LIAM RUSHE justified the confidence of manager Anthony Daly as the big man from Palmerstown produced an inspired performance in Dublin's dramatic win at Semple Stadium.
Rushe figured in a pre-match guessing game as to whether he would be replaced at centre half-back by Conal Keaney, who featured in that role against Carlow.
Daly went with Rushe as a defensive lynchpin and it worked terrifically well on a night when the margin between victory and defeat was tantalisingly narrow.
The Dublin manager was hugely relieved it all worked out because he – like Limerick counterpart John Allen and every one of the 3,121 spectators present – knew it could so easily have gone the other way.
Ferocious Limerick pressure in the last couple of minutes looked certain to produce an equaliser, but the Blues' defence held out.
There was a glint of satisfaction in Daly's eye as he spoke about Rushe, who produced a man-of-the-match performance.
Keaney didn't reach his own usual high standards in the half-forward line and was substituted after 46 minutes.
"We don't get it wrong all the time," said Daly. "But, had Liam had a bad night, people would be asking, 'why wasn't Keaney there?'.
"Liam played at centre-back for most of the league. Conal didn't have a great night, but he'll bounce back."
A delighted Rushe said: "We have to be very happy with the accuracy of of our shooting and our decision-making. We worked on that all week. We had very few wides."
Limerick handicapped themselves by hitting eight wides in the first half to Dublin's none and went in at half- time leading by just a point, 1-7 to 1-6, with the goals coming from frees.
Dublin's Paul Ryan took full advantage of referee Alan Kelly moving the ball forward 13 metres for Limerick dissent to smash home a superb shot from 20 metres on the half-hour mark.
Declan Hannon was not to be outdone when he got a chance from a 20-metre free, which he blasted home two minutes later.
Ryan (1-8, all frees), and Hannon (1-7, including a '65') were impressive from placed balls throughout. In rugby, the kickers are lauded as special, but sometimes it appears that hurling free-takers such as these two, who score from all angles and distances, are taken for granted.
Also often overlooked are the goalkeepers. Dublin's Alan Nolan, who replaced eye-socket injury victim Gary Maguire, kept his side in the game with four fine saves.
The Dubs were also well served by the lively David 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan, Paul Schutte, Joey Boland and Danny Sutcliffe. Daly told skipper Johnny McCaffrey at half-time that he was being taken off, and McCaffrey still said his piece urging on his team-mates to produce the goods in the second half.
Limerick's Hannon, Seamus Hickey, Paudie O'Brien, Richie McCarthy, and Wayne McNamara were as good as anything the Dubs had, yet the coveted promotion to Division 1A and a league semi-final against Tipperary in a fortnight eluded them.
Allen admitted that it was hard to take, especially as he felt Limerick should have been awarded at least one free from the intense battles for possession in the last minute or two.
"It's very disappointing, no doubt about it. When you lose by a point, there are so many things you look back on. We had eight wides in the first half and Dublin didn't have one. That was the difference really – they were much more clinical," he said.
"But I can't fault the players, They put in a sterling performance. The work ethic from beginning to end was very high. I'm very proud of them."
Man of the match: L Rushe (Dublin)
Scorers – Dublin: P Ryan 1-8 (1-8fs), J McCaffrey (s-l), C McCormack, S Lambert, D Sutcliffe, D O'Callaghan, N McMorrow, D Treacy, J Boland 0-1 each. Limerick: D Hannon 1-7 (1-6fs, 0-1 '65'), C Allis, S Hickey, G Mulcahy 0-2 each, K Downes, P O'Brien 0-1 each
Dublin – A Nolan 8; P Kelly 7, P Schutte 7, R Trainor 7; M Carton 7, L Rushe 8, S Durkin 7; J Boland 7, S Lambert 7; C Keaney 6, J McCaffrey 6, D Sutcliffe 7; C McCormack 7, D O'Callaghan 7, P Ryan 8. Subs: R O'Dwyer 6 for J McCaffrey (h-t), N McMorrow 6 for C Keaney (46), D Treacy for M Carton (50), E Dillon for C McCormack (64), N Corcoran for P Schutte (67)
Limerick – N Quaid 7; S Walsh 7, R McCarthy 7, T Condon 7; P O'Brien 7, W McNamara 7, G O'Mahony 7; P Browne 7, J Ryan 7; C Allis 6, S Hickey 6, D Breen 7; K Downes 7, D Hannon 8, G Mulcahy 7. Subs: S Dowling 6 for D Breen (59), N Moran for K Downes (64)
Ref – A Kelly (Galway)