guaranteeing as it does a second All-Ireland minor final appearance in three years, reaffirms the work of those serving at the coalface of Limerick’s underage academy over the past five years. Since 2013, Limerick have featured at the semi-final stage on three occasions. Twice they’ve progressed.
Even more impressive was this latest semi-final win, and the manner in which it was achieved, given none of the present squad had played in Croke Park prior to the sliotar being thrown in at 1.30pm.
Moreover, given the Limerick management declined the opportunity to visit GAA HQ ahead of the game, very few of the present squad had even walked on the Croke Park turf before yesterday.
For all this, they couldn’t have settled quicker.
Kyle Hayes had them in front after 50 seconds, half-back Finn Hourigan doubling their advantage a minute later with a massive score from inside his own half. Two Brian Ryan frees followed and Limerick were four clear six minutes in.
At the other end, Dublin’s collective radar was letting them down – Cian O’Sullivan, Donal Burke and Colin Currie twice shooting wide. Dublin goalkeeper Dara De Poire produced a fine save to deny Ryan and while Currie (free) had the favourites off the mark by the 10th minute, Dublin fell further behind following a 13th minute Cian Magnier-Flynn goal - the corner-forward connected superbly in the air with a Ryan free.
Dublin boss Johnny McGuirk wasn’t too pleased that it stood. Square ball, perhaps?
“I thought so,” he replied.
“With Limerick sweeper Ciarán O’Connor continuing to hoover up an amount of ball deep in his own half, the supply lines into the Treaty forwards flowed ominously. Ryan nailed his third free and a successful dead ball effort by ‘keeper Mark O’Kelly left Limerick 1-6 to 0-1 clear a quarter of an hour in.
Eoin Foley registered Dublin’s first from play on 19 minutes. It mattered not; three of the next four scores were provided by players wearing green to propel the beaten Munster finalists into a 1-10 to 0-3 advantage.
Dublin, through Currie (free and ’65) and Ciarán Dowling (0-2), matched their opponents score for score thereafter, but the target they chased at the break was still a pretty steep one – 1-13 to 0-7 the interval scoreline.
To their credit, McGuirk’s young troops threw themselves into the challenge at hand upon the change of ends and outscored Limerick by 0-4 to 0-1 – Currie (three frees) and Conor Burke on target.
Two further Brian Ryan placed ball efforts – the corner-forward’s personally tally had moved into double-digit territory by the finish – slowed Dublin’s building momentum. A second mini-burst from the Leinster champions, led chiefly by Currie, Johnny McGuirk and sub Daire Gray, closed the gap, as noted, to four (1-16 to 0-15).
In the remaining eight minutes, plus stoppages, though, McGuirk’s side would fail to add to their tally. Limerick corner-back Ronan Connelly made a vital interception as sub John Walsh drifted in behind the cover, while ‘keeper O’Kelly saved a Donal Burke shot.
So, Limerick again stand within one hour of a first minor crown since 1984.
“It is long overdue at this stage,” concluded manager Pat Donnelly, himself a sub on that afternoon 32-years ago.
B Ryan (0-10, 0-8 frees); C Magnier-Flynn (1-1); C Boylan, K Hayes (0-2 each); M O’Kelly (0-1 free), F Hourigan, A Barrett (0-1 each).
C Currie (0-8, 0-6 frees, 0-2 ’65’s); J McGuirk (0-1 free), C Dowling (0-2 each); D Gray, C Burke, E Foley (0-1 each).
M O’Kelly (Croom); B Nash (South Liberties), C Nicholas (Monaleen), R Connelly (Adare); J Adams (Ballybrown), J Boylan (Na Piarsaigh), F Hourigan (Murroe/Boher); C O’Connor (Kilmallock), D Carroll (Newport); M O’Grady (Knockainey), A Barrett (Kilmallock), C Boylan (Na Piarsaigh); B Ryan (South Liberties), K Hayes (Kildimo/Pallaskenry), C Magnier-Flynn (Killeedy).
J Flynn (Patrickswell) for Carroll (45 mins); D Woulfe (Kilmallock for Barrett (49); P O’Riordan (Bruff) for Magnier-Flynn (57); M Bourke (Garryspillane) for O’Grady (61).
D De Poire (St Vincent’s); D Hickshaw (St Brigid’s), P Smyth (Clontarf), D Ryan (St Brigid’s); J McVeigh (Faughs), C O’Sullivan (St Brigid’s), E Foley (Naomh Olaf); C Ryan (Craobh Chiaráin), D Keogh (Thomas Davis); D Burke (Na Fianna), J McGuirk (St Brigid’s), C Burke (St Vincent’s); R Hayes (Kilmacud Crokes), C Dowling (Lucan Sarsfields), C Currie (Na Fianna).
D Gray (Whitehall/Colmcille) for Keogh (HT), J Walsh (St Vincent’s) for Hayes (HT); J O’Neill (St Brigid’s) for McVeigh (47); P Feeney (Na Fianna) for Currie (48); S Currie (Na Fianna) for McGuirk (54).
J Heffernan (Wexford).