GAA Football

'It is a wake-up call' - Saffrons stung by Limerick setback

Limerick’s Adrian Enright comes up against Antrim’s Michael McCann during Saturday's Division Three clash at Corrigan Park. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran at Corrigan Park

Allianz National Football League Division Three: Antrim 0-11 Limerick 2-9

BILLY Lee could only smile as his words were eventually drowned out by the thumping music coming from the Limerick dressing room in the aftermath of Saturday’s successful visit to Belfast.

Away days like these haven’t come around too often since he took up the reins five years ago. Memories of their last torrid trip up north in 2020 are still fresh, the Treaty leaving Portglenone with their tails between their legs, hammered out the gate by 18 points.

This time, it couldn’t have been more different. After goals from the excellent Cian Sheehan and Peter Nash helped them to a 2-1 to 0-0 lead just 10 minutes in, Limerick didn’t look back. Antrim found their focus and at one stage closed the gap to two as the visitorsfloundered after the break, but that was as good as it would get on a hugely disappointing day for the Saffrons, the Munster men closing the show in impressive fashion.

Two wins from two, with six goals in the process, they are sitting pretty heading into the League break – and no invitation was needed to get the party started

“We’ll enjoy the bus journey home anyway,” said a delighted Lee.

Across Corrigan Park’s cramped corridor, the Antrim door stayed shut for over 25 minutes. After the euphoria of an opening day victory over Fermanagh in Enniskillen, this felt like one step forward, two steps back.

As a wicked wind swirled around the Whiterock Road ground before the dark cloud that hung overhead eventually gave way, these were not the conditions in which to leave yourself a mountain to climb.

With Limerick having blitzed Longford for 4-9 the first day out, Antrim couldn’t say they weren’t warned.

“It's just really disappointing - the start was shocking,” said boss Enda McGinley.

“In those conditions it was always going to be a fairly low-scoring game, so giving them a pretty cheap seven-point head start was very difficult.

“After that, it was basic errors. The boys kept trying and working and over the rest of the game, but it was handling errors, passing errors was a further hold-back on us trying to make inroads, but take that really bad start out of it, in general there was decent work done in places.

“I think we did struggle a wee bit to make the boys realise this wasn't the Limerick of two years ago and, even with that, Limerick came up here unbeaten at that stage and went on to get promoted.

“That was their glitch and they probably thought they were complacent that day and Antrim turned in a really good performance. Those factors were there and I certainly thought that was a wee seed in the boys' mind.

“But look, there is no getting away from it, that it is a wake-up call after what was a good opening win against Fermanagh, but one where there were still issues.”

Whatever issues there were at Brewster Park, the Saffrons managed to ride out the storm. On Saturday, they ran straight into it – though Limerick also deserve praise for their defensive organisation and intent on the counter.

That said, the first goal after two minutes was still so avoidable from an Antrim perspective. With the wind at Limerick’s back, Colm McSweeney plucked Oisin Kerr’s kick-out from the air, two passes had the ball in the hands of James Naughton who breezed into the square before off-loading for Sheehan to palm home from a few yards out. Simple.

Antrim paid for their passivity again when Adrian Enright split the posts four minutes later, before the 10th minute brought Limerick’s second goal. This time Ricky Johnston was sucked from the full-back berth as he followed the run of Josh Ryan out the field, allowing Hugh Bourke’s quick free to find Nash in acres of space. He made no mistake, slotting beyond Kerr.

A couple of classy scores from Jamie Gribbin and Johnston at least gave the Corrigan crowd something to shout about as half-time neared, and when Ryan Murray reeled off four in-a-row after the break, and Limerick failed to score for 25 minutes, the tide looked to have turned.

But, just as Lee hailed how efficient Antrim had been in Portglenone a few years back, his Limerick wasn’t for messing when the game needed put to bed.

After a swerving Ryan Murray free clipped the outside of upright with seven minutes left, Nash bagged two on the counter to stretch out the Treaty lead with a point before substitute Killian Ryan sealed the deal in added time.

“Look, I’m round long enough to know it was a fantastic start,” said Lee, whose side’s next outing is against Mickey Harte’s Louth on February 20 as the promotion chase hots up.

“I’m really happy that the hard work many of us having been doing over the last number of years is beginning to come through.

“It’s fantastic to win but there’s five more games to go – don’t mention the ‘P’ word to me just yet.”

Antrim: O Kerr; E McCabe, R Johnston (0-1), J McAuley; P Healy, J Laverty, D McAleese; M McCann, K Small; R Murray (0-5, 0-3 frees), J Gribbin (0-1), P McAleer; T McCann (0-1, free), R McCann (0-2, 0-1 45, 0-1 free), O Eastwood (0-1 mark). Subs: M Jordan for Healy (47), C Murray for McAleese (55), P McBride for Eastwood (58), S McGarry for T McCann (60), P McCormick for P McAleer (61)

Yellow cards: E McCabe (22), R McCann (67)

Limerick: D Ó Sullivan; J Liston, S O’Dea, P Maher; C Sheehan (1-0), I Corbett, C McSweeney; D Treacy, A Enright (0-2); T Griffin, J Ryan (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 45), P Nash (1-2); B Donovan, H Bourke (0-1), J Naughton (0-1). Subs: K Ryan (0-1) for Griffin (47), G Brown for McSweeney (47), T McCarthy for Sheehan (51), E Cregan for Maher (51), D Kelly for Naughton (70+3)

Yellow cards: T Griffin (20), B Donovan (39), K Ryan (70+4), A Enright (70+7)

Referee: P Faloon (Down)

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