Cork City continue to stutter towards title but Limerick earn Munster derby bragging rights
Limerick 2 Cork City 1
IT WAS being billed as the night that Cork City could win the Premier Division for the first time in 12 years, but if any such script was handed to Limerick FC, they promptly threw it in the nearest dustbin in a pulsating encounter at a raucous Markets Field.
This surprise win has greatly boosted Limerick’s chances of staying in the division, with five points separating them from the relegation places with four games to play. The Blues’ cause was further helped by teams around them dropping points elsewhere.
Cork almost opened the scoring inside two minutes when Karl Sheppard’s header was cleared off the line by the alert Shane Tracy, the chance originating from a corner which came after Barry Cotter’s timely block denied Kieran Sadlier.
The first goal didn’t take much longer to arrive. In the seventh minute, Greg Bolger’s backpass was careless in the extreme and former Limerick defender Robbie Williams was caught leaden-footed, with Rodrigo Tosi taking full advantage to latch on to the loose ball and deliver a sumptuous lob over the advancing Mark McNulty.
If that goal ratcheted up the volume at Markets Field, the stadium positively erupted in the 10th minute when Tracy, whose testimonial match took place at the Garryowen venue last weekend, curled an exquisite free-kick into the top corner of the visitors’ net.
Many onlookers might have been stunned by Limerick’s fast start, but Cork’s reaction was one you’d expect from a team closing on on the league title.
Just four minutes after going two goals down, John Caulfield’s men pulled it back to 2-1 when Stephen Dooley’s cross from the right met the head of Sadlier, who wasn’t paid adequate attention by Limerick’s defence.
It was a match where several players were lining up against their former clubs and while a shaky Williams was being roundly booed every time he touched the ball on his first game at this venue since his summer transfer from Limerick, ex-Cork winger Chiedozie Ogbene was tormenting his former employers, drawing cynical fouls on multiple occasions.
The game had settled down after its frantic opening quarter-hour and Cork were nearly in for an equaliser on 37 minutes when Williams’ long diagonal pass picked out Sadlier, who beat the Limerick defence but not goalkeeper Brendan Clarke, who from the resulting corner produced another reaction save.
Cork had largely failed to trouble their opponents during the first half but it was a much different story after the interval. Clarke made a fine stop from Garry Buckley early in the second half and then Karl Sheppard got in behind the Limerick defence but struck the side netting.
As the league leaders continued to turn the screw, it took some heroic defending from Limerick to thwart the visitors. On two occasions, Tony Whitehead produced last-ditch blocks to deny Gearoid Morrissey and Shane Griffin. With 20 minutes to go, Clarke again proved his worth with quick-fire saves from Buckley and Dooley.
Limerick were pinned back in their own half for most of the second half but had a sight of goal late on when Lee-J Lynch cut the ball back to Shane Duggan, who cracked a volley over the bar.
With five minutes remaining, the ball dropped to Sadlier 10 yards out and he set himself to shoot. He seemed set to score but Dean Clarke intercepted heroically.
Cork created one final chance in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Buckley delivered a cross into Sadlier, but he failed to keep his header on target and Limerick held on for what could be a season-defining win.
Ogbene, who was named as man of the match by RTE, said that was determined to prove a point to the club that let him go at the end of last season. After being taunted by the away fans throughout the game, he said: “I enjoy it. I enjoy the situation. I enjoy the pressure. It was fun for me. I was nervous to deliver and to show the Cork fans and John Caulfield what they’re missing.
“It was great to get three points. It wasn’t an easy game and Cork battled hard. We started well and went 2-0 up. We were in control of the game and we dug deep. We showed that anything is possible with hard work.”
Limerick FC: B Clarke; Cotter (D Clarke 46), Whitehead, O’Connor, Tracy; Hery; Kenny (Crowe 78), Duggan, Lynch, Ogbene; Tosi (Berki 83).
Cork City: McNulty; Beattie (Buckley 46), Delaney, Williams, Griffin; Bolger (Ellis 70), Keohane, Morrissey; Dooley (Campion 89), Sheppard, Sadlier.
Referee: Sean Grant (Wexford)