REDEMPTION day for Limerick’s footballers. Stung by the heavy criticism levelled at them in the wake of their Munster semi-final drubbing at the hands of Kerry five weeks earlier, Maurice Horan’s Limerick charges showed admirable character, resilience and no shortage of fighting spirit to record a thoroughly deserved All-Ireland qualifier victory over Offaly (one a scoreline of 3-13 to 0-15) at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday.
It would have been easy for a young side which has already suffered relegation to Division 4 in the League, experienced a remarkable run of injuries to key players at the height of the season and most recently seen two dual players opt for hurling, write off the season and hope that 2012 brought better luck.
The management team can take a great deal of the victory. Firstly the decision to operate a two-man full forward line of Ian Ryan and Ger Collins proved a spectacular success. Ryan terrorised the Offaly defence kicking a magnificent personal tally of 1-7 from play, with his 12th minute goal proving key in settling Limerick nerves.
Collins contributed a handsome 1-2 from play, including a hugely significant 63rd minute goal which provided Limerick with a five-point cushion at a time when the visitors were threatening to overall their opponents.
While Ryan and Collins will get much of the credit for their scoring prowess, the duo would not have flourished but for the plentiful supply of quality possession they received from out the field.
To this end, the hard-working Stephen Kelly, Thomas Lee, Seanie Buckley and Seamus O’Carroll, who contributed a precious first-half goal, deserve rich plaudits.
In defence, the decision to entice Tommy Stack out of retirement proved a master stroke. Stack, who hadn’t played a competitive match for Limerick in six seasons, turned back the years in significantly limiting the influence Offaly’s marquee forward and team captain Niall McNamee enjoyed on the game.
The opening minutes provided a clear indication that Limerick had banished any hangover of their heavy Munster semi-final defeat to Kerry.
However, it took until the 12th minute when Stephen Lavin set Ian Ryan up for the game’s opening goal for Limerick to make the most of their early dominance.
That goal instilled an obvious dollop of self-confidence into the Limerick players and the home side out-scored their opponents 2-3 to 0-1 during the next 10 minutes.
Ryan turned provider in the 14th minute to set Seamus O’Carroll up for the Shannonsiders’ second goal.
Indeed, Limerick might well have had two further goals during their purple patch, with O’Carroll denied by an excellent last ditch block from Offaly defender Brian Darby and Stephen Kelly thwarted by a fine smothering save from keeper Alan Mulhall.
Limerick had built up a useful eight-point advantage at 2-4 to 0-2, but any thoughts the home side’s supporters may have had of enjoying a comfortable afternoon were dispelled with Offaly’s gritty display in the second quarter. The Leinster side outscored their opponents by 0-6 to 0-1 over the remainder of the half with veteran forward Ciaran McManus leading the way with four pointed frees.
Despite playing into a significant breeze, Offaly continued to threaten through the third quarter, but the home side managed to keep at least a two-point gap between the sides and Collins goal sent Limerick bounding over the line.
SCORERS - Limerick: Ian Ryan 1-7, Ger Collins 1-2, Seamus O’Carroll 1-0, Stephen Kelly 0-2 (two frees), Thomas Lee, Eoin Hogan 0-1 each; Offaly: Ciaran McManus 0-7 (all frees), Ken Casey, Niall McNamee 0-2 each, Niall Darby, Bernard Allen, Padraig Bracken, Brian Darby 0-1 each.
LIMERICK - Brian Scanlon, Tommy Stack, Shane Gallagher, Stephen Lavin; Johnny McCarthy, John Riordan, Pa Ranahan; Seanie Buckley, Thomas Lee; Stephen Kelly, John Mullane, Mike Sheehan; Ger Collins, Seamus O’Carroll, Ian Ryan. Subs: Barry Fitzpatrick for Mullane (48 mins), Eoghan O’Connor for Gallagher (58 mins), Eoin Hogan for O’Carroll (63 mins), Mike McCormack for Riordan (69 mins).
OFFALY - Alan Mulhall; Brian Darby, Joe Quinn, Sean Pender; Stephen Lonergan, Scott Brady, Karol Slattery; Richard Dalton, Niall Smith; Ciaran McManus, Ross Brady, Niall Darby; Bernard Allen, Ken Casey, Niall McNamee. Subs: Padraig Bracken for Slattery (39 mins), Nigel Dunne for Niall Darby (54 mins), David Egan for Allen (60 mins), Niall Spain for Lonergan (63 mins), Sean Ryan for Ross Brady (69 mins).