Limerick FC 4-1 Shamrock Rovers
IF MARTIN Russell mapped out how he would have liked his first home match as Limerick FC manager to have gone, it probably wouldn’t have been as good as this.
In the same week that the Limerick hurlers slapped in three first-half goals against Wexford to effectively seal victory by half-time, the Super Blues did likewise against a pitiful Shamrock Rovers at Thomond Park on Friday night.
There were Limerick debuts for Lee J Lynch and Kieran Djilali, two of Russell’s five midweek acquisitions, and both players gave distinguished performances in a five-man midfield.
Shamrock Rovers had the lion’s share of possession in the opening minutes, and a half-chance when Gary McCabe’s shot fizzed into a dangerous area but Dean Kelly couldn’t get on the end of it. Then the rout began.
In the ninth minute, Lynch played a sublime pass from the middle of the park into Rory Gaffney, who set himself before unleashing a fierce shot that rocketed past the outstretched Barry Murphy to open the scoring.
Gaffney turned provider for Limerick’s second on 16 minutes, sending a low cross from the left to Ian Turner, who had the freedom of Thomond to take a touch and fire beyond Murphy to double the hosts’ lead and set in motion the first of numerous rounds of “We want Croly out” from disgruntled Shamrock Rovers fans.
The heavens began to open midway through the first half and it was also raining goals, with the Super Blues going 3-0 up as early as the 25th minute. Lynch’s cross was headed into his own net by Conor Kenna, who endured a torrid night. As the home fans were singing in the rain, there was a storm of vicious anger from the travelling support.
It could have been even worse for the hapless Hoops in the 32nd minute when Kenna was dispossessed with ease by Gaffney in the penalty area, but the striker’s shot was turned away for a corner by Murphy.
A Limerick counter-attack shortly before half-time should have yielded a fourth goal, Gaffney supplying Lynch with what appeared a simple finish. The debutant scuffed his shot, though, not managing to get the goal that his performance deserved.
Shamrock Rovers’ under-fire manager Trevor Croly trudged off the pitch at half-time to a hail of abuse from the visiting supporters, many of whom spent the second half calling for him to get the sack.
It was actually the Hoops who had the first chance after the interval, Barry Ryan needing to be alert to deny Sean O’Connor, before Limerick went close again through Robbie Williams, who headed over from a Turner delivery.
The Tallaght side huffed and puffed as they sought to add respectability to the scoreline, but Limerick’s stern defence comfortably dealt with everything that was thrown at them by a disjointed outfit. Russell’s men passed up another chance to inflict further damage 15 minutes from time when substitute Ross Mann skipped down the right-hand side and crossed low towards Gaffney, who didn’t react in time for Shamrock Rovers to clear the danger.
With six minutes remaining, Shane Duggan delivered a free kick from 35 yards into the penalty area and Stephen Folan got his head on it to make the score 4-0. Sean O’Connor, who was the one man in a hooped jersey to give an admirable performance, notched a stoppage time consolation, if you could even call it that, for the visitors.
The full-time whistle was met with a gleeful roar from the home supporters and a torrent of anger from the Shamrock Rovers travelling faithful. The Hoops’ players and management even held a post-match inquiry on the pitch to try and identify exactly where it all went so badly wrong for them.
Croly is a man in deep, deep trouble, but his opposite number Russell can hardly have wished for a more perfect first game in the home dugout at Thomond Park. What a way to end a four-game losing streak, and 4-1 was a true reflection of this one-sided match.
Limerick FC: Ryan, Nzuzi, Oji (Leahy 90), Folan, Williams, Turner, Lynch, Hughes, Duggan, Djilali (Mann 68), Gaffney.
Shamrock Rovers: Murphy, Madden, Kenna, McGuinness (Byrne 37), Osam, McCabe (Waters 71), McPhail (Bayly 78), Finn, S O’Connor, Sheppard, Kelly.
Referee: Jim McKell