THERE were ifs, buts and maybes, but at the end of the day Limerick never played to their potential.
This was an All-Ireland U-21 hurling championship semi-final that could and probably should have been won but the Munster champions never reached the dizzy heights of the all-action intensity they displayed in the provincial competition against Clare and Cork.
Limerick needed inspiration but it was lacking.
Semi-finals are to be won and while Limerick didn’t reach full trottle, no-one would have argued if they had fallen over the winning line.
Although dominated by Limerick followers, Semple Stadium was a rather subdued place to be with an attendance of 8,125.
Any flicker of inspiration came from Galway and centre forward Niall Burke, who helped himself to seven points from play.
Playing their first competitive game of the season, surprisingly it was Galway who came flying from the traps with Burke and free-taker Tadhg Faran leading the way.
After eight minutes they led 0-5 to 0-2 and were exposing weaknesses in the Limerick rearguard with non-stop movement in attack.
Then Limerick came to life. Almost all puckouts were landed down on Shane Dowling and on this occasion, he broke possession and kicked the sliothar into the direction of Graeme Mulcahy. He failed to gather but kept the ball moving forward and back into the loop came Dowling to somehow flick to the net for a tonic goal.
Now Limerick were fluent and Declan Hannon, Mulcahy and Niall Kennedy all fired over and Leo O’Connor’s side hit the front, 1-6 to 0-6 with the opening quarter gone.
Sean O’Brien and Hannon, with his third superb point of the half, had Limerick ahead 1-8 to 0-9 with seven minutes to the break.
But that man Burke hit another two points back-to-back to level the game for the fifth time.
His points started five scores in a row for The Tribesmen and this strong finish to the half was to prove key.
James O’Brien was now switched to centre back in attempt to curb Burke, while at the other end of the field Limerick captain Kevin Downes was forced off, acknowledging that his hand was not 100% recovered from the cracked bone suffered in the Munster final Conor Allis finished the scoring but Galway went to the dressing room, 0-14 to 1-9 ahead.
Indeed the lead could have been greater but Aaron Murphy saved brilliantly from Barry Daly in the 26th minute.
Testament to the Galway pressure, Limerick resumed with James O’Brien at centre back, Hannon at midfield, Dowling at centre forward and Mark Carmody at full forward.
Hannon cut over a line ball and then in the eighth minute came the second Limerick goal. Dowling was upended in the square and drove home the penalty himself. Now Limerick were 2-10 to 0-15 ahead with just over 20 minutes to play.
Faran replied with points either side of a Dowling free and the sides were level for the seventh time entering the final quarter. Then four successive Limerick wides stemmed any momentum towards the winning line.
It was only seven minutes before Limerick would score again but Galway had made their move and five points in a row opened a 0-21 to 2-11 lead.
It looked like Limerick needed a goal and it almost came when Dowling fed Carmody but the chance went a-begging and with it any late charge.
Rory Foy was sent off for a second yellow in the 54th minute and points from Kevin O’Donnell and two Dowling frees just about kept the game alive.
In the opening seconds of injury time Dowling stood over a 30-metre free and it appeared that instructions came from the sideline, but either way, the minor star tried for a goal but alas there were too many bodies in the way to score a wonder winning goal.
SCORERS – Limerick: Shane Dowling 2-5 (1-0pen, 0-5frees), Declan Hannon 0-4 (1lineball), Graeme Mulcahy, Niall Kennedy, Sean O’Brien, Conor Allis and Kevin O’Donnell 0-1 each. Galway: Niall Burke and Tadhg Haran (4frees) 0-7 each, Barry Daly 0-3, David Burke, Davy Glennon, Conor Cooney, James Regan, Bernard Burke 0-1 each.
LIMERICK – Aaron Murphy; Alan Dempsey, Patrick Begley, Stevie O’Reilly; James O’Brien, Cian Hayes, Thomas O’Callaghan; Conor Allis, Sean O’Brien; Declan Hannon, Niall Kennedy, Shane Dowling; Michael Ryan, Kevin Downes, Graeme Mulcahy. Subs: Mark Carmody for Kevin Downes (28mins), Kevin O’Donnell for Niall Kennedy (47mins), Willie Griffin for Michael Ryan (48mins), Barry O’Connell for Alan Dempsey (49mins).
GALWAY – Jamie Ryan; Declan Connolly, Niall Donoaghue, Ger O’Halloran; Jason Grealish, Paul Gordan, Rory Foy; Johnny Coen, David Burke; Conor Cooney, Niall Burke, Tadhg Faran; James Regan, Barry Daly, Davy Glennon. Subs: Bernard Burke for Conor Cooney (46mins), Donal Fox for Tadhg Faran (58mins).
REFEREE – Anthony Stapleton (Laois)