In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely reviews Limerick’s National Football League win.
It was a strange but beautiful sight to see, a Limerick footballer lifting silverware in Croke Park for the second time in three years.
It was once again an honest effort by the footballers who, not for the first time, have led the way in Limerick.
The team showed determination, work rate and craft to win this game and by doing so further underlined the values by which this group aspire to. Seanie Buckley made his own bit of history.
Limerick made hard work of this win over Offaly.
They were forced to make changes before the start of the game, those around me suggested this would unsettle Limerick and it appeared that way for the opening twenty minutes as Offaly led 1-4 to Limerick’s single point.
Offaly got men behind the ball early and built their attack from the back, they ran at Limerick and this was causing problems.
The Limerick defence won some good ball but all too often they were slow to release and Offaly were quick to punish.
A good example of this was when Stephen Lucey was caught in possession, Offaly made him cough it up and from this the Offaly goal was built. Limerick allowed Ross Brady space and time to cut through the defence but despite scoring a fine goal Offaly never built on it for the remainder of the first half.
Niall McNamee would cause problems for most defenders and he was keeping Mark O’ Riordan very busy, McNamee and Ken Casey were getting good early ball and kicked some scores but to Limerick’s credit they started to rally.
John Galvin and Bobby O’ Brien had come to terms at midfield and from here Limerick started to make progress.
Limerick had only three scores in the opening twenty minutes, the first from Seanie Buckley and the rest from frees by Ian Ryan.
Offaly were ahead on the score board but Limerick enjoyed 53% possession in the opening half – Limerick made some poor choices and could have been a bit more direct.
Ian Ryan added two more points and we could now see the confidence of the team growing.
Such was the small crowd in Croke Park we could almost hear the heart beats of the players but it was Limerick who were now playing with more movement.
Offaly were struggling to win any type of quality ball and much of the credit for this must go to the Limerick work rate.
They pushed forward and the ball was coming more quickly into the forwards.
Ian Ryan kicked the best point of the day after twenty eight minutes and when Ian Corbett and Stephen Lavin added two more Limerick would finish the half level at eight points each.
That didn’t look possible after the opening twenty minutes but, in fairness to the Limerick players, they were up for the battle.
Limerick had hand passed the ball one hundred and five times in that opening half but given the possession they had they should have been at least three points ahead at the break.
It must have been difficult for both teams, Croke Park was virtually empty and it was easy to hear the players calling out on the pitch.
Limerick had the first point of the second half when Stephen Lucey scored but, just like in the first half, it was Offaly who looked more like winning in the opening twenty minutes of the second half.
Galvin and O’Brien weren’t enjoying the same sort of freedom at midfield and Offaly were delivering good quality ball into Niall McNamee who kicked some great points. Limerick did have the ball in hands many times but all too often they ran into cul de sacs and were forced to hand up possession. The big difference between the teams now was that Offaly drilled the ball to McNamee whenever they got the chance whereas Ian Ryan went fifteen minutes before he saw the ball in the second half.
Despite Limerick’s best efforts Offaly always managed to stay ahead of them but bringing on Derry O’Connor brought a new edge to Limerick’s attack and he made instant progress.
His point on fifty seven minutes was a cracking score and it left just one point between the teams.
Ken Casey landed a point for Offaly a minute later but it showed Limerick’s dominance in the last twelve minutes of the game that they held Offaly scoreless and kicked four points. Stephen Lavin, Derry O’Connor and a super effort of balance running and craft saw Eoghan O’Connor score a super point and Seamus O’Carroll converted a 45 to secure a great win by a fine bunch of players in Croke Park.
It was a fitting end to the League season that saw them gain promotion and also win silverware.
No one was getting carried away with the victory because they know they face a huge challenge against Cork at the Gaelic Grounds on May 25.
Many players did well in this game but I thought Paudie Browne was outstanding; he worked very hard and was not afraid to drive forward.
Stephen Lavin also did well but the same can be said for John Riordan, Mark O’ Riordan, Tom Lee, Ian Ryan and many others.
They worked very hard as a team and got the result.
The focus now is very much on the Cork game, this is the one to win, Cork will come as hot favourites but without Colm O’ Neill Limerick have a great chance.
Well done to Maurice Horan and his backroom team and let’s hope injured players will be ready for the Cork game.