O'Brien adds spark as the lights go out at Thomond Park
VETERAN Declan O'Brien showed that his goalmouth instincts are as sharp as ever with a priceless winner as Drogheda United collected the points at Thomond Park on Friday night.
Not even a floodlight failure which caused a 10-minute delay towards the end of the game could put the Boynesiders off their stride as they repeated last season's 1-0 win at the venue and maintained their unbeaten start to the season.
The game started at a high tempo with plenty of pressing from both sides as Daire Doyle and Eric Foley battled impressively in midfield for the away side, but the first chance of note fell to Stuart Taylor's side as the fleet-footed Rory Gaffney out-witted two Drogheda players before laying off to Shane Tracy, who found Shaun Kelly raiding forward. The right-back controlled the ball well but fired his shot straight at Dave Ryan. The rebound fell to Kelly, but again Ryan - playing against his elder brother Barry in the opposite goal - stood up well to block and United scrambled clear.
O'Brien and Gavin Brennan were linking up well in the early stages on the left flank, yet it was from the right-hand side that the deadlock was broken on the half-hour mark. Gavan Holohan's cross was flicked goal-wards by Brennan, causing panic between keeper Barry Ryan and his defenders, and O'Brien duly poked the ball home from three yards.
With their tails up, Drogheda went looking for more and O'Brien turned provider for Gary O'Neill whose goal-bound effort produced a superb reflex save from the Limerick custodian.
Then it was Dave Ryan's turn to match his elder sibling, turning a James McGrath header round the post to deny one of his former clubs.
After the interval, Limerick began to assert themselves more, but they left themselves increasingly open to the counter-attack and Alan McNally nearly doubled Drogheda's lead with a header. This time Barry Ryan pushed the ball onto the bar as a wicked bounce almost deceived him.
The introduction of substitute Craig Curran seemed to galvanise Limerick to an extent, and he had a one-on-one opportunity against Dave Ryan, only for a blast of the whistle as the referee adjudged he'd used his hand to control the ball.
The Shannonsiders' best chance of an equaliser came on 69 minutes when their captain Shane Duggan chested the ball down in the area and fired just inches wide with his right foot, leaving teammates and fans with their heads in hands.
Drogheda responded as Doyle thundered a shot at Barry Ryan and soon after O'Brien was denied by the keeper when perhaps he should have scored.
The introduction of Scottish striker Tam McManus, who had eight seasons with Hibernian in the SPL and subsequently spent the 2009 season with Derry City, was almost immediately followed by the power failure which plunged Thomond into darkness for a short time.
When play resumed O'Neill was yellow-carded and from the resultant set-piece Tracy saw his free kick well saved by Dave Ryan. Seconds later debutant McManus had the ball in the Drogheda net, but just as happened to Derry's Rory Patterson at United Park the week before, the assistant referee had his flag aloft and Limerick's five-match unbeaten run at home had come to an end.