In the end it was a procession but for long parts of this All Ireland hurling qualifier in Parnell Park on Saturday evening there was very little between Limerick and Antrim.
It was only when David Breen crashed home a goal with 15 minutes remaining that the tie was eventually settled and Limerick could look forward to a quarter-final showdown with Dublin in two weeks’ time.
Breen’s goal pushed Limerick nine clear and from there on, they put the boot down to run out comfortable 19-point winners.
However the real turning point came ten minutes before half time when Antrim were reduced to 14 after centre-forward Karl Stewart stamped on Brian Geary. The sides were level 0-7 each at the time when Geary dragged down Stewart for a free that the excellent Neil McManus would surely have pointed.
But instead, Stewart stamped on Geary who was lying on the ground and referee James Owens, after consulting his linesman, gave the Antrim man a straight red card. The ball was thrown in and in the ten minutes before the break, Limerick outscored Antrim by 1-4 to 0-1, the goal coming from Niall Moran after he was put through by Declan Hannon.
Antrim did make a game of it for a while after half time and were only trailing 1-11 to 0-11 ten minutes in. But the extra man eventually began to tell and with corner-backs Tom Condon and David Moloney outstanding in carrying the ball out of defence it was only a matter of time before they put daylight between the sides.
Hannon and Moran both missed goal chances but when Breen got his opportunity, he showed great strength before firing past Chris O’Connell. From there it seemed that everyone got in on the scoring and Richie McCarthy’s goal, after Moran was blocked, completely took the wind from Antrim’s sails.
The win probably came at a cost though. Donal O’Grady went into the game without the injured Paul Browne (foot) and Graeme Mulcahy (ankle) and at half time he was forced to take off Donal O’Grady (shoulder) and Kevin Downes (calf).
With Damian Reale already out, that’s five of the side that started against Waterford in the Munster championship now on the treatment table. They’ve two weeks to get right before facing Dublin but it’s far from an ideal situation.
In any case Limerick would have to improve hugely if they’re to beat Dublin. Antrim opened up the defence on numerous occasions in the first half and their physicality and intensity troubled Limerick.
If a mid-ranking Division 2 side could that, what could the Division 1 champions do? And while Limerick stuck admirably to their new running game, their distribution and first touch was poor in many instances and against a better side, they’d have been punished severely.
Limerick were slow to start and were 0-2 to 0-0 down after five minutes. Hannon and McCarthy drew Limerick level but by the 18th minute Antrim were 0-6 to 0-3 up with McManus and Eddie McCloskey doing most of the damage.
Kevin Downes, with his first possession in the 19th minute, pointed to reduce the gap and although McManus replied, three Hannon points in a row had the sides level by the 25th minute.
Then came Stewart’s moment of madness. Had he stayed on, we could well have been in for a decent battle but without him Antrim stood little chance.
They fought as hard as they could for as long as they could but Limerick eventually wore them down.
SCORERS - Limerick: Declan Hannon 0-8 (five frees), Niall Moran and Richie McCarthy 1-1 each, Sean Tobin 0-3, David Breen, Mark O’Riordan and James Ryan 0-2 each, Tom Condon, Donal O’Grady, Brian Geary (‘65), Gavin O’Mahony and Kevin Downes 0-1 each; Antrim: Neil McManus 0-8 (five frees), Eddie McCloskey 0-2, Darren Hamill and Conor McCann 0-1 each
LIMERICK - Nicky Quaid; David Moloney, Seamus Hickey, Tom Condon; Wayne McNamara, Brian Geary, Gavin O’Mahony; Donal O’Grady, Mark O’Riordan; Niall Moran, James Ryan, Declan Hannon; Sean Tobin, Kevin Downes, Richie McCarthy. Subs: Paudie O’Brien for O’Grady (injured - half time), David Breen for Downes (injured - half time), Stephen Lucey for Geary (61 mins), Stephen Walsh for McNamara (61 mins) and Thomas O’Brien for Moran (61 mins)
ANTRIM - Chris O’Connell; Chris McGuinness, Cormac Donnelly, Aaron Graffin; Neil McCauley, Michael Herron, Simon McCrory; Neil McManus, Paul Shiels; Eddie McCloskey, Karl Stewart, Colm McFall; Conor McCann, Darren Hamill, Joey Scullion. Subs: Barry McFall for Scullion (45 mins), Conor Carson for McCloskey (55 mins), Ciaran Herron for McCrory (61 mins)
Referee - James Owens (Wexford)