IRRESPECTIVE of how it was accomplished, Limerick qualifying for the All-Ireland hurling semi-final after a topsy-turvy campaign was a notable achievement for Justin McCarthy and his players in Thurles yesterday.
Courageous and skilful Dublin looked more than capable of victory for a long time but on the day, they were not destined to succeed under the inspired management of Anthony Daly.
Ultimately, what decided a cracking contest was a strengthening Limerick challenge which was given an overdue boost by James Ryan’s long-range score in 60th minute which broke the deadlock after the teams had been level for the fifth time. And, while the outcome was to remain uncertain, Limerick opening up a gap with three superb scores from man-of-the-match Gavin O’Mahony put them in a virtually unassailable position with the clock running down.
With questions about their capability being fuelled by uncertain displays against Wexford and Laois, Limerick went into the game under a cloud. And, just as they had the previous week, they got off to a slow start, with Dublin corner-forward Liam Rushe putting the ball in the net almost from the throw-in.
Notably, however, after conceding too quick scores – the second from a splendid sideline shot by midfielder Alan McCrabbe – it didn’t take them as long this time to bounce back. O’Mahony put over two points and full-forward Paudie McNamara goaled in the 15th minute.
Helped to settle by stronger play in defence – with Damien Reale first to show up well in the right corner and team captain Mark Foley once more highly influential – Limerick became more vigorous in tackling and overall were more competitive. Continuing pressure from Dublin saw them make openings regularly and win frees from which McCrabbe made the most, as well as doing best at midfield until O’Mahony and Donal O’Grady found their form.
The net effect was that the game was delicately balanced with scores level a second time in the 22nd minute. Yet, Dublin were more threatening in attack, with Rushe, David O’Callaghan and David Treacy forming a strong full-forward trio. And, at the other end, the stability in defence was emphasised by a vital save by goalkeeper Gary Maguire when he denied Paudie McNamara a certain goal in the 25th minute.
Nearing half-time Dublin enjoyed a three-point advantage, but Limerick were given a lifeline when Brian Murray converted a questionable 34th penalty awarded to Paul Browne to leave the interval score 1-10 to 2-7.
There was little change in the trend of the game on the resumption, with McCrabbe regaining the lead for Dublin from a free.
Having trailed five times by a point until a Breen score brought the sides level for a fourth time in the 54th minute, Limerick started to dominate in defence. Stephen Lucey was stronger at full-back, Foley (now on the right), made a lot of clearances and Brian Geary was seen to best effect. But, the biggest contribution came from Seamus Hickey at left half, reserving his best form for the end.
Dublin remained in contention thanks to the stubborn play of Joe Boland and captain Stephen Hiney in defence, the reliability of McCrabbe and the probing play of Rushe and O’Callaghan at the heart of their attack. However, their backs were to the wall after an O’Shaughnessy free brought Limerick level and James Ryan’s score gave them the lead for the first time.
Psychologically, that marked a breakthrough and in the concluding 10 minutes the combination of errors and inexperience proved costly for Dublin. The cumulative effect was to see them limited to a single point in the last 13 minutes and deprived at the death of a possible goal when Murray stopped a low ball from substitute Kevin Flynn.
By then, Limerick had opened up a four-point gap thanks to Gavin O’Mahony’s accuracy. Considering how difficult Dublin made it for them to get scores all day, it was an impressive feat and fully deserving of a semi-final spot against Tipperary.
Scorers for Limerick: G O’Mahony 0-8 (5f, 2 sidelines, 1‘65’); A, O’Shaughnessy 0-5 (5f); J Ryan 0-4; P McNamara, B Murray (pen) 1-0 each; D Breen 0-1.
Scorers for Dublin: A McCrabbe 0-8 (7f, 1 sideline); L Rushe 1-0; D O’Callaghan 0-2; D Sweeney, L Ryan, D Treacy, M Carton, S Hiney (f), S Durkan & R O’Carroll 0-1 each.
Subs for Limerick: O Moran for W McNamara, 31; J O’Brien for Browne, 46; D Ryan for O’Shaughnessy, 72.
Subs for Dublin: S Durkan for McCaffrey, 29; K Flynn for Ryan, 49; P Carton for O’Carroll, 55; S Lambert for Sweeney, 60.
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford).
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