After the heart-breaking defeat to Waterford in the Munster semi-final three weeks ago it was always going to be interesting to see what way the Limerick hurlers responded when given a second chance in the shark pool that is the All Ireland Qualifiers.
On Saturday night in the Gaelic Grounds, they bounced emphatically back into the championship, seeing off Wexford with a degree of ease that the scoreline disguises somewhat.
Limerick were comfortably the better side, had the game’s outstanding performers in forwards Graeme Mulcahy, Kevin Downes and Declan Hannon and gave the 15,000-plus Limerick supporters every reason to head into the balmy Saturday night with a renewed pep in their step.
This wasn’t a thrill-a-minute encounter that the game in Thurles was but it again showed the wonderful potential in this Limerick team. For the third big game running, they performed on the biggest stage and when asked the tough questions, they had all the answers.
Graeme Mulcahy came of age with a wonderful second-half showing that he’d been threatening for a while and Declan Hannon scored nine points on his championship debut.
Kevin Downes didn’t decorate the scoreboard like he did in the Waterford game but he again showed off his sublime skills with one beautiful point in the first half and there was an audible murmer of excitement from the crowd every time he got on the ball. He could have added to his goal tally too when he fielded a high ball behind Matthew O’Hanlon but he lost his hurl at the wrong time and had to rely on his left boot to get a shot in. It went wide but it didn’t matter.
Limerick also had powerful performances from captain Gavin O’Mahony and the ever impressive Donal O’Grady in midfield while Niall Moran shot three lovely points from play in the first half, including the two straight after Wexford’s goal.
Limerick, after a slow enough start, were well on top in the first half and should have been further than 0-11 to 1-6 ahead at the break.
As well as Downes’ goal miss, James Ryan also squandered a goal chance and in total they clocked up seven first-half wides and dropped three more shots short.
Wexford, on the other hand, kept in touch with less possession and their goal from Eoin Quigley, after he beat Nicky Quaid to a hopeful delivery from Garrett Sinnott, meant the game was still a mystery as the teams headed for the dressing rooms at the break.
On the restart it didn’t take long for Limerick to bound free. Within 17 seconds James Ryan made a nuisance of himself to rob Darren Stamp and Mulcahy pounced to put Limerick five clear. That was the catalyst for the Kilmallock man to burst into the game, and possibly his senior career. He added three more points and Limerick were always in control.
Wexford did have a chance to close the gap but Quaid made a great save on Rory Jacob and Tom Condon bravely cleared the ball off the line, an act that resulted in an ankle injury and the end of his evening. From the resulting attack, Hannon pointed and when Wexford’s Paul Roche was red-carded for striking Mulcahy, Limerick were home and hosed. Sean Tobin and subs Mark O’Riordan and Thomas O’Brien got on the scoresheet as Limerick went as much as nine clear at one stage.
Jacob did get a late goal for the visitors but by then Limerick were turning their focus to the next adventure in their championship summer.
Onwards and upwards, then. 2010 seems an ever-fading memory.
SCORERS - Limerick: Declan Hannon 0-9 (five frees, one sideline), Graeme Mulcahy 1-4, Niall Moran 0-3, Donal O’Grady 0-2, Kevin Downes, Sean Tobin, Thomas O’Brien and Mark O’Riordan 0-1 each; Wexford: Eoin Quigley (0-1 sideline) and Rory Jacob 1-2 each, Garrett Sinnott 0-3, PJ Nolan 0-2, Keith Rossiter, Eanna Martin, Harry Kehoe and David Redmond 0-1 each
LIMERICK: Nicky Quaid; David Moloney, Seamus Hickey, Tom Condon; Wayne McNamara, Brian Geary, Gavin O’Mahony; Paul Browne, Donal O’Grady; Niall Moran, James Ryan, Declan Hannon; Graeme Mulcahy, Kevin Downes, Sean Tobin. Subs: Mark O’Riordan for Browne (43 mins), Stephen Walsh for Condon (injured - 50 mins), Thomas O’Brien for Tobin (56 mins), Donie Ryan for Mulcahy (64 mins) and David Breen for Geary (68 mins)
WEXFORD: Niall Breen; Paul Roche, Matthew O’Hanlon, Keith Rossiter; Lar Prendergast, Darren Stamp, Michael Jacob; Harry Kehoe, Malachy Travers; PJ Nolan, Eoin Quigley, Stephen Banville; Rory Jacob, Garrett Sinnott, Jim Berry. Subs: Colm Farrell for Travers (46 mins), David Redmond for Quigley (54 mins), Brendan Doyle for Berry (58 mins), Eanna Martin for Kehoe (70 mins)
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford)