THE fading sunlight in O’Connor Park on Saturday evening provided the backdrop as the Limerick hurlers finally bid their farewells to championship 2010.
A season that has been laced with controversy and rancour concluded with the predicted defeat to a more seasoned Offaly team in this phase two qualifier.
The bald statistics of the audit for this campaign will paint a depressing picture of results, with seven straight league defeats having preceded two championship losses.
2010 will be a year the Limerick hurling cognoscenti will want to scrub from the memory banks.
But Limerick’s band of young players left this encounter with little shame. Their display was brave and defiant, as they provided their hosts with a severe test. With seven minutes left they trailed by two points and had the locals shifting anxiously in their seats. Ultimately Offaly settled those nerves and reeled off four points to close out the game.
The match had been a contest, albeit one where Offaly always looked to be the masters of their destiny. The Faithful men never replicated their firework displays in the two-game saga against Galway and this was a victory they had to grimly dig out. But there was an unmistakable sense that Offaly were afflicted with the condition that has plagued several teams facing Limerick this season. The expectation that they would win at a canter seemed to weigh down upon them and Offaly found the role of heavy favourites to be ill-fitting.
They are a county that is traditionally attached to the tag of plucky underdog and manager Joe Dooley revealed his unease at that pre-match talk.
He revealed: “It was one of those games where we were at home and we were expected to win well. We’d the favourites tag and we don’t do that, that well as a county. There is something about the Offaly psyche that says we’re better as the underdogs it seems.
“It was a bit hairy as Limerick did put it up to us. But I thought we showed huge character when they got it back to two, to pull away to win by six. It could have been easy to drop the heads there, but the lads kept at it which I was very glad to see.”
Limerick boss Justin McCarthy was fulsome in his praise of his players afterwards and their unstinting refusal to cave in at any stage. Kieran O’Rourke embellished his reputation as a specialist man-marker by managing the considerable feat of keeping Shane Dooley scoreless from play. Lorcan O’Dwyer and Bryan O’Sullivan hurled with authority in the half-back line, and the pace and touches of Thomas O’Brien enabled him to chalk up 1-7. The manner in which Limerick set their team out clearly indicated a desire to stack their defence but similar to the Munster semi-final against Cork, it compromised their attacking ambitions.
O’Brien’s freetaking was the scoring sustenance they relied on for long stages and Graeme Mulcahy was well-policed on this occasion. Limerick’s forwards could have done with the scoring threat that Bryan O’Sullivan and Paul Browne would offer.
They also benefited from some errant marksmanship by the Offaly attack. The hosts led 1-8 to 0-7 at the interval, but Offaly should have been much further ahead as they spurned two gilt-edged goal opportunities. They amassed 15 wides during the game and Derek Molloy’s opportunist 11th minute goal enabled them to keep Limerick at bay for long stages. The excellence of Shane Dooley has been at the core of Offaly’s drive this season but it was another corner-forward who provided their attacking spark on Saturday night.
Cathal Parlon was in sublime form as he clipped over five tidy points while captain Brian Carroll had an influential second-half.
Limerick were determined throughout the second-half and even when Offaly went seven points clear, (1-15 to 0-11) by the 57th minute the Shannonsiders hauled them back to two points with a quick scoring burst. O’Brien grabbed their goal after a well-worked team move with ten minutes left but the manner in which Offaly finished the game illustrated their greater experience and nous. Rory Hanniffy, Paul Cleary and Derek Morkan were at the forefront of a resilient defence that ensured Limerick were never going to generate enough scores to spring an upset. The challenge ahead of them next weekend against Tipperary is significant, as Dooley conceded afterwards.
“Tipperary were the team to avoid but we’ve to face them now. I saw them against Wexford and they were very impressive. They’re getting stronger as the year goes on but we’ll have a crack off them and see what happens.”
Scorers for Offaly: S Dooley (0-5, frees), C Parlon (0-5), D Molloy (1-2), B Carroll (0-3), B Murphy (0-2), J Brady, J Bergin (0-1 each).
Scorers for Limerick: T O’Brien (1-7, four frees, two ‘65), J V O’Brien (0-2), N Quaid, G Mulcahy, C Mullane, P Russell (0-1 each).
Subs for Offaly: K Brady for Hayden (52), G Healion for Molloy (66).
Subs for Limerick: C Mullane for Moore (34), A Brennan for J O’Brien (ht), M Noonan for McKeogh (48), P Russell for Owens (60).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)
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