Limerick 4-26 Wexford 1-11
Parties don’t come much more pooped than this, Limerick supreme killjoys in ending an otherwise glorious July for Wexford.
A team crying out for a break after over 250 minutes of hurling in 21 days coming into yesterday’s quarter-final, they were given a six-month hiatus by a powerful return to form by the Munster SHC runners-up.
They absorbed the blow of losing captain Donal O’Grady to a calf injury and had an All-Ireland semi-final wrapped up with a bow by the time Barry Kelly called a halt to the first half.
Three of their goals came before the break, two within seconds of one another in added time from a sharp Shane Dowling, whose quick thinking had earlier set David Breen free for the first goal.
But Wexford acknowledged afterwards the portents weren’t so rosy for them prior to that brace. For one, Conor McDonald, their starlet, didn’t touch the ball until the 22nd minute.
They were level with Limerick at three points apiece in the ninth minute but from there they went into the rivals’ slipstream to lagging behind to a mere speck in their opponents’ rearview mirror.
It wasn’t that Limerick were all that clinical. Wexford have been known for their high wide counts this summer and they again hit double digits yesterday with 10, but Limerick were more wasteful with 16.
Leaving aside shots that dropped short, that meant TJ Ryan’s side had close on 50 scoring attempts in 70 minutes.
Considering that and their 24 points against Cork, it’s become clear Limerick have transformed from a side good at stopping teams to one good at beating them.
It mightn’t have been so obvious before throw-in but on this occasion they were simply putting a lame team out of their misery.
Wexford were against the wind but were struggling to get the basics right and when Breen found a corner of the net with a low shot in the 28th minute Limerick were 11 to the good.
Podge Doran had a goal chance earlier in the 15th minute only to flash it wide and the remainder of the half belonged to the men in green.
Leading 3-15 to 0-8 at the interval, the game was done and dusted. “I think today was the day,” said Ryan. “Our fellas started well, we got on top, then we got the scores and then we pushed ahead.
“From their point of view, adrenalin would have kept them going if they were in front but when that didn’t happen, our boys, in fairness, were professional and they drove on.
“We got the chances early on. We had a couple of wides in the first half that we wouldn’t be happy with, but overall, you have to be happy.
“We’re in an All-Ireland semi-final, a bit of consistency, two years in-a-row. Limerick hurling in Croke Park and that’s what we want.”
Limerick, when they eventually found their range in the second quarter, were posting long range scores in quick succession. Two came before and then after Breen’s goal as Paul Browne and James Ryan ruled the roost in the middle.
Dowling’s first goal in injury time was a close range effort after a point-blank Mark Fanning save from a Breen shot.
Almost directly from Fanning’s restart, Limerick sliced their way through the middle of Wexford’s back-line, Thomas Ryan scooping a pass into Dowling’s path and his hand made contact with the ball to find the net, correctly deemed a legitimate score by Barry Kelly.
Liam Dunne conceded: “There was a fair dampener on it before the two goals came at half-time. Limerick were always threatening but unfortunately, it just wasn’t happening for them all over the field. The heads were telling them to be in certain places but the bodies just weren’t able to take them there.
“When you go against a team who were fresh and hurling the way Limerick did today, against a team whose first touch wasn’t good and legs were heavy and it wasn’t happening for them, it’s tough going. It’s a learning curve and we’ll be learning to come back from it.”
Browne’s goal two minutes into the second half, the result of him leading the Wexford defence on a Pied Piper solo, put the tin hat on it for a team only a shadow of the one we have seen these last three weeks.
Even with the wind advantage, they were outscored in the second half, their full quota of substitutes used by the 44th minute.
To finish on this sour note, made a little more vinegary by captain Matthew O’Hanlon’s red card at the death for a wild pull on Dowling, shouldn’t detract from a summer of progression for them.
But romance wins little in hurling. Limerick can sing them the song on that.
Scorers for Limerick: S Dowling (2-8, 0-5 frees); D Hannon (0-4); D Breen, P Browne (1-1 each); G Mulcahy, S Tobin (1f), T Ryan (0-3 each); J Ryan (0-2); W McNamara (0-1).
Scorers for Wexford: J Guiney (1f, 1 65), D O’Keeffe (0-3 each); S Tomkins (1-0); P Doran, C McDonald (0-2 each); P Morris (0-1).
Subs for Limerick: S Tobin for D Hannon (blood 2-7); N Moran for D Breen, S Tobin for K Downes (both 51); T O’Brien for D Hannon (inj 55); S Walsh for R McCarthy (inj 59); C King for W McNamara (65); D Morrissey for T Condon (blood 69-ft).
Subs for Wexford: S Tomkins for C Kenny, R Kehoe for D Redmond (both h-t); R Jacob for P Morris, I Byrne for P Doran (both 43); H Kehoe for E Moore (44).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Hickey, R McCarthy, T Condon; P O’Brien, W McNamara, G O’Mahony; J Ryan, P Browne; D Breen, D Hannon, T Ryan; K Downes, S Dowling, G Mulcahy. WEXFORD: M Fanning; L Ryan, M O’Hanlon, K Rossiter; A Shore, E Moore, C Kenny; D Redmond, L Chin; J Guiney, P Doran, D O’Keeffe; P Morris, C McDonald, L McGovern. Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).
Shane Dowling’s first goal in first half injury-time gave Limerick a 13-point advantage. It got worse for Wexford just seconds later.
Talk of the town
Some expected the music to die for Wexford but not as abruptly as this. Plenty to be cheerful about, though.
Did that just happen?
Dowling’s ‘flying hand’ second goal. Not seen with these eyes before.
Best on show
Dowling’s punishment of Wexford was clinical if largely the reserve of the first half. Declan Hannon shrugged off an early injury to prosper. Paul Browne and James Ryan overpowered a Wexford midfield that had been going well.
Liam Dunne could have played a dozen behind the ball and it still wouldn’t have made up for how heavy-legged they were. TJ Ryan’s match-ups were spot on.
The man in black
We humbly bow to Barry Kelly’s superior knowledge of the rules in allowing Dowling’s second goal. A couple of dicey umpiring decisions otherwise, but Kelly was excellent.
Limerick face Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday week. They’ll face Wexford again in next year’s Division 1B.
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