ALL-IRELAND SHC THIRD PHASE QUALIFIER: LIMERICK 0-18 OFFALY 3-19
A hat-trick of goals from Joe Bergin ensured a youthful Offaly side advanced in the SHC qualifiers at the Gaelic Grounds tonight, as Limerick, last year's All-Ireland runners-up, crashed out of the championship.
Despite hitting 12 wides, Offaly were dominant in all sectors, with free-takers Brian Carroll and Shane Dooley both converting with ease.
The Faithfuls led by 2-11 to 0-06 at the interval and failed to let up in the second half, with David Franks and David Kenny solid in defence.
In an otherwise clean encounter, Limerick's frustrations set in late on when Denis Moloney was shown a yellow card following a wild pull on Joe Brady.
This was a free-flowing game that had the large crowd of travelling Offaly supporters on their feet throughout.
Rubbishing the pre-match predictions, the visitors fired on all cylinders and were boosted by Under-21 players Diarmuid Horan, Shane Dooley and Daniel Currams.
Once Brian Carroll slotted over the first of his six points in the opening-minute, it paved the way for Offaly to continuing building momentum and they failed to trail Limerick at any stage in the game.
An eager Offaly attack found the back of the Limerick net for the first time in the 14th-minute after a long range free was sent inside by Michael Verney, which dipped on the edge of the square.
Although a possible penalty was on the cards, Joe Bergin shook off the challenge of Limerick full-back Stephen Lucey to control the ball and flick it home as Joe Dooley's side took a 1-03 to 0-03 lead.
Carroll added his third point, a first from a '65', to give Offaly a four point lead as the game entered the second quarter.
Left-half forward Niall Moran was doing his utmost to keep the hosts in touch with a fine 19th-minute point from an acute angle on the terrace side of the pitch.
But Limerick's joy was short lived as Bergin crashed home his second goal soon after.
Limerick's defence was again left exposed as the Seir Kieran clubman shook off the challenges of Lucey and Seamus Hickey.
He went on a crusade towards the goalmouth before unleashing an unstoppable shot past a stranded Brian Murray.
The quick switch by Limerick manager Richie Bennis of Niall Moran to full-forward seemed to reap dividends as Andrew O'Shaughnessy also opened up the game.
He was unfortunate to have his 24th-minute goal shot saved, before Adare midfielder Wayne McNamara slotted over a point to cut the gap to five.
The game continued to produce some excellent hurling and in the strong evening sunshine it was Offaly's turn to sparkle.
They were virtually unstoppable before the interval, outscoring Limerick by seven points to one, as they took a comfortable 2-11 to 0-06 lead.
An injury-time point from Limerick captain Mark Foley was the only blip during an otherwise perfect spell for the men from Leinster.
The introduction of Pat Tobin and Donnacha Sheehan aided Limerick greatly in the second half, with both on target inside a nine-minute spell on the restart. The hosts succeeded in cutting the gap to seven points (2-11 to 0-10).
A previously accurate Carroll was now beginning to misfire from frees, but this was against a strong breeze and sun, which Offaly had in their favour in the opening half.
Shane Dooley made amends for Carroll's wides, and when Bergin fired home his third goal, with 20 minutes remaining, there was only going to be one winner.
Offaly had it far from easy in the final quarter, with half-time substitute Pat Tobin bringing his tally to five points by the full-time whistle.
But Dooley's men continued to produce a top drawer performance and with treble All-Ireland club title winner Brian Mullins marshalling well between the posts, with superb save after save, they cantered home.
Scorers - Offaly: J Bergin 3-02, B Carroll (0-01f, 0-01 '65'), S Dooley (0-01f) 0-06 each, D Molloy 0-02, D Horan (0-01 '65'), B Murphy, D Currams 0-01 each
Limerick: P Tobin 0-05, A Shaughnessy 0-04 (0-02f, 0-01 '65'), N Moran 0-03 (0-01f), B Geary (0-01 '65'), M Foley, W McNamara, D Ryan, D Sheehan, K Tobin 0-01 each
OFFALY: B Mullins; D Franks, D Kenny, M Verney; K Brady, G Oakley, D Horan; B Murphy, R Hanniffy; S Dooley, J Brady, D Molloy; B Carroll, J Bergin, D Currams.
Subs used: D Hayden for Carroll (47-51 mins, blood sub), J Rigney for Horan (63), D Hayden for Currams (67), C Mahon for Murphy (70+1).
LIMERICK: B Murray; D Reale, S Lucey, S Hickey; M O'Riordan, B Geary, M Foley; D O'Grady, W McNamara; M O'Brien, O Moran, N Moran; A O'Shaughnessy, S O'Connor, D Ryan.
Subs used: D Moloney for O'Connor (28 mins), D Sheehan for O'Brien, P Tobin for Ryan (both half-time), D Cosgrave for Lucey (58), K Tobin for N Moran (62).
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)