LIMERICK manager John Allen insisted that Offaly should not have been awarded the injury-time penalty that enabled them to snatch a draw from the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night.
Shane Dooley struck in the third minute of stoppage time to ensure that the race for a top-two finish will go right down to the wire next weekend.
It could yet turn out to be a priceless draw for Offaly, who welcome Clare to Tullamore next Sunday as Limerick head for Casement Park and a meeting with Antrim.
But the penalty award was controversial as Limerick corner-back Tom Condon was penalised for a tackle on Sean Ryan, earning a second yellow card and dismissal in the process.
Allen said: "I saw it afterwards and it looked like a textbook tackle. Tom Condon came across, both feet on the ground, caught the player bang on the shoulder, knocked him flat and at the same time, dispossessed him. It just looked like a great tackle. It decided that the game was a draw but we had enough chances to win the game."
Allen's assessment was spot on as Limerick led by six points, 2-12 to 1-9, with 13 minutes remaining before gritty Offaly hit three goals in the closing stages, including that late, late strike from Dooley.
The Tullamore hitman finished with 2-5 but also missed a 42nd-minute penalty in a game watched by 2,274 spectators.
Offaly coach Alan Cunningham smiled: "It was a tough game for him (Dooley), in fairness. But he hit it (the equalising penalty) well. It got a deflection but they all count.
"After what happened to us below in Wexford, it was almost like history repeating itself but this time, we were on the other end of it. But Limerick should have had us put away."
At half-time, the hosts led by 2-6 to 1-7 having recovered from the concession of a 13th-minute goal, snapped up by Dooley after Derek Morkan's long delivery broke to the ace corner-forward.
The response from the Shannonsiders was impressive as Niall Moran goaled in the 28th minute before sub Sean Tobin, who had a major impact after coming on, slammed home his team's second major on the stroke of half-time.
Allen added: "I would have taken the position we're now in a month ago when Clare were hockeying us off the field. We're in position now where if we win the next day and Offaly are beaten, we make the final.
"Of course I'm disappointed that we drew but I don't think the refereeing decision, at the end, was the reason."
Man of the Match: Shane Dooley (Offaly)
SCORERS -- Limerick: S Tobin 1-2, C Allis 0-4 (2f, 1 '65), N Moran 1-0, T Quaid 0-3, D Breen, G Mulcahy 0-2 each, P Browne, N Maher, S O'Brien 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 2-5 (1-0 pen, 3f, 1 '65, 1 s-l), C Mahon, G Healion 1-0 each, B Murphy, J Rigney 0-2 each, D Horan 0-1.
LIMERICK -- N Quaid 8; S Walsh 6, R McCarthy 6, T Condon 7; W McNamara 6, D O'Grady 7, G O'Mahoney 6; P Browne 7, J Ryan 6; N Maher 5, D Breen 6, C Allis 6; G Mulcahy 7, N Moran 6, T Quaid 7. Subs: S Tobin 8 for Maher (27), K Downes 6 for Moran (57), S O'Brien for Breen (63), M Ryan for T Quaid (70+3).
OFFALY -- J Dempsey 6; C McDonald 6, D Kenny 7, S Wynne 5; D Morkan 7, R Hanniffy 6, D Franks 6; D Horan 6, J Rigney 6; J Bergin 6, C Mahon 6, B Murphy 6; S Dooley 8, C Egan 5, J Mulrooney 5. Subs: G Healion 7 for Egan (h-t), S Coughlan 6 for Wynne (h-t), T Carroll 6 for Mulrooney (49), S Ryan 6 for Rigney (57), E Murphy for Hanniffy (70).
Ref -- C McAllister (Cork)