The Limerick footballers got their Allianz Football League Division 4 campaign off to a good start on Sunday thanks to an 0-11 to 0-9 win over Leitrim in the Gaelic Grounds.
Although there were just two scores separating the sides when referee blew time on a frenzied finish, the hosts dominated the game for almost the entire seventy minutes and would have won more comfortably had they pressed home their advantage when they were on a roll.
However, a safety-first approach overtook them after they struck up an early lead and again when theyâ€™d opened up clear water going into the closing minutes and, on both occasions, they left themselves open to a spirited response.
Maybe a conservative stance was justified on an occasion where victory may well decide who gets promoted from Division Four next April. Without their main inside-forward targets to aim at, the long ball wasnâ€™t likely to have the usual effect and, on a heavy pitch under the drizzle, the running game looked the more sensible option.
It proved to be a very satisfying afternoon for Maruice Horan and his backroom team. Robbed of up to half of his first-choice pick, it was never going to be an easy assignment against opponents brimming in confidence after winning only the fourth senior football trophy in their history. But the team as a whole rose to the challenge, dominated midfield during the sixty-two powerhouse minutes that Tom Lee was on the field, never lost their composure at the back and
showed imagination on those occasions when they piled enough forward to make it matter.
Maybe a more balanced attack might have caught them. Leitrim depended heavily on skipper Emlyn Mulligan for their scores, particularly when they had the wind behind them during the first half and the six wides run up during before the break came back to haunt them at the end. But even if they had converted more of their chances, they never looked like winning a game in which their opponents set the agenda and always looked to have that bit in reserve whever they came under pressure.
Leitrim made immediate use of the breeze as Mulligan struck from the throw-in but, once Limerick took control of the middle, Oâ€™Connor levelled with a free and points from Oâ€™Meara and Oâ€™Connor on the burst
could just as easily have ended in the net. However, scoring dried up once the visitors closed off the channels and breaks from the back led to Mulligan equalising with a pair of frees.
Oâ€™Connor restored the home sideâ€™s lead with another placed ball but long sequences of Limerick possession werenâ€™t creating the openings as they struggled to find their inside forwards. Waiting for the turnovers, they equalised through another Mulligan free and Paul Brennanâ€™s long pot gave them a lead of 0-5 to 0-4 at the break.
Limerick shed their caution on the restart and Oâ€™Connorâ€™s free, Steven Lavin and Oâ€™Connor quickly shot them ahead and, after a rare Leitrim break ended with an Adrian Croal reply, two Oâ€™Connor frees either side of an Oâ€™Meara strike looked to have the result tied up.
But they then stepped back into containment mode. Seizing the initiative, the visitors pressed forward and, breaking long Limerick passing sequences from defence, Gerry Hickey, Mulligan and Brendan Brennan brought the gap back to the minimum. However, they failed to make the last step, the hosts rediscovered their composure and Paul Kinnerkâ€™s late strike sent their supporters home happy.
Limerick travel to Tullamore next Sunday to play Offaly in another maasive game in the promotion battle.
SCORERS - Limerick: Eoghan Oâ€™Connor 0-7 (5 frees), James Oâ€™Meara 0-2, Steven Lavin, Paul Kinnerk 0-1 each; Leitrim: Emlyn Mulligan 0-5 (3 frees), Paul Brennan, Adrian Croal, Gerry Hickey, Brendan Brennan 0-1 each.
LIMERICK - Brian Scanlon; Cian Coady, Johnny McCarthy, Mark Oâ€™Riordan; Steven Lavin. Paudie Browne, Pa Ranahan; Tom Lee, Bobby Oâ€™Brien; Iain Corbett, John Riordan, James Oâ€™Meara; Eoghan Oâ€™Connor, SÃ©amus Oâ€™Carroll, Derry Oâ€™Connor. Subs: Paul Kinnerk for Tom Lee (61 mins), Darragh Treacy for Iain Corbett (67 mins)
LEITRIM - Cathal McCrann; Danny Beck, Paddy Maguire; Colm Clarke, Paul Brennan, Alan Wynne; Wayne McKeon, Paddy McGowan; Adrian Croal, Emlyn Mulligan, Gerry Hickey; Ray Cox, James Glancy. Brian McDonald. SUBS: Brendan Brennan for P McGowan (42 mins), Kevin Conlon for Brian McDonald (50 mins), Sean McWeeney for Colm Clarke (53 mins), Conor Beirne for Ray Cox (54 mins), Cian Reynolds for James Glancy (66 mins).
REFEREE - Derek Oâ€™Mahony (Tipperary)