LIMERICK footballers won more matches, more friends and more respect this year than in their previous ten championship campaigns combined but the exciting adventure was brought to an end by Mayo's second half efficiency in the third round of the qualifiers at Dr Hyde Park on S
MAYO 0-13 ; LIMERICK 1-9
LIMERICK footballers won more matches, more friends and more respect this year than in their previous ten championship campaigns combined but the exciting adventure was brought to an end by Mayo's second half efficiency in the third round of the qualifiers at Dr Hyde Park on Saturday.
It was such a marginal call that Limerick's post-match gloom was perfectly understandable. They had developed a taste for heights over the past few months and were finding it difficult to accept that the story was now being put on hold until the resumption of the Allianz League next February.
Frankly, the last thing this Limerick squad needs right now is a seven-month blank inter-county calendar. They are young, ambitious, energised and extremely anxious to learn. Alas, there is no outlet except at club level which, for all its local passions, can't compare with the intensity of the inter-county scene.
Limerick learned some valuable lessons on Saturday, not least that a failure to switch on immediately can be disastrous against a team of Mayo's talents. Mayo completely dominated the open 20 minutes and led by 0-5 to 0-1 before Limerick snapped into the sort of rhythm which downed Cavan and Offaly in previous rounds.
"We probably lost it in the first 20 minutes. I didn't think 0-5 to 0-1 reflected the general play but Mayo took every chance and built up a lead which took an awful lot of hard work to pull back," said Limerick manager, Liam Kearns.
To their credit, Limerick applied themselves with real force in the last 13 minutes of the first half, during which they scored 1-4 without replay to lead by 1-5 to 0-5 at the interval.
Midfielders John Quane and John Galvin were at the heart of the Limerick revival, while half-backs Stephen Lavin, Stephen Lucey and Damien Reidy, enthusiastically supported by Conor Mullane, Jason Stokes and Michael Reidy up front, drove at the Mayo defence.
Stokes got Limerick's goal in the 32nd minute after Mullane's shot had been saved and, with desperation becoming an ever increasing feature of Mayo's game, they were delighted to hear the half-time whistle.
Mayo manager Pat Holmes adjusted his forces at the break, switching David Heaney from midfield to full-back in place of Tom Nallen and introducing David Brady to the centre. Both moves were pivotal to Mayo's revival.
Heaney restored order in front of goal, while Brady's bustling presence at midfield reduced Limerick's possession flow. Mayo were back in business seven minutes after the restart when they cut the lead to a single point, but Limerick hung on doggedly and were still a point clear with 14 minutes remaining.
The pace and intensity increased as both sides drove for the finishing line, but Mayo's greater experience proved crucial in the closing stretch. Sub Colm McManamon increased their stability and points by Brian Maloney and James Gill (free) edged Mayo in front.
Gill took over the free-taking duties after Conor Mortimer was withdrawn in the 58th minute, a decision with which he clearly disagreed.
As he returned to the dug-out he tossed away his jersey in a spur-of-the-moment reaction which didn't go down well with Mayo fans.
Back on the pitch, Mortimer's colleagues were digging in for the final heave but Limerick refused to be pushed aside. Indeed, it looked as salvation was on hand when, with Limerick trailing by a point, Galvin powered his way through the Mayo defence in the 70th minute.
Briefly it looked as if a sensational match-winning goal was on, but his path was blocked. The equalising point then? Despite his best efforts Galvin couldn't get the necessary leverage, the ball was tipped away and Mayo countered, presenting Brady with the chance to put them two points clear.
Michael Reidy landed a pointed free for Limerick in the 73rd minute but time ran out on them as they sought the precious leveller.
Altogether, it was a draining experience for Mayo, who must have been worried at half-time that history was about to repeat itself as they lost to Westmeath in the qualifiers a year ago. And in Roscommon, too.
"A bit too close for comfort but we made it in the end," sighed a relieved Pat Holmes afterwards. "We made a huge amount of mistakes, particularly in the second half when we fell asleep altogether so yes, we were very concerned at half-time.
"We picked it up in the second half and got in a lot of constructive work which, thankfully, pulled us through.
"It was very, very tough but then we expected it to be because Limerick are a fine side as they have repeatedly shown this year."
Apparently an end-of-year holiday is on the agenda for the Limerick squad, which is the least they deserve after lifting the county's stock so dramatically this season.
Said Liam Kearns: "We've done well against top class teams, playing at top pace, this year so we have plenty to work on. We hope to be stronger and better next year and use the lessons learned this season to good effect."
It's a pity he has to wait so long to start the next phase of this exciting development.
SCORERS Mayo: C Mortimer 0-4 (4f), J Horan 0-3 (2f), D Heaney, T Mortimer, B Maloney, D Brady, C McManamon, J Gill (f) 0-1 each. Limerick: M Reidy 0-5 (5f), J Stokes 1-0, P Ahern 0-2, J Quane, C Mullane 0-1 each.
MAYO P Burke 8; G Ruane 7, T Nallen 6, P Coyne 7; A Roche 6, J Nallen 6, A Higgins 7; D Tiernan 8, D Heaney 9; M McNicholas 6, T Mortimer 7, J Gill 6; C Mortimer 6, B Maloney 7, J Horan 8. Subs: D Brady 8 for T Nallen (h-t), C McManamon 8 for McNicholas (44), M Moyles 6 for C Mortimer (58). Booked: M McNicholas (3), D Tiernan (11), A Roche (13), B Maloney (53), J Gill (66).
LIMERICK S O'Donnell 7; M O'Riordan 6 ,D Sheehy 7, T Stack 7; S Lavin 8, S Lucey 7, D Reidy 8; J Quane 8, J Galvin 8; P Ahern 8, C Fitzgerald 7, C Mullane 7; S Kelly 6, J Stokes 7, M Reidy 7. Subs: J Murphy 6 for Kelly (56). Booked: M O'Riordan (18), D Sheehy (40), D Reidy (63), M Reidy (70).
REFEREE B Crowe (Cavan).