McCarthy could have last laugh in Parnell Park
JUSTIN McCarthy can have the last laugh on his detractors if Limerick beat Dublin in the NHL Division 1 relegation battle on Sunday week.
The proud Cork man, who has resisted the temptation to resign despite the refusal of a group of Limerick's senior players to play for him, has an unexpected chance to save some pride for the Shannonsiders.
Thanks to the rule-makers at Congress 2009, the head-to-head result between Limerick and Dublin in Parnell Park, and not the latter county's superior points difference will decide who drops down to Division 2.
One win from seven would be a poor return in normal circumstances, but with a side short on top-level experience and inter-county nous, a Limerick victory away over the Dubs would represent a major achievement for McCarthy's management team.
And judging by the response of the faithful who attended the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday, staying up in Division 1 would be hailed as a triumph against the odds instead of a meagre consolation prize for a disastrous league campaign.
A crowd of about 500 watched Limerick hold All-Ireland champions Kilkenny to a losing margin of only seven points and applauded the home side off the field.
While Kilkenny's league form has been patchy, the odds favoured a serious hammering by the Cats, but at the finish a scoreline of 2-17 to 0-16 salvaged some pride.
Limerick began their preparations for Sunday week with a Bank Holiday training session and get-together at a local hotel yesterday.
McCarthy's players showed enough fight and team spirit against Offaly the previous week and Kilkenny on Sunday to suggest they will give Dublin -- losers by two points to Galway on Sunday -- a right battle for salvation.
Anthony Daly's team have suffered from a major lack of concentration in matches in the current league campaign and have failed to measue up to expectations.
In addition, followers of the Treaty men will be encouraged by the outcome of their last competitive clash when a "full strength" Limerick came out on top in last year's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final in Semple Stadium.
The Dubs certainly can't afford to concede frees carelessly, because big Limerick full-forward Paudie McNamara will make them pay.
McNamara's strike rate from placed balls yielded him 11 points of Limerick's 0-16 -- two from play, seven from frees, and two 65s. Limerick also have lively corner-forwards in Graeme Mulcahy and Richard McKeogh who got on the scoresheet with a point and two points respectively.
Defensively and in midfield Dublin will find that Limerick contest every ball strongly, and in the case of centre-back Andrew Brennan, a little too strongly at times. Brennan got sent off for a second yellow card offence when he clashed with Kilkenny's Eoin Larkin in the closing stages.
McCarthy accepts his side will be underdogs, especially playing at Parnell Park, but promised: "We're making progress and we'll give it our best shot."
Dublin hurler Niall Corcoran underlined his side's attitude, saying: "It's a huge game. We still have to beat Limerick. They haven't won a game but they can still stay up. It is a bit harsh but that's the way it is.
"It makes for a cracking encounter and it's just another challenge we have to face up to.
"We're still looking for consistency. Over the last three games, we haven't got it - we're competing, and just to get the win is the next step."