Limerick still seeking first football league win after narrow defeat to Westmeath:

By John Redington Limerick Leader Sport

“THE lads fought top the bitter end. They never gave up,” was how manager Jimmy Lee saluted Limerick’s performance in Sunday’s Allianz Football League 0-14 to 1-8 defeat with Division Three table-toppers Westmeath on their home patch of TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar on Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, the battling nature of the display wasn’t enough to prevent Limerick from slipping to a fourth successive defeat but, unlike in their three previous outings, the outcome was in the balance right to the final whistle as the the team played with a composure and a focus for the first time since the new management took over.

The result still leaves them with a mountain to scale to avoid a second successive relegation, but results elsewhere mean that victory over fellow basement sides Offaly and Wicklow in their two final outings would be enough to save them from the drop.

And maybe they’ll gain enough encouragement from this display against a county they have never beaten in their eight meetings against them to make it the turning point of their season.

Despite playing against a steady breeze in the first half, they turned over just a point in arrears and were there or thereabouts until the introduction of veteran finisher Kieran Martin not only led to three points of his own but also opened up the space for 2023 All-Star nominee Ronan O’Toole to fire over another three in the closing minutes.

But even that injection of firepower wasn’t enough to see Limerick off. A wonder goal just into injury time that even the home supporters rose to applaud led to a barnstorming finish which a rattled Westmeath defence just about repelled before a score on the break point finally settled their nerves.

Limerick had three minutes of uninterrupted possession before Cathal Downes got them off the mark and, despite an immediate reply from Ronan Wallace, they kept up their early dominance against for Iain Corbett and James Naughton restoring their lead. However, once Westmeath found their shape in the middle third, they began to get some reward from the steady breeze at their backs and were back level on the quarter mark after Wallace struck again and was followed by Ray Connellan’s strike from distance.

The home side had a goal chance after they pressed a Limerick clearance but Senan Baker’s shot was smothered by the recovering defence. However, the full-forward, son of former Clare hurler Ollie Baker, got some compensation when his free put the hosts ahead and looked to be easing into dominance when Sam McCartan and Danny McCartan put three

Coming up to half-time, Limerick broke the siege on their goals as Barry Coleman’s shot on goal was block by Jamie Gonoud but Aaron O’Sullivan sent over the resulting ’45’ and they could have hit the net again during added time when a lightning breakaway ended with Jim Liston meeting Colm McSweeney delivery across the square but his volley went just over the crossbar to reduce the deficit to 0-6 to 0-5.

Continuing to dominate the middle third, the hosts struggled to find enough pace to prise open the organised Limerick defence before finally reaping some reward when Nigel Harte, Martin and McCartan’s free put them ahead by four. However, Limerick found a response going into the final quarter and, using the breeze, Tommy Childs found the target from outside the ’45’ and was followed by Naughton’s free but, after Peter Nash’s free met O’Toole’s response, the Midlanders found an extra gear for O’Toole, Martin, and O’Toole again to put five between the sides as the watch moved into added time.

But the story wasn’t over. A slick Limerick move off the kickout saw Cillian Fahy find Cathal Downes bursting out to his delivery on the edge of the square and, in one fluid movement, the Kildimo-Pallaskenry player turned past his marker and hammered the ball into the low right corner of James Daly’s net.

However, Westmeath held off their attempts to find a match-winning follow-up goal and, finding the holes left at the back, Martin picked off a breakaway point.

SCORERS: WESTMEATH: Ronan O’Toole, Kieran Martin 0-3 each Ronan Wallace, Danny McCartan (1 free) 0-2 each, Sam McCartan, Senan Baker (free), Nigel Harte, Ray Connellan 0-1 each; LIMERICK: Cathal Downes 1-2, James Naughton 0-2 (1 free), Iain Corbett. Aaron O’ Sullivaan (’45’), Jim Liston, Peter Nash (free) 0-1 each.

WESTMEATH; Jason Daly; Eoin Mulvihill, Charlie Drumm, Jamie Gonoud; Sam McCartan, Ronan Wallace, Nigel Harte; Ray Connellan, Andy McCormack; David Lynch, Ronan O’Toole, Robbie Forde; Kevin Maguire, Senan Baker, Danny McCartan. SUBS: Kevin Martin for Senan Baker (41 minutes), Stephen Smith for Robbie Forde (41 minutes), James Dolan for Eoin Mulvihill (51 minutes), Conor Dillon for Danny McCartan (63 minutes), Shane Allen for Nigel Harte (69 minutes).

LIMERICK: Aaron O’Sullivan; Jim Liston, Seán O’Dea, Paul Maher; Barry Coleman, Iain Corbett, Colm McSweeney;Tommy Childs, Cillian Fahy; James Naughton, Cathal Downes, Emmet Rigter; Jamie Baynham, Bob Childs, Peter Nash. SUBS: Tommy Griffin for Jamie Baynham (52 minutes), Eoin Hurley for Bob Childs (65 minutes), Shane Costello for Paul Maher (injured, 75 minutes).

REFEREE: John Gilmartin (Sligo).