WITHOUT ever being spectacular the Limerick hurlers kick-started their Allianz League in earnest with a merited 2-20 to 0-18 win in Wexford on Sunday afternoon.
After the opening round disappointment against Clare, wins over Laois and Wexford on the road have put Limerick back into contention for a top two finish in this hugely competitive Division 1B.
Much now depends on next Saturday evening in the Gaelic Grounds, when Limerick entertain Offaly in the penultimate round of action before a final day visit to Belfast to play Antrim.
This eight point win in Wexford was once again another step in the right direction for John Allen’s Limerick. While far from a rip-roaring all-action encounter, it was yet another an improvement on the previous outing and for the first time this season it was Limerick that set the tempo of the game and there were sparkling performances from Gavin O’Mahony, Paul Browne and Niall Moran.
Bit by bit confidence is returning to the team and while the intensity of their play is still well off that required for championship, there is a noticeable increase in tempo game by game.
Unfortunately the challenge provided by Wexford was not what one would have expected but nonetheless Limerick went about their task in a business like manner.
The half back line of O’Mahony, O’Grady and McNamara were on top for most of the 70-minutes and with Limerick afforded much time on the ball they were able to place intelligent ball into the attack where Moran, Breen and Mulcahy caught the eye.
Backed by the wind Wexford settled well and led 0-4 to 0-2 after 10-minutes – with Breen accounting for both early Limerick points.
But by the 18th minute the sides were level for the fourth time at 0-6 each.
Then came the first Limerick goal – O’Mahony delivered long and Mulcahy defied his height to fetch brilliantly and then lay-off perfectly to the inrushing Breen who finished neatly from close range.
That propelled Limerick forward and Allis (2 frees) and Mulcahy increased the lead to 1-9 to 0-7 at the half hour mark.
Wexford hit back but a third point from play from Niall Moran left it 1-10 to 0-9 at the break. Breen hit 1-2 in the half with Moran showed great skill to account for three points from play.
On the resumption, Limerick had the perfect start to quell any expected Wexford fight back when Moran found the net in the opening minute.
Sean Tobin marked his introduction and return from long term injury to join Mulcahy in dispossessing the defence and Tobin fed Moran, who finished to the top corner from an angle.
That put Limerick 2-10 to 0-10 clear with well over 30-minutes to play.
While Wexford tried to eat into the lead they were pretty much kept at arms length for the remainder of the tie and two 21-metre frees from Jack Guiney were the cloest they came to getting the necessary goals, which had seen them stage a dramatic late fight back the previous week against Offaly.
Moran, O’Mahony (free), Mulcahy and two Allis frees had successive points before the 15-minute mark of the half and Limerick were clear 2-15 to 0-13.
Limerick often retreated too deep into defensive mode in the closing quarter, but Wexford were reliant on frees and never breached the two goal mark with Mulcahy and Moran points maintaining the dominance of the visitors to Wexford Park.
Captain David Breen finished the game on the line when he was shown a second yellow in injury-time but it was a job well done all round for Limerick and another step in the right direction.
Limerick now play Offaly in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday - Offaly have also won two of their opening three games but should have three wins after throwing away a big lead against Wexford in the second round.
SCORERS – Limerick: Niall Moran 1-6, Conor Allis 0-6 (five frees), David Breen 1-2, Graeme Mulcahy 0-3, Mikey Ryan, Gavin O’Mahony (free), Paul Browne 0-1 each. Wexford: Harry Kehoe 0-7 (five frees, one ‘65), Jack Guiney 0-3 (two frees, one ’65), Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Stephen Banville, David Redmond 0-2 each, PJ Nolan, Rory Jacob 0-1 each.
LIMERICK – Nickie Quaid; Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy, Tom Condon; Wayne McNamara, Donal O’Grady, Gavin O’Mahony; Paul Browne, James Ryan; Thomas O’Brien, David Breen, Conor Allis; Graeme Mulcahy, Niall Moran, Mikey Ryan. Subs: Sean Tobin for Mikey Ryan (h-t), Niall Maher for Thomas O’Brien (56mins), Tom Ryan for James Ryan (61mins).
WEXFORD – Niall Breen; James Tonks, Keith Rossiter, Barry Kehoe; Darren Stamp, Matthew O’Hanlon, Ciaran Kenny; Harry Kehoe, David Redmond; Jim Berry, Eoin Quigley, PJ Nolan; Rory Jacob, Stephen Banville, Diarmuid O’Keeffe. Subs: Jack Guiney for Jim Berry (23mins), Eoin Moore for Eoin Quigley (48mins), Tomas O’Leary for PJ Nolan (48mins), Paul Morris for Harry Kehoe (64mins), John Leacy for Stephen Banville (64mins).
REFEREE – Colm Lyons (Cork).