A late goal from Sean Brosnan kept Limerick FC firmly on track for the Airtricity League Division 1 title as they beat Athlone Town 1-0 in Jackman Park on Friday night.
How often have we seen it happen in the past that, in the run-in to the season’s climax, the team in pole position faces a possible banana skin and struggles to break down the opposition for long periods before striking in the game’s dying minutes to snatch three priceless points?
Some say that is the hallmark of champions and when Sean Brosnan lashed the ball into the Athlone Town net with five minutes remaining at Jackman Park on Friday night, you got the sense that the First Division trophy is on its way to Limerick.
Athlone had been on a poor run of form coming into the game but they made life very difficult for the home side throughout, frustrating Limerick in the early exchanges and occasionally venturing forward on the counterattack.
Limerick didn’t settle into the game too quickly and, on nine minutes, a slack pass in defence from Corie Treacy gave Athlone’s Mark Sherlock a sight of goal, but he shot straight at keeper Barry Ryan.
Sherlock went even closer in the 17th minute when his curling shot struck the outside of the Limerick upright, much to the relief of the home support.
Midway through the first half Limerick began to turn the screw as Athlone set about concentrating on getting men back to thwart the hosts.
On 25 minutes Shane Tracy’s free kick was met by the head of Denis Behan, but the striker’s effort missed the target.
Shortly after that near miss Limerick went close again, Tracy crossing into the penalty area before Neil Harney’s clearance averted the danger.
There was a similar missed opportunity five minutes before half-time, Behan turning nicely and supplying a low ball into the danger zone but Cian Collins was unable to get a touch to it.
Limerick had seen plenty of the ball in the opening 45 minutes but they couldn’t provide that all-important end product and they threatened again at the start of the second half, Athlone captain Brian McCarthy making a splendid tackle just as Collins was about to pull the trigger.
Athlone then had a brief spell of pressure, with Stephen Relihan’s shot being deflected away for a corner shortly after Ryan had to be alert to keep out an audacious Sean Skelly effort.
Dominic Foley replaced Collins in the 52nd minute and the substitute striker saw two glorious chances fall his way soon after his introduction.
First he missed a gilt-edged opportunity with only Athlone goalkeeper Pat Jennings to beat, before seeing a well-struck volley rebound off the post a couple of minutes later.
The remainder of the match was mostly one-way traffic towards the Athlone goal, with David O’Leary setting up a headed chance for Behan on 70 minutes, but he couldn’t direct it on target.
For all their pressure, Limerick were prone to be caught on the break and Mark McGoldrick was left completely unmarked in the 74th minute, but his shot drifted wide.
Then Limerick passed up another great chance as Foley played a fantastic through ball into Behan, but he could only poke it wide of Jennings’ goal.
Limerick’s frustration grew when Stephen Bradley was booked for simulation just outside the Athlone penalty area, but their considerable pressure would eventually tell.
In the 85th minute, Shaun Kelly delivered a cross into the box and Brosnan hammered it to the top corner of the net from eight yards.
He was engulfed by his ecstatic team-mates and there was a mini pitch invasion as the Limerick bench charged out jubilantly.
The Blues saw out the remaining few minutes and not even the incessant rain at Jackman Park could dampen the celebratory mood at full-time.
After weeks of calculations and permutations, now it’s as simple as this – win in Longford next week and Premier Division football is coming Shannonside in 2013.
LIMERICK FC – Barry Ryan, Shaun Kelly, Pat Purcell (Capt), Corie Treacy, Shane Tracy, Stephen Bradley, David O’Leary (Stephen McGann 75), Joe Gamble, Derek O’Brien (Sean Brosnan 66), Cian Collins (Dominic Foley 52), Denis Behan.
ATHLONE TOWN – Pat Jennings, Damian Rushe, Neil Harney, Brian McCarthy (Capt), Ross Kenny, Garvan Broughall (Jordan Conroy 59), Barry O’Mahony, Stephen Relihan, Mark McGoldrick, Sean Skelly (Joe Woods 81), Mark Sherlock.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.