Hughes does the trick as Shels show true grit to edge thriller
It's been elimination to elation in the space of a month for Shelbourne. For a team that have already been knocked out of the FAI Cup in one of this season's more remarkable upsets, the First Division leaders could now be on the verge of causing another.
Reinstated to the competition after conquerors Sheriff fielded an ineligible player, Shels are now in the last four, where they will host St Patrick's Athletic after beating Limerick thanks to a hat-trick from Philip Hughes at Tolka Park.
It did get unnecessarily tense for the hosts, however, as they allowed a 4-1 lead to be whittled down late on. A recent spell of just two wins in five games has seen their lead in the First Division whittled down to four points, with one of those games a home draw against Limerick.
Initially, there was no hint of a repeat of that outcome as Shels were the more purposeful side from the start.
They did have to wait for that start, however, as within seconds of kick-off referee Dave McKeown pulled up with an injury. He was instantly replaced by Richie Winter and Shelbourne initiated their onslaught. On 12 minutes, Kevin Dawson flashed just past the post and, on 14, Hughes should really have scored when he blazed wide.
But the striker soon made up for that, and how. After 19 minutes, Barry Clancy headed down in the Limerick box, allowing Hughes to chest, turn and blast home.
Six minutes later, the Limerick defence found it even more difficult to deal with the striker. With Hughes weaving in and out, full-back Andrew Bhandarkar diverted the ball into his own net. 2-0.
It got worse for Limerick just after half-time. Within 22 seconds of the restart, a Brendan McGill cross found Hughes, who headed home emphatically.
John Frost did finally offer a proper Limerick response on 54 minutes. Left unchallenged, the full-back launched a shot from 30 yards that flew into the corner of Paul Skinner's goal.
However, Hughes then bettered that 20 minutes later. The striker completed his hat-trick with a bullet of a free-kick from just outside the box.
That should have been it except for two late tap-ins from Barry Sheedy -- a result of increasingly typical Shels' slackness. But, in a game as testing as this, they summoned enough grit to hang on.
SHELBOURNE -- Skinner; McGill, Matthews, Boyle, Fitzgerald; Bermingham (Gorman 75), Cassidy (Byrne 80), Dawson, Sullivan, Clancy; Hughes (Da Silva 89).
LIMERICK -- Ryan; Frost, McCarthy, Broughall (Flynn 70), Bhandarker; Hynes (Sheedy 61), Quinn, O'Leary, Tracy, Coughlan (McGann 54); Behan.
REF -- D McKeown (Dublin) / R Winter (Dublin)