LIMERICK 4-25 ANTRIM 1-9 DERMOT CROWE A TEXT message declaring victory for the Dublin minors over Kilkenny interrupted viewing of this Guinness hurling championship qualifier at Casement Park. The text, rather than the match in Belfast, will leave the more lasting memory. This was a trouncing, another reminder of the alarming gulf that exists between one part of the country and the next when it comes to hurling.
Antrim lost by 25 points - what is there to say? Limerick hurled on a different wavelength for most of the match, save a period in the second quarter when the home team competed well and took some good scores. But it was tedious in the main. The bright promise of Dinny Cahill's first season in charge three years ago has well and truly evaporated.
There were hardly a thousand people here to watch them dismantled by a Limerick team that did what it had to do, showing a good first touch and using the ball intelligently. But they were aided by spots of suicidal defending from the home team, with TJ Ryan punishing their hesitancy after only three minutes with the first goal.
TJ enjoyed himself before being substituted early in the second half when Limerick were in a position to give the subs a run. His brother Donie didn't do badly either, scoring two more goals, while Niall Moran finished the day with six points. They took off Brian Geary at half-time probably as a precaution - he had already been booked and there was the risk of dismissal if he continued.
Geary was lucky to have stayed on the field after a dangerous tackle on Antrim's Michael McCambridge with half an hour gone. The left half-back had to be stretchered off the field and played no further part, a bad blow to the Antrim half-back line which had by then settled into the match and begun to exert some influence.
Eighteen minutes in Michael Kettle, who has served them well in the past, was taken off, replaced by Ciarán Herron, before Antrim began to find some measure of composure.
The damage had been done though. After 20 seconds Donie Ryan had put them in front and in the third minute TR punished an error by full-back Gavin Bell before planting the ball into the roof of the net from a narrow angle. Donie Ryan added a second goal on 10 minutes and by the time of Kettle's departure they led 2-8 to 0-1, Antrim's sole response amounting to a free from Karl McKeegan. The only respite was in the second quarter when the home team enjoyed greater control around the middle of the field and began running at the Limerick defence. It took 18 minutes before they got their first score from play, from Brian McFall, but then they had five in 10 minutes before Limerick shook themselves again. Niall Moran's point which broke the sequence was Limerick's first in 16 minutes.
Whatever hopes Antrim retained were banished with a second goal from Donie Ryan coming up to half-time. He was allowed solo through the middle of the Antrim defence, his shot deflected past DD Quinn. At the interval Limerick were 3-10 to 0-6 clear.
The second half was a procession: Andrew O'Shaughnessy adding the fourth goal in the 40th minute. The text message saved the day.
Antrim take their troublesome plight to Galway on Saturday, while Limerick face Laois on Friday. Dinny Cahill knows that the final round against Laois is the one that will decide whether they can spare themselves the indignity of relegation. But it's unlikely he'll be making the long spins from Cloughjordan much longer.
SCORERS: Limerick - TJ Ryan 1-5 (4f); D Ryan 2-1; N Moran 0-6; A O'Shaughnessy 1-1; P Lawlor 0-3 (0-1f, 0-1 '65'); D Sheahan, P Kirby 0-2 each; A O'Connor 0-2 (0-1f); P O'Grady, P Tobin, Conor Fitzgerald 0-1 each. Antrim - J Connolly 1-0; K McKeegan 0-3 (3f); B McFall 0-2 (1f); M McCambridge, P Richmond, J McIntosh, K Stewart 0-1 each.
Limerick: T Houlihan; D Reale, S Lucey, P O'Dwyer; O Moran, B Geary, P Lawlor; P O'Grady, D O'Grady; P Tobin, N Moran, A O'Shaughnessy; D Ryan, TJ Ryan, D Sheehan. Subs: K Tobin for Geary (half time); S O'Connor for TJ Ryan (41); C Fitzgerald for D Ryan (43); P Kirby for Sheahan (48); A O'Connor for Shaughnessy (55).
Antrim: DD Quinn; M Kettle, G Bell, C Hamill; G Cunningham, J Campbell, M McCambridge; P Richmond, M Scullion; K McKeegan 0-2, K Kelly, K Stewart; J McIntosh, J Connolly, B McFall. Subs: C Herron for Kettle (18 mins); A O'Caireallen for McCambridge (inj 30); M Herron for Stewart (47); C McGuckian for Kelly (51)
Referee: S McGrath (Westmeath)