The Limerick hurlers got their league campaign off to a winning start on Sunday when they recorded a 1-19 to 0-19 win over Antrim in the Gaelic Grounds.
THIRTY two points separated Limerick and Antrim when they met in last July in the All-Ireland Qualifiers and a crowd of 1,200 turned up yesterday in the Gaelic Grounds expecting nothing more than an emphatic home victory in the opening round of Division 1B of the National Hurling League.
The supporters did get their success in the end but it took a quantum leap in second-half attitude and a collapse of Antrim conviction to deliver the final margin of a goal.
Still, a win is a win and manager John Allen must have been relieved that he survived this banana skin without any detrimental effect on his team’s promotion hopes.
And he will also take some satisfaction from their performance after the break when they patiently clawed their way back to regain the lead with a quarter-hour to go and were never in any real trouble after that.
But that’s as far it goes. Limerick’s second quarter display ranks with the blackest days of the Justin McCarthy and Pa Joe Whelehan eras as they were cleaned out in almost every position by the visitors who could scarcely believe how ineffectual their opponents were. If the penny had dropped sooner, the Glensmen might well have been out of sight by the break as they won almost every breaking ball, swarmed around each other in support and were given acres of space and time to outpoint their hosts by ten to two before two late replies kept Limerick in touch.
Indeed, one can only guess at what might have panned out had Antrim been able to call on their Loughgiel contingent who have yet to return following their All-Ireland Club campaign. Without Liam Watson, they had no effective target for the long ball when they were cleaning up possession and, when the pressure came on after the break, they the lacked composure to make space for the clearance and to make the most of their opportunities to score.
However, for all the early horror, Limerick still managed to show what they can do after their ears were reddened during the interval.
Once they took the game to their opponents, they had the spread of talent to open up the weaknesses in the opposing lineup and the hunger to find the target from any distance. And they will have learned a lot from the game as positional changes gave shape to a midfield and an attack that were floundering aimlessly before the break.
Next up for John Allen’s Limerick is a home tie with Carlow on March 10, before the forcus moves to a glamour meeting with Dublin on March 16
SCORERS - Limerick: Declan Hannon 0-9 (4 frees, 1 sideline cut), Séamus Hickey 0-4, Dave Breen 1-0, Shane Dowling (1 free), Paul Browne 0-2 each, Graeme Mulcahy, James Ryan 0-1 each; Antrim: Neil McManus 0-10 (5 frees, 1 penalty), Stephen Beattie 0-2, Shane McNaughton, Conor Carson, KB McShane, Matthew Donnelly, Paddy Doherty, Karl Stewart, PJ O’Connell 0-1 each.
LIMERICK - Aaron Murphy; Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy, Tom Condon; Wayne McNamara, Donal O’Grady, Gavin O’Mahony; James Ryan, Paudie O’Brien; Declan Hannon, Séamus Hickey, Paul Browne; Graeme Mulcahy,
Kevin Downes, Shane Dowling. SUBS: Dave Breen for Paudie O’Brien (half-time), Seanie Tobin for Kevin Downes (57 mins), Niall Moran for Shane Dowling (62 mins), Adrian Breen for Graeme Mulcahy (68 mins).
ANTRIM - Ryan McGarry; Aaron Graffin, Conor Carson, Barry McFall; Simon McCrory, Neal McAuley, Conor McKinley; Matthew Donnelly, Conor Laverty; Stephen Beattie, Karl Stewart, Eddie McLoskey; Neil McManus, Kevin Barry McShane, Shane McNaughton. SUBS: Michael Gethens for Barry McFall (inj 32 mins), Colm McFall for Stephen Beattie (45mins), Paddy Doherty for Kevin Barry McShane (47 mins), PJ O’Connell for Conor
Laverty (53 mins), Dessie McClean for Eddie McLoskey (61 mins).
REFEREE - John Ryan (Tipperary).