THE Limerick footballers qualified for the Division 3 semi-finals of the League last weekend with an imperious 2-19 to 1-12 win over Wicklow in Aughrim.
That win assured Limerick of Division 3 status at the least for 2022 with the second tier a real possibility less than a year after winning promotion from the bottom division.
Second half goals from Danny Neville and Hugh Bourke proved vital in the 10 point win which sets up a clash with Derry in the last four on June 12.
A win in Sean Mac Diarmada Park would assure Limerick of Division 2 football next year.
Ahead of the clash, we look at some of the main talking points to emerge from Aughrim.
When the chips were down Lee’s men replied
Limerick’s opening round win against Tipperary gave them a huge opportunity to put one foot in the knockout stages ahead of the clash with Offaly. On the day, the Faithful proved their worth with a two-point win to push Limerick’s hopes to the final day. Last year after a blitzing start to the League, Limerick knew a win over Wexford in the return to action after the lockdown would seal promotion. Lee’s side failed in their quest in Mick Neville Park which meant a trip to Marchievicz Park on the final day.
In Sligo, Billy Lee’s side were in flying form and were full value for a 2-16 to 2-14 win to seal promotion and the Division 4 crown. Faced with a similar task on the final day of the 2021 League, Limerick were even better in Aughrim, putting the hosts to the sword in a ten point win. Despite beating the reigning Munster champions in the first game, a poor result against Wicklow would have seen Limerick in relegation trouble in their first season out of the bottom tier.
But with the chips down, Billy Lee’s side produced their best performance of the year and are now only one game away from Division 2 football. And with their record in must-win games, you cannot rule out the Shannonsiders.
Deadly duo strike again
Although Limerick were much the better side in Aughrim, Lee’s side failed to pull away from the plucky hosts with their goal levelling proceedings approaching the half. The Shannonsiders did hold a two-point cushion at the break but were far from comfortable against a Wicklow side who looked determined to take advantage of their slim promotion hopes.
As the clock headed into the final ten minutes, Limerick were three in front but had seen a three point slip earlier in the game to Eoin Darcy’s goal. With the game in the melting pot, Hugh Bourke picked up possession for Limerick with a sideline. The Adare man gave a quick kick pass down the sideline to his fellow corner forward Danny Neville. The Ballysteen man made little of the Wicklow challenges and danced down the sideline before coolly slotting past the goalie to move Limerick six clear.
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Two minutes later, Neville was at it again, this time repaying the favour with Bourke patting in for the simplest of finishes. Two goals in as many minutes from Limerick’s main forwards was enough to secure the semi-final berth. Over the course of the 70 minutes, the pair combined for 2-10 in a dazzling display.
Against Offaly, they kicked 1-5 of Limerick’s total of 1-11 while in the opener they contributed 1-9 of their sides tally of 1-13. Altogether, they have bagged 4-24 in their three games, averaging 12 points a game.
Certainly Billy Lee has a strong squad but there is no doubting the importance of the deadly duo.
Derry another step up for Limerick
With Division 3 status consolidated, Limerick’s immediate focus will be the possibility of back to back promotion which is just one victory away. However, in their way is a Derry side who look intent on earning their way into Division 2 after a brilliant start to the season.
The Ulster outfit have been in terrific form in arguably the harder side of Division 3, winning each of their games with a points differential of +35. They laid out their intent early on with a 16-point drubbing of Longford. They bettered this in Round 2 with a 513 to 0-9 win over Fermanagh. They concluded a perfect round robin stage of the League with a two-point win over last year’s Ulster champions Cavan.
When these sides last met, Derry proved far too strong in a 0-13 to 1-5 win at the LIT Gaelic Grounds in Division 4 in 2019. Derry went on to win the Division and were very unlucky to miss out on promotion in 2020, finishing third level on points with Down who progressed having won the meeting between the teams.
How far Limerick have come will be indicated in the game with Derry heavily favoured to earn promotion.