ALL-IRELAND SHC QUARTER-FINAL Dublin 3-13 Limerick 0-18: THE FREEWHEELING Dublin story continues to roll. Not even the freakish nature of the traffic accident suffered by Conal Keaney on Friday could upset the Metropolitans as they held their nerve against a strong Limerick effort to advance to their first All-Ireland hurling semi-final since 1948.
Written by Keith Duggan
Anthony Daly and his backroom team made light of the setback and reconfigured their attack in a strategic gamble which yielded three first-half goals from the dauntless Ryan O’Dwyer.
Those crucial scores from the Tipperary native were enough to secure the most glamorous of assignments in the modern history of Dublin hurling: a semi-final against the reigning All-Ireland champions. The city team will be outsiders with the bookies but their achievement is a measure of just how fast they have learned under Daly and how far they have travelled. Limerick bow out with just enough regrets to keep them talking and thinking for the rest of the summer.
The calmness with which they absorbed those crushing strikes from O’Dwyer – they trailed by 3-6 to 0-6 midway through the first half – must have been heartening for the Limerick public. Limerick have been all about purpose and substance this year and their slow, patient return to contention in this match confirmed the sense that things have changed.
In fact, there was a period in the second half when Limerick were the coming team, full of running and momentum. Kevin Downes was tightly guarded all afternoon but in the 58th minute managed to nick the ball from Paul Schutte’s stick and smartly clip a point. A minute later, James Ryan was fouled as he took possession and the prolific Declan Hannon converted the free to make it 3-10 to 0-17 with 12 minutes remaining.
By now, any imagined gulf between the league champions and the side promoted from Division Two had narrowed. The early mist cleared and the sun broke out and this was just a helter-skelter championship match.
And this too was the period when the pressure and expectation weighing on the Dublin players – favourites to make it somewhere that their predecessors had not been to since the beginnings of the Cold War – might have told.
If Limerick made any mistake in this match, it lay in their failure to force a sterner examination of those pressures.
They hurled plenty in the minutes following an exceptionally brilliant strike from Paul Ryan – a point hooked over his shoulder in front of the Ryan stand – but fatally hit three wides in succession, with Séamus Hickey embarking on one of those thrilling runs through the centre of the field only to send his attempted point effort wide.
And just like that, time began to run out. The heat was taken out of the game when O’Dwyer was floored with a clattering tackle and was carried from the field bloodied after three minutes of a stoppage.
By then, Dublin had a breather and it was a measure of how perfectly things worked out for them that Shane Ryan, a warrior in less fashionable days for city hurling, could come in and immediately strike an insurance point.
But it was an extremely solid performance by the league champions. Even though the half-back line was under the cosh in the second half, the defence never looked vulnerable to the goal that Limerick required.
And when O’Dwyer’s scoring rampage subsided, they found ways to produce the scores they needed, with David O’Callaghan hitting a big point off balance and Paul Ryan as fearless as ever in his free-taking duties.
Liam Rushe was a central figure in terms of physical presence and influence in the last 20 minutes while Peter Kelly looked utterly assured and comfortable on the edge of the square even as Limerick went looking for one lucky break in the closing minutes.
Early goals can be a dangerous gift and although O’Dwyer’s trinity left Limerick with a mountain to climb, the jubilant Dublin fans began to quieten as they duly began to climb it.
If O’Dwyer’s second goal was a real classic – a thunderous finish after a pass of finesse from Alan McCrabbe – then his third was messy from Limerick’s perspective. Brian Geary was caught in possession and O’Callaghan darted through scrambling green jerseys before his shot was parried by Nicky Quaid for O’Dwyer to shovel into an empty net.
Wayne McNamara switched wings and hurled a lot of ball and as Limerick clawed their way into contention, their fans were treated to terrific blocks by Tom Condon, Gavin O’Mahoney and McNamara and they went into the break trailing by just five points.
With Graeme Mulcahy dropping back and sweeping in front of his half-back line, Dublin found the avenues of the opening 15 minutes suddenly crowded and a once handsome lead slowly disappearing. That they have never been in this position before cannot be underestimated and they never blinked during the tense period when Limerick were pressing hard.
The sight of O’Dwyer leaving the field on a stretcher seemed par for the course with this Dublin team: the wounded – walking and otherwise – has been something they have had to overcome along with tradition and the opposition teams.
All season, Dublin have demanded more of themselves and this was their latest triumph of spirit and hurling. Now they prepare for new ground, higher ground. They face Tipperary for a place in the final: they have earned the right to that parade and that 70 minutes.
DUBLIN : 1 G Maguire; 2 N Corcoran 3 P Kelly, 24 P Schutte; 5 J McCaffrey 6 J Boland, 7 S Durkin; 17 M Carton; 9 M O’Brien; 10 C McCormack, 13 A McCrabbe, 8 L Rushe (0-1); 14 D O’Callaghan (0-1), 15 P Ryan (0-8, six frees), 11 R O’Dwyer (3-2). Subs : D Treacy for McCormack (32 mins), S Lambert for McCrabbe (44 mins), D Plunkett for O’Brien (51 mins), D Sutcliffe for Durkin (60 mins), S Ryan (0-1) for D O’Callaghan (65 mins), D Curtin for R O’Dwyer (70 mins, blood).
LIMERICK : 1 N Quaid, 2 D Moloney, 3 S Hickey, 4 T Condon; 5 W McNamara, 6 B Geary (0-2, frees), 7 G O’Mahoney (0-2 frees); 8 D O’Grady (0-1), 9 P Browne; 10 N Moran, 12 D Hannon (0-11, five frees, one 65), 11 J Ryan; 13 G Mulcahy, 14 K Downes (0-2), 15 S Tobin. Subs : S Walsh for Geary (26 mins), D Breen for Tobin (48 mins), R McCarthy for Moran (54 mins), P Carton for O’Grady (66 mins). Yellow cards : D Moloney, T Condon, W McNamara, G O’Mahoney.
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).