Report by Marisa Kennedy in O’Moore Park
Limerick are through to another Allianz Hurling League Division 1 semi-final following a 17-point win over Laois in O’Moore Park this evening.
It was always going to be a tough task for the Division 1B side but goals from Seamus Flanagan and Conor Boylan ensured the contest was over by half-time.
The All Ireland champions opened the scoring after just one minute when Darragh O’Donovan was fouled while running through on goal allowing Barry Murphy to tap over a simple free. Laois responded well through a Lee Cleere point but the visitors soon hit their stride when Seamus Flanagan fired into Enda Rowland’s net.
Operating from midfield, Flanagan soon began wreaking havoc, setting up Peter Casey for the next score of the game. With no way through the Limerick defence, Laois opted for long-range efforts but this tactic only resulted in four wides in a row. Limerick, meanwhile, were content to build up their play from the back with Dan Morrissey and Declan Hannon assured at full-back and centre-back, respectively. Casey was left on his own in the full-forward line but the Na Piarsaigh man was more than able to manage, winning a free which Murphy slotted over.
The visitors had opened up a seven-point lead before Laois registered their second score in the 12th minute, a long-range free from Rowland. The goalkeeper was called into action in his net less than two minutes later when Murphy collected a ball on his wing and ran directly at goal with the rebound shot drifting wide.
Despite their dominance in defence, Mark Kavanagh did repeatedly find space in his half-forward line and drew frees, two of which he pointed to reduce the gap to six points. Cleere began to settle into his role at wing-back, blocking down David Dempsey twice in the same period of play to deny a certain score. On the pitch, Laois seemed to grow in confidence but they were unable to translate it into points, racking up 10 wides by the 23rd minute.
By the 30th minute, all of Limerick’s forwards were on the scoreline when Conor Boylan finished off a well-worked team move to the back of the Laois net. The movement and pace of the forwards continued to cause chaos and Casey, together with Gearoid Hegarty, extended Limerick’s lead to 11 points at the break.
The visitors opened the second half in almost identical fashion as Diarmuid Byrnes knocked over his first point of the game. Further points from Murphy, including his first from play, settled them back into their routine as Laois were repeatedly pulled for fouling. Eddie Brennan’s side eventually responded through Paddy Purcell and Kavanagh who grabbed his first from play in the 42nd minute.
Hegarty was magnificent in the half-forward line, terrorising Padraig Delaney and Ryan Mullaney with his aerial dominance. The St Patricks club man added his second point of the game midway through the second half before winning a free which Murphy gratefully pointed, stretching their lead to 16 points. Much to the delight of the sizeable Limerick support, Shane Dowling took to the field shortly afterwards, replacing Hegarty who received the loudest cheer of the night.
As the conditions worsened, the game slowed down and the wides racked up. Brennan rang the changes and handed a debut to 19-year-old David Connolly from Ballyfin. After nine minutes without a score, Kavanagh eventually got his side ticking again with a free with 10 minutes remaining. Meanwhile, Flanagan continued his dominance, floating between midfield and full-forward. Entirely unmarked, the 22-year-old made a blistering run towards goal before handing off to Dowling who sent his shot blazing wide.
Barry Hennessy had a quiet night on a rare outing in the Limerick goal but the Kilmallock man was called into action on the stroke of additional time when substitute, Aaron Bergin, sent a rasper of a shot towards the net, but with little support in the area, Limerick were allowed to clear the danger. Limerick were given one more opportunity to widen the gap even further but Murphy sent his final effort wide.
Laois: Enda Rowland (0-1); Joe Phelan, Matthew Whelan, Donncha Hartnett; Padraig Delaney, Ryan Mullaney, Lee Cleere (0-1); Jack Kelly (0-1), Sean Downey; Paddy Purcell (0-1), Mark Kavanagh (0-6, 5f), Aaron Dunphy (0-1); Mark Dowling, Neil Foyle, Stephen Bergin.
Substitutions: PJ Scully for O’Brien (40) Stephen Maher for Dowling (52) David Connolly for Downey (59) Aaron Bergin for Foyle (65)
Limerick: Barry Hennessy; Tom Condon, Dan Morrissey, William O’Meara; Diarmuid Byrnes (0-1, 1f), Declan Hannon (0-1), Barry Nash; Darragh O’Donovan (0-1, 1f), Robbie Hanley (0-1); Gearoid Hegarty (0-2), David Dempsey (0-1), Conor Boylan (1-1); Peter Casey (0-3), Seamus Flanagan (1-2), Barry Murphy (0-7, 6f).
Substitutions: Aaron Costello for Condon (HT), David Reidy for Casey (40) Shane Dowling for Hegarty (55) Colin Ryan for Hanley (57) Andrew La Touche Cosgrave for Byrnes (62)