Limerick FC 1-4 St Patrick’s Athletic
LIMERICK FC’s hopes of claiming EA Sports Cup glory were shattered in clinical fashion by St Patrick’s Athletic, who struck three goals in the final 10 minutes to retain the trophy at a packed Markets Field.
Lee-J Lynch’s stunning 18th-minute strike had given the First Division champions a half-time lead, but St Pat’s were totally dominant after the interval and once they drew level through Christy Fagan, there was only ever likely to be one winner.
There was a carnival atmosphere around the Markets Field prior to kick-off and a section of the travelling contingent from Inchicore made their mark by letting off a couple of smoke bombs as the game started.
Limerick seemed galvanised by their vociferous home support and Aaron Greene was almost played through on goal as early as the fourth minute from Paudie O’Connor’s pinpoint long ball. A minute later, Sean Russell’s cross found Lynch inside the St Pat’s penalty box, but he volleyed into the ground to spurn a good early chance for the Super Blues. In the 10th minute, Sean Hoare booted an attempted clearance straight into the air and goalkeeper Conor O’Malley needed to be alert to grasp the ball as it dropped dangerously close to his goalmouth.
The visitors had been under the cosh in the early stages but Limerick needed Freddy Hall to produce an excellent 15th-minute save to deny Fagan from close range. Shortly after that opportunity for St Pat’s, they found themselves 1-0 down as Russell’s throw-in found Lynch, who let fly from 25 yards and sent his piledriver into the roof of O’Malley’s net to nearly take the roof off the Markets Field.
The visitors gradually grew into the game after being a distinct second best in the opening 20 minutes and most of their creativity was going through Conan Byrne on the right. On 29 minutes he surged into a good scoring position before Robbie Williams got back to snuff out the chance.
At the other end, Lynch fed Greene on the left and his cross needed a vital touch from Ian Bermingham to knock it behind for a corner. Although the visitors enjoyed a greater share of possession towards the end of the first half, they created no opportunities of note and Limerick were relatively comfortable as they got to half-time with their lead intact.
Liam Buckley would have been dismayed with St Pat’s first half showing and they came out a different team after the interval. They served an early signal of intent within two minutes of the restart as Billy Dennehy’s free kick tested Hall, who managed to shovel the ball away to safety. However, the Incihicore side were lucky not to be two goals down in the 51st minute when Lynch picked out Chris Mulhall, who was powering through the middle as he bore down on goal, but the in-form striker couldn’t beat O’Malley one-on-one.
The visitors had a shout for a penalty when Byrne went to ground in the box, but he was booked for simulation despite his protests. Limerick then wasted another glorious chance on the hour mark when Russell picked out Stephen Kenny, but he contrived to miss straight in front of goal. The St Pat’s pressure eventually told on 64 minutes when Dennehy crossed to Fagan, who slotted home from close range for the equaliser.
A spate of stoppages over the next 10 minutes allowed Limerick to regroup, but St Pat’s were always the more likely to edge in front and only a superb saving tackle from Paul O’Conor stopped Byrne from scoring as the game entered the final quarter of an hour.
After Hall made another point-blank save from Fagan in the 81st minute, the home side’s resistance crumbled dramatically. There were seven minutes remaining when Bermingham’s cross from the left flicked off Fagan’s head and fell for Byrne at the far post and he had time to steady himself before firing to the net to give St Pat’s the lead.
The result was put beyond doubt in the 88th minute when Jamie McGrath lifted the ball over a stooping Hall for the visitors’ third goal of the evening and the late blitz was completed in stoppage time when St Pat’s broke rapidly from a corner at their end and Graham Kelly glided past the onrushing Hall, took the ball to the right and found the net from outside the penalty box to make it 4-1.
The final score did not do justice to how close a game it was overall, but even the most ardent Super Blues fan would have to admit that St Pat’s the better team, particularly in the second half. It was an evening of deflation for Limerick after weeks of anticipation, but it served as a timely reminder of the quality of opposition they will face on a weekly basis next year when they take their place in the top flight of Irish football.
Limerick FC: Hall; Kelly (Tracy 67), O’Connor, Williams, Russell; O’Conor, Duggan; Kenny (Coughlan 80), Lynch, Greene; Mulhall (O’Flynn 71).
St Patrick’s Athletic: O’Malley; O’Brien, Hoare, Desmond, Bermingham; Barker, Kelly; Byrne, McGrath, B Dennehy; Fagan (Corcoran 86).
Referee: Robert Rogers