LIMERICK passed their biggest test to date with flying colours at Croke Park last night, a third straight win bringing Dublin's unbeaten run to an end.
The dismissal of Dublin attacker Paul Ryan 20 minutes from the end of a high-quality encounter was a major turning point for John Allen's improving Treaty side.
Soon afterwards, a Graeme Mulcahy goal gave the Munster side the lead for the first time, and with full-back Richie McCarthy in inspirational form, they held on in a tense finish to take over the outright leadership of the table.
A nine-point tally from the on-fire Declan Hannon steered the Treaty men to a convincing win in the end.
Despite a spate of wides, Dublin looked comfortable at 0-4 to 0-0 at the end of the opening quarter, with goalkeeper Alan Nolan sweeping over a huge 100-metre free.
Paudie O'Brien and Kevin Downes slotted over points for Limerick, but the Dubs responded with scores from Danny Sutcliffe and John McCaffrey to go six clear.
The Munster men dug in for a big push and hit the final five points of the half, three of them from Kevin Downes, and superb efforts off the sticks of Hannon and Paul Browne.
By the break, Dublin's lead had been trimmed back to a single point, 0-8 to 0-7.
Limerick stuck with their opponents until the 39th minute, when they conceded a goal, despite the heroics of McCarthy. He appeared to have stopped Conor McCormack's shot on the line, but an umpire adjudged the ball to have crossed.
Once again, Limerick displayed character to reel off four scores on the spin, with Downes, Hannon, Mulcahy and sub Niall Moran on target.
Dublin suffered a blow with the straight red card dismissal of corner-forward Ryan; their lead had, by that stage, been cut back to two points.
Now Limerick began to believe, and they had victory very much in their sights when Mulcahy hit the net six minutes later. He beat advancing keeper Nolan to a high ball, turned and drilled home a rasping shot to give his side the lead for the first time.
Downes and Hannon tagged on points to make it a four-point game, and while Dublin fought back with scores from Sutcliffe, Boland and Nolan, who blasted a 20-metre free just clear of the crossbar, this was to be Limerick's evening.
Scorers – Limerick: D Hannon 0-9 (5f), G Mulcahy 1-3, K Downes 0-4, P Browne, N Moran 0-2 each, P O'Brien 0-1. Dublin: C McCormack 1-1, J Boland 0-4, P Ryan (1f) 0-3, D Sutcliffe, A Nolan (2f) 0-2 each, J McCaffrey, C Keaney, D O'Callaghan 0-1 each.
Limerick: N Quaid, S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon, P O'Bruien, W Mcnamara, G O'Mahony, P Browne, J Ryan, D Hannon, S Hickey, D Breen, K Downes, S Dowling, G Mulcahy. Subs: N Moran for Dowling (h-t), C Allis for Hickey (68), S Tobin for Mulcahy (70), C King for Ryan (71).
Dublin: A Nolan, P Kelly, P Schutte, R Trainor, M Carton, L Rushe, S Lambert, J Boland, K Byrne, C Keaney, J McCaffrey, D Sutcliffe, P Ryan, C McCormack, D O'Callaghan. Subs: J Doughan for Schutte (46), S Durkin for Byrne (49), D Treacy for McCaffrey (57), E Dillon for O'Callaghan (60), S McGrath for McCormack (69).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).