St. Pat’s came from behind to retain the EA Sports Cup as late goals from Conan Byrne, Jamie McGrath and Graham Kelly crushed Limerick’s dreams in their own back yard.
It took Pat’s 45 minutes to find their feet but when they did, the gulf in quality showed.
Limerick may be First Division champions and unbeaten in the league but last month against Pat’s in the FAI Cup, they learned just how much of a step up the top flight is and it was the a similar story this evening.
Pat’s struggled to live with Limerick’s intensity in the first half but as the home side tired and sat back, they were ruthlessly torn them apart.
Christy Fagan’s 65th minute goal cancelled out Lee-J Lynch’s stunning first half opener in what was a pulsating clash at a sold out Market’s Field.
Lynch should have put Limerick in front after just six minutes but he somehow failed to convert Sean Russell’s inch perfect cross.
Shane Duggan and Paul O’Conor both went close as the Shannonsiders heaped the pressure on Pat’s but the Premier Division side showed glimpses of their class.
15 minutes had gone before Pat’s showed any real attacking threat and when it did come, Limerick had their ‘keeper to thank for keeping it scoreless.
Conan Byrne saw his curling left-footed effort that was destined for the top corner tipped over the bar by Freddy Hall and from the resulting corner, Hall had to be at his best again when he pushed a Robbie Williams header wide.
The warning signs had been there but two minutes later Limerick went in front and the vast majority inside the Market’s Field were brought to their feet.
Lynch allowed the ball to roll across his body and the former St. Pat’s player hammered a cracking 25-yard drive into the roof of Conor O’Malley’s net.
It was no more than the home side deserved but five minutes after going in front, the post came to their rescue as Billy Dennehy’s header came within inches of pulling the Saints level.
Martin Russell’s side went into the break full value for their 1-0 lead but Hall again came to their rescue two minutes after restart.
Pat’s won a free kick on the edge of the Limerick area and Dennehy saw his shot pushed away by Hall.
Saints were much brighter in the early stages of the second half but they were nearly caught out on the counter attack after 51 minutes.
Lynch controlled the ball brilliantly wide on the left touchline before cleverly playing Chris Mulhall clean through on goal but he lacked the composure to double his side’s lead as O’Malley came off his line to make a fine save.
Pat’s began to grow in confidence and Byrne really should have pulled them level 10 minutes after the break.
Christy Fagan linked well with Ian Bermingham and the ball fell kindly to Byrne at the back post but he swung wildly and completely missed the ball.
Byrne had a poor two-minute spell as he was booked for an apparent dive when he went down under a Limerick challenge inside the penalty area but he would soon make ammends.
Limerick continued to sit back but they had plenty of pace to hurt Pat’s on the break and that’s what they very nearly did on the hour mark.
Aaron Greene’s cross was met by Stephen Kenny and despite being all of four yards out, he headed the ball into the ground and over the bar.
That could have killed off Saints’ challenge but instead they went down the other end and equalised.
Dennehy did well down the left and he laid it on a plate for Fagan who couldn’t miss.
Fagan’s goal sparked pandemonium in the away end and it was no more than Pat’s deserved as Limerick paid the price for sitting back far too deep in the second half.
Russell introduced Limerick’s joint top scorer John O’Flynn with 20 minutes remaining but it was the visitors who always looked the more likely to snatch a late winner.
Fagan very nearly did so with nine minutes left when he deflected Bermingham’s low cross towards goal but Hall got down well to save.
Hall couldn’t deny Byrne putting Saints in front with seven minutes remaining however as the pressure finally told.
Pat’s weren’t finished there as two further goals put the gloss on an utterly one-sided second half.
First McGrath cleverly dinked the ball over the onrushing Hall before the ‘keeper was again caught out when he rushed from his goal to close down Kelly but the Pat’s midfielder rounded him and slotted the ball home to ensure that the League Cup made its way back to Inchicore.
Limerick – Hall; Kelly (Tracy 66), Paudie O’Connor, Williams, Russell; Duggan (capt), Paul O’Conor, Greene, Kenny (Coughlan 79); Lynch; Mulhall (O’Flynn 71).
St. Patrick’s Athletic – O’Malley; O’Brien (capt), Hoare, Barker, Bermingham; Byrne, Kelly, Desmond, B Dennehy; McGrath, Fagan (Corcoran 85).
REF: R Rogers (Dublin)