Buckley demands more after Saints' Cup glory
There was no fairytale ending for Limerick as their cup dream descended into a nightmare as a superior St Pat's side handed them another harsh reminder of how much improvements are required to compete in the Premier Division.
Limerick 1 St Patrick's Ath 4
Pat's have endured a frustratingly inconsistent season but the 600 travelling supporters who contributed to a terrific atmosphere at a raucous Markets Field saw their side ruthlessly expose Limerick in a manner that they have been crying out for all season.
Back-to-back league cups will have softened the blow in Inchicore and immediately after the full-time whistle on Saturday, Pat's boss Liam Buckley was focusing on the next task at hand.
The Saints face an uphill battle to force themselves into European contention via the League but the FAI Cup semi-final against Cork looms large.
Late goals from Conan Byrne, Jamie McGrath and Graham Kelly put what was a pulsating contest beyond any doubt but the three-goal margin didn't accurately reflect how close the game was for large parts.
Pat's sloppy first half performance mirrored many of their games this season while they also found Limerick keeper Freddy Hall in inspired form.
At the other end, Conor O'Malley was powerless to deny former Saint Lee-J Lynch firing Limerick into a 17th-minute lead with a stunning 25-yard strike.
It was a different story in the second half as Pat's greater class began to tell. Limerick tired and sat back off their opponents who began to pick holes through their defence.
The cup might have remained in Limerick had they taken one of two gilt-edged chances before Christy Fagan equalised five minutes after the hour mark.
"It (season) has still been hit and miss, I'll be straight with you," Liam Buckley reflected.
"We still have a chance in the FAI Cup. We'll be focusing on that to try and put us back in the Aviva. But overall, it's not quite redemption because there is still quite a bit to play for. League wise, we'll be doing extremely well to get fourth. We'd have to win nearly all of our matches and hope that other things go our way."
For Limerick, the First Division title has long been wrapped up and despite the total ease at which they won it, Saturday's defeat was another reminder of what it will take to compete in the top flight.
It was a similar story in the FAI Cup meeting between the sides last month and Limerick have a lot of work to do on and off the pitch over the winter.
Six minutes after the restart Lynch cleverly played Chris Mulhall through on goal but he lacked the composure to beat O'Malley one-on-one. Worse was to follow, however, when Stephen Kenny somehow managed to head over the bar from all of four yards out.
Pat's equalised in their next attack and cup finals are decided on such margins and that was certainly Limerick manager Martin Russell's view.
"It's a reminder of the levels," Russell admitted. "There's a gulf between the First Division and the middle of the Premier and there is a gulf between the middle of the Premier and the top of the Premier.
"We're trying to edge our way forward and ultimately go top of the pile but we've got a lot of work to do. It's been a while since Limerick have been a real force in the country at the very top level and we're trying to work towards that."
It will take Limerick some time to achieve their ultimate goal but for Pat's, retaining the league cup felt like a big moment for the road ahead.
Limerick - Hall; Kelly (Tracy 66), Paudie O'Connor, Williams, Russell; Duggan (capt), Paul O'Conor, Greene, Kenny (Coughlan 79); Lynch; Mulhall (O'Flynn 85).
St Pat's - O'Malley; O'Brien (capt), Hoare, Barker, Bermingham; Byrne, Kelly, Desmond, B Dennehy; McGrath, Fagan (Corcoran 85).
REF: R Rogers (Dublin)