By Darragh Nolan
Galway 0-19 Limerick 0-24
Galway’s Allianz National Hurling League hopes lay on a knife-edge after Henry Shefflin’s charges stumbled to a defeat at home against Limerick.
It was something of an idyllic National League occasion – the sun shining down on Pearse Stadium, a fresh February chill in the air and a bumper crowd of 12,246 in Salthill for the visit of the All-Ireland champions.
All that was missing for the crowd was a home win. Limerick were at their dominant best throughout, putting the country on notice for another charge at Liam McCarthy this summer.
The contest began at breakneck pace; both sides had attacks in the first 30 seconds and shared four plum scores to put things at 0-02 apiece inside two minutes.
Kyle Hayes extended the Limerick lead with one of the scores of the League season so far, receiving the ball on the left sideline and ripping over inside his own half. His 0-03 effort in the opening 35 minutes was the highlight of the first half.
Cooneys Kevin and Conor looked the most lively in the Galway forward line. The former opened the scoring, the latter pointed a gilt-edged goal change from close range.
Galway’s attack was largely blunted besides that. Limerick mopped up the vast majority of ball coming into Galway’s forwards. Talisman Conor Whelan and in-form Evan Niland were kept in reserve and the starting line-up failed to repay Henry Shefflin’s faith.
Limerick by contrast were spoiled for scoring prowess – Tom Morrissey and Cian Lynch were up to their old tricks in the half forward line and the emergence of Micháel Houlihan as yet another product of the Shannonside pipeline continued apace.
That blitz up front along with airtight defending of the Galway long ball brought Limerick in at the break with a 0-14 to 0-07 advantage.
Well aware of the need for change, Shefflin introduced Whelan, Brian Concannon and Darren Morrissey to begin the second half.
It was much the same as the first, though. The service into Galway’s forwards remained poor, there were far too many mistakes made in possession and Limerick kept finding ways to create space and keep the scoreboard ticking.
A dogged performance at left half forward from Tom Monaghan was a small consolation for the Tribesmen; he looked at times to be willing his side to a comeback by himself, to no avail.
Darting runs out of the back line via Hayes and Barry Nash caused problems for Galway throughout. Both won fouls inside the opposing half to plate up close range frees which Tom Morrissey converted easily.
The Tribesmen will surely hope bringing the likes of Concannon and Whelan on to change a game will bear more fruit in future. As good as any forward in the country on their day, both failed to have any effect on proceedings.
Suddenly the home side at last roared into life and a chance at a smash-and-grab was on. Limerick grinded to a halt and endured a 10 minute scoring drought, allowing Galway to chip the lead down to three and get within a goal of salvaging something from a lethargic performance.
The closing period for Galway was a case of what might have been. Joseph Cooney excelled in the final 10 while Conor Cooney’s 0-12 kept the men in maroon in touching distance, including 0-09 from the placed ball.
Limerick held on at the end to claim a five point victory, underpinned by a Man of the Match performance from Tom Morrissey. The Westerners require a much improved performance next time out against Clare in Ennis on 12 March.
Galway: Darach Fahy; Jack Grealish, T.J. Brennan, Tiernan Killeen; Padraic Mannion, Gearóid McInerney, Joseph Cooney; Seán Linnane (0-01), Cianan Fahy (0-01); Tom Monaghan (0-03), Conor Cooney (0-12, 0-09f), Dónal O’Shea; Jason Flynn, Kevin Cooney (0-02), Martin McManus.
Subs: Darren Morrissey for Grealish, Conor Whelan for O’Shea, Brian Concannon for Flynn, Liam Collins for McManus.
Limerick: Nickie Quaid; Sean Finn, Richie English, Barry Nash; Ciarán Barry, Dan Morrissey, Kyle Hayes (0-03); Darragh O’Donovan, William O’Donoghue; Tom Morrissey (0-08, 0-03f), Cian Lynch (0-03), Micháel Houlihan (0-04, 0-04f); Shane O’Brien (0-01), Seamus Flanagan (0-01), Peter Casey (0-02).
Subs: Conor Boylan for Houlihan, Gearóid Hegarty for Lynch, Adam English for O’Donoghue, Donnacha O Dalaigh for Flanagan.
Referee: Seán Stack (Dublin).