Big scalp would do wonders -- Horan
STAND back, ladies and gentlemen, and let's see what happens to Limerick in their third O'Moore Park qualifier in four seasons tonight.
Is it possible that something bizarre, possibly game-changing, something out of Limerick's control, will decide their fate against Kildare's team of human dynamos?
There are precedents, two of them at Portlaoise, and one at the Gaelic Grounds, when controversy has been central to the outcome of Limerick's championship fate.
August 1, 2009, O'Moore Park, Qualifiers, Round 4.
Meath 1-13 Limerick 2-9
Losing by a point, second minute of injury-time, Limerick's Stephen Lucey kicked what looked to be the equaliser -- but referee Padraig Hughes of Armagh blew the whistle for over-carrying, and 14-man Meath marched on to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
July 24, 2010, Gaelic Grounds, Qualifiers, Round 4. Cork 0-16 Limerick 1-11 (after extra-time).
Limerick opened the scoring via Ger Collins and in the fourth minute, John Galvin was felled close to the Cork goal. Penalty! No. Their old friend Padraig Hughes awarded a free out for over-carrying.
Cork eventually battled their way through a tough game in extra-time and ended the campaign as All-Ireland champions.
July 23, 2011, O'Moore Park,
Qualifiers, Round 4.
Limerick 1-18 Wexford 1-17
Wexford led by three points in injury- time. Then Eoghan O'Connor plundered a goal to equalise.
Extra-time beckoned. Ian Ryan sent in a free towards the Wexford goal -- was it over the bar? One umpire signalled wide. Referee Derek Fahy raced in to consult with both umpires as players from both counties surrounded them. Then the score was given and Limerick had snatched a win from the jaws of defeat.
Wexford were left angry and devastated -- a feeling that was so familiar to Limerick, but this time they were on the right side of a crucial decision.
Now it's Portlaoise again, and you have to wonder what fate has in store for Limerick and Kildare.
The Lilies got the home draw; the GAA decided on Portlaoise for health and safety reasons. This neutral venue change should help Limerick, but they are not concerned.
"Portlaoise is an interesting ground for Limerick all right," observed their manager Maurice Horan. "It's a lovely ground and a lovely playing surface, but I don't really attach too much to the venue itself. It's a pitch both teams will like.
"This is still essentially an away game for us. We're not playing it in the Gaelic Grounds, so we still have to get on a bus and plan as we normally would for an away game."
Limerick come into the game on the back of a Munster semi-final loss to Clare, followed by a powerful showing against Longford last weekend, and though Kildare are favourites, Horan's men are primed for battle.
The Shannonsiders have come agonisingly close to winning a coveted Munster title in recent years, but Horan puts it all in perspective.
"In the last 10 or 12 years, Limerick have come from being probably the worst team in the country to becoming very competitive in the championship," he said. "Of Limerick's last five championship losses, four were to Cork and Kerry.
"It's ultra-competitive at the top level, and you're talking about trying to reach that height. It's a slow, gradual process.
"One big scalp would do wonders for the county. Limerick people wonder if their day is ever going to come, but you have to be very positive about it.
"We're still very competitive, still a team that nobody would like to play in the qualifiers and a scalp would go a long way towards pushing us on another bit."
Team captain Ger Collins has recovered from injury and has been named in the team. He suffered a hand injury four weeks ago in a club game and was not ready to play against Longford.
"It has been frustrating. I knew there was a performance coming. All week before the Longford match, the boys were up for it," said Collins. "It was definitely one of the hardest things, just watching on, knowing you can't help the team progress."
Collins, only 23, is in his sixth year on the senior panel and praised Horan for bringing on young players.
"We were obviously hurt over the Clare game and the lads were just so motivated going in against Longford," he said.
"It was an excellent performance, but huge credit has to go to Maurice. He has brought on so many young fellas throughout the year, he's totally trusted them and that's what won us the game.
"We'll be massive underdogs against Kildare, but it's all on the night and we're ready to go out and have a cut anyway."