Limerick stretched their unbeaten run to 13 matches to clinch a place in the play-offs against Derry City and complete a recovery as unlikely as it was heart-breaking for Kildare County.
Limerick’s remarkable run helped them pull back a 10 points’ deficit on Kildare and the real joy was that more than 2,000 crowded into the home stadium to witness its accomplishment.
“Normally we get about 50 people here and it is great to see so many supporters,” said Limerick’s capable young player/manager Michael Kerley. “They had a great day, a very exciting match, and hopefully, we can keep the players and keep the supporters here.”
Limerick’s triumph was not without difficulty. They jumped in front after a lively opening when Paul Finucane stabbed home a goal in the 25th minute following a corner from Stephen O’Flynn.
They surrendered it almost immediately and one could only surmise they were mentally still celebrating. Straight from the tip-off the ball was played to Mark Kenny and he chipped one from the halfway line over goalkeeper John Healy, who seemed blinded by the sun.
It was a bizarre goal to concede and Kildare regularly threatened to add to it. But a magnificent Limerick defensive line of four afforded them very little scope and goalkeeper Healy was not often stretched.
Limerick were more dangerous with the committed Stephen O’Flynn and the skilful Derek McCarthy providing a nice balance up front. Team skipper Pat Purcell hit the Kildare crossbar with a header in the 53rd minute and it would have been an injustice had Limerick not taken at least a point.
Kerley, who is the youngest manager in the League at 32 years, was hailed as a hero afterwards and little wonder. He elicited a great effort from a very young squad.
“It was a great achievement for the players considering everything that was going on, particularly the financial difficulties at the club.
“The players have been playing without being paid for the last three months and that shows the commitment and the character of the players. It is a great honour to lead them into the play-offs and it is no more than they deserved.
“We looked at the picture when we were ten points behind Kildare and at that stage we had to go out to win every game because we were so far behind.
“In fairness to the players, they gave up a lot. They travelled to games in cars, some of the players drove and then played and we went to some games with only eleven players and no subs so for them to come this far is a great achievement.”
It is expecting a lot for a group of players of average age 21 to take Limerick to the next level. But they have done enough to deserve the congratulations of the Limerick community and to expect more support.
“Limerick is a great sporting city,” said Kerley, “and the people will support any sport. There is a great opportunity now for some of the business community to pick up some good positive advertising and do some work for the community as well as saving this club.”
LIMERICK (4-4-2): Healy; O’Mahoney, Purcell, Finucane, Molan; Sugrue, Sweeney, Keating, Heffernan; O'Flynn, McCarthy.
KILDARE CO (4-4-2): O’Leary; Britton, Keely, Brennan, Kelly; Zellor, Whelehan, Scully, McNevin; Kenny (Ryan 71), O'Connor.
Referee: Mr. P. Whelan (Dublin).