By John Reddington for Limerick Leader Sport


It has been a soul-destroying spring for Limerick football as a ravaged squad clocked up three defeats and a draw in their opening Allianz League fixtures.

Coming off a heavy setback against Leitrim, they hosted rivals Waterford in Martinstown on Saturday evening for the dubious honour of propping up inter-county football’s lowest division and confidence looked like taking another battering when the visitors ground themselves into the lead as the final whistle beckoned.

However, for the first time in almost a year, Limerick got their break and repaid the faith their manager Billy Lee had placed in his young inexperienced panel. Waterford may have left the pitch devastated by Limerick’s equalising goal at the end of regulation time and the pointed free that followed in the added minutes. Yet it was no more than the winners deserved.

On a night when they could have been excused for settling for honourable defeat, Limerick refused to give in and fought on right to the line with the same positive attitude they’ve shown through a season of setbacks.

Once again, Limerick struggled to win primary possession as they conceded height and bulk in most of the central positions but they showed how they’ve grown as a team by making the most of whatever came their way. A recast inside-forward line gave them targets to aim at and Séamus O’Carroll, in his first start of the campaign, demonstrated he still has the class to gather openings from whomever is marking him.

Despite facing into the breeze and being shaded around the middle for primary possession, Limerick used the ball more effectively early on and took the lead when O’Carroll pointed from a tight angle. Making his mark as the target-man, O’Carroll’s quick delivery later found Jamie Lee to glide in behind the defence and slide to the net.

Waterford replied when the wind carried Gavin Crotty’s effort between the posts but the home side were looking much the sharper during the opening quarter. Another ball into O’Carroll saw him turn and point before Robbie Bourke followed up with a similar score.

JJ Hutchinson hit back only for O’Carroll to immediately reply with his third score but Waterford strength was beginning to assert itself in the middle third. However, deliberate buildup prevented them eating into the margin until Joe Allen pointed from a tight angle and even that was met by Danny Neville striking off a run up the centre.

Conor Murray then pointed for Waterford, however Limerick’s Robbie Bourke replied with a free. The visitors got the perfect boost coming up to the break when Crotty was bundled off the ball in the square and then stepped up to slot home the penalty that reduced his side’s deficit to 1-6 to 1-4.

The bounce carried through the interval as James McGrath pointed right on the restart but Waterford’s pressure failed to bring them closer and, when they took their breath, they were hit on the counter. Moving up quickly in support of their forwards, Darragh Treacy and Paul White both found the target and the gap stayed at three coming into the final quarter as Crotty’s free was met by Lee splitting the posts from out on the left.

However, pressure was taking its toll on Limerick’s overworked middle third as Joey Veale pointed on the run and Limerick’s overworked defence creaked when Deise centre-back Michael Curry ran up from deep to ghost inside the full-back line and slide home the lead-changing second goal. Increasingly confident they had the measure of their opponents, Murray and Crotty’s free moved Waterford into the comfort zone as Limerick struggled to respond.

A glimmer of hope opened for the hosts when Treacy bashed his way though the central defence but, with the goal open in front of him, he hooked his shot wide. However, it was enough to inspire Limerick and they got their reward when sub Davy Lyons forced the turnover and dropped a teasing delivery across the face of the goals. The Waterford rearguard failed to banish the ball to safety and O’Carroll, as busy as ever, banged his shins against it to bundle home the equaliser.

With the modest crowd cheering them on, Limerick weren’t content to leave it at that and relentless injury time assaults finally found their reward when drawing a foul for Seán McSweeney, on the field for only a few minutes, to convert.

SCORERS, LIMERICK: Séamus O’Carroll 1-3, Jamie Lee 1-1, Robbie Bourke 0-2 (1 free), Danny Neville, Darragh Treacy, Paul White, Seán McSweeney (free) 0-1 each; WATERFORD: Gavin Crotty 1-3 (1-0 penalty, 0-2 frees), Michael Curry 1-0, Conor Murray 0-2, JJ Hutchinson, James McGrath, Jason Allen, Joey Veale 0-1 each.

LIMERICK: Donal O’Sullivan; Garett Noonan, Seán O’Dea, Brian Fanning;Paul White, Cillian Fahy, Colm McSweeney; Darragh Treacy, Tommy Griffin; Peter Nash, Jamie Lee, Danny Neville; Dave Connolly, Robbie Bourke, Séamus O’Carroll. SUBS: Paul Maher for Colm McSweeney (49 minutes), Davy Lyons for Tommy Griffin (53 minutes), Shane Cusack for Jamie Lee (60 minutes), David Ward for Robbie Bourke (64 minutes),Seán McSweeney for Peter Nash (64 minutes), Daniel Daly for Brian Fanning (69 minutes).

WATERFORD: Stephen Enright; Conor McCarthy, Thomas O’Gorman, Jack Mullaney; James McGrath, Michael Curry, Shane Ryan; Joe Allen, Kieran Power; Conor Murray, Gavin Crotty, Dylan Guiry; Tommy Prendergast, JJ Hutchinson, Aidan Trehy. SUBS: Joey Veale for Aidan Trihy (28 minutes), Jason Curry for Joe Allen (53 minutes), Garry Cullinane for Shane Ryan (injured, 64 minutes), Eoin O’Brien for Kieran Power (69 minutes).

REFEREE: Dan Mullan (Derry).

MAN OF THE MATCH: Séamus O’Carroll not only bagged the priceless late goal and three points from play but he also created Jamie Lee’s early goal with a beautifully weighted pass as his speed, touch and nose for the opportunity tormented the Waterford defence.