Limerick FC 2-1 Drogheda United
LIMERICK FC were presented with the First Division trophy on a winning note after their 2-1 win at home to Drogheda United on Saturday evening.
The Super Blues had been confirmed as champions all of six weeks ago, but waited until the culmination of their final Markets Field assignment of 2016 to collect the silverware.
First half goals from Paul O’Conor and Robbie Williams secured a 13th home win out of 14 in the league this season, with Sean Thornton grabbing a late consolation for Drogheda in a game that saw both teams finish with 10 men.
Despite the subdued attendance at Markets Field, Limerick were determined to put on a show for those present and they ought to have scored inside the first 90 seconds when Williams picked out Chris Mulhall with a diagonal pass, only for the striker to fire over from six yards with an open goal at his mercy.
It didn’t take long for the home side to hit the front, though. In the ninth minute, Shane Tracy’s free kick from deep was met by the head of O’Conor, who steered the ball to the visitors’ net for the opening goal of the evening.
On 18 minutes it was 2-0, and again it originated from a Tracy delivery. The ex-Arsenal man’s inswinger was headed home by Williams and at this stage it looked like being a procession for Martin Russell’s side.
Drogheda managed to stem the tide midway through the first half, although Limerick still had opportunities through a Mulhall effort that trickled narrowly wide and a deflected Stephen Kenny cross which nearly caught out Drogheda goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness.
In the 37th minute, Mulhall went to ground inside the penalty area, seemingly upended by a combination of McGuinness and Jake Hyland. Assistant referee Dermot Broughton waved his flag dramatically, but he was signalling an alleged dive by the Limerick striker and referee James McKell acted on his advice, showing Mulhall a second yellow card which ended his involvement in the game. A furious Mulhall did not go quietly.
Drogheda came close to pulling a goal back just before half-time when Limerick lazily conceded possession from a throw-in and Adam Wixted pounced on the loose ball, but Williams got back to snuff out the danger.
The visitors made a double substitution at the break, introducing Liam Donnelly and Thornton, and they saw substantially more of the ball after half-time, even accounting for their one-man advantage. Still, McGuinness needed to be sharp off his line to beat Lee-J Lynch to a 50-50 ball after an exquisite through pass from Aaron Greene.
The game went into a lull for a while after that, with the home fans working through their full repertoire of songs as the trophy presentation drew closer. On 74 minutes, the under-worked Freddy Hall reassured us that he was still tuned into the action in front of him as he palmed away a Mark Griffin cross that nearly crept into the net. Shortly afterwards, McGuinness again showed his fleet of foot to clear a 50-50 ball just ahead of Greene, who this time was the recipient of a marvellous through ball from Shane Duggan.
Former Ireland international Thornton flashed a shot narrowly wide in the 79th minute before finding the net six minutes later when he stopped to head in Stephen Dunne’s cross. Any hopes of a dramatic Drogheda comeback were soon extinguished, though, when captain Sean Brennan petulantly lashed out at Limerick substitute Garbhan Coughlan, who has just been introduced, and was promptly dismissed by McKell to leave both teams a man short.
Once the match finished, and Limerick completed the season unbeaten at home in the league (the only points they dropped at Markets Field were in the corresponding fixture in June), Duggan hoisted the First Division trophy flanked by his team-mates as the long-awaited celebrations began.
The Super Blues sign off on a wonderful 2016 away to Cabinteely next week while Drogheda meet UCD in the knowledge that a draw will guarantee their involvement in the promotion play-offs. Defeat will present their opponents and possibly Cobh Ramblers with the chance to nudge them out of the play-off picture. It will be a tense final weekend in the First Division – but not for runaway champions Limerick.
At the Radisson Blu Hotel on Saturday night, the club’s end of season awards were presented. Shane Tracy was named the club’s Player of the Year, with Paudie O’Connor claiming the Young Player prize. Chris Mulhall was the Players’ Player of the Year and Lee-J Lynch collected the Limerick OSC Player of the Year award.
The OSC Junior Blues Player of the Year went to Freddy Hall and the OSC Unsung Hero award was presented to Paul O’Conor. John O’Flynn picked up the Golden Boot for his 19 goals in 2016 and Sean McSweeney won Goal of the Season.
Limerick FC: Hall; Kelly, O’Connor, Williams, Tracy; O’Conor, Duggan; Kenny (Russell 77), Lynch, Greene (Coughlan 86); Mulhall.
Drogheda United: McGuinness; Deasy, Gallagher, Farragher, Doyle (Dunne 68); Brennan, Purdy, Hyland (Thornton h-t); Wixted (Donnelly h-t), Griffin, Ashe
Referee: James McKell