Hurling & Camogie

Antrim unable to cope with ‘ferocious pressure’ from Limerick says Gleeson

Saffrons no match for All-Ireland champions

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Limerick v Antrim crop Barry Murphy of Limerick gets away from an Antrim challenge during Sunday's National League game at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles PICTURE: Tom Beary/Sportsfile (Tom Beary / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)
Allianz Hurling League Division One Group B, round one: Limerick 1-36 Antrim 1-9

“Great to see the competition for places,” was John Kiely’s understated reaction to Limerick’s runaway National Hurling League win over Antrim as the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions opened their competitive season yesterday in Thurles.

With just four of the 2023 final starting line-up featuring among the 22 players on display, the ease with which the extended panel slotted into the system showed the depth of talent the Treaty county manager has at his disposal.

“We took some positives from the opening quarter,” was how his opposite number Darren Gleeson summed up the performance of his side in transition as he tries to fill the vacancies created by retirements and injuries.

“But the ferocious pressure Limerick put us under took the game away from us and we just weren’t given the chance to recover.”

Antrim gave it a lash from the start, pressing a high a line to disrupt their opponents’ shape and led for the first 20 minutes.

But once the intensity tailed off, Limerick clicked into shape with awesome efficiency, swarming around the man on the ball whenever they lost possession and then using their pinpoint passing movements to quickly advance within scoring range.

On a perfect afternoon for winter hurling, their full-forward line gorged themselves on the feast of possession coming their way as their three starters, Donnacha Ó Dálaigh, Shane O’Brien and Adam English totted up an awesome 1-22 between them.

With the wind behind them, Conal Cunning’s free opened the scoring for the Ulstermen and, although Dave Reidy replied, another Cunning free and Aaron Bradly increased the lead to two before the Limerick machine cranked into action for Shane O’Brien and Donnacha Ó Dálaigh to draw them level and Adam English and O’Brien to put them ahead.

Niall O’Connor and Cunning’s equalising free checked the momentum and, despite English’s free restoring the champions’ advantage, Antrim pressure on the clearance saw Ryan McMullan feed Fred McCurry to drill home a cracking goal.

However, that only inspired their opponents to ease through the gears and, after English’s free was met by O’Connor, a run of precise passing movements found the finishers upfront for O’Brien, Ó Dálaigh, English from a free and from play, and Ó Dálaigh alternateley striking the next four points to open a yawning gap.

O’Neill then sent the puck-out back over the crossbar to make it nine on the trot before Cunning’s free ended the half to pull the deficit back to 0-16 to 1-7.

It doubled within three minutes of the restart as Gearóid Hegarty forced the turnover to feed O’Brien to stretch net and then followed up with quickfire points either side of one from English.

Although the pace of the onslaught dropped as the subs came on, Hegarty, O’Brien, Mark Quinlan, O’Brien, Hegarty and Ó Dálaigh stretched the gap to 18 before McMullan’s free gave the Glensmen their first score of the half.

But it was no more than a hiccup as the onslaught resumed with Reidy’s free. Houlihan, O’Neill, Ó Dálaigh, O’Brien and Ó Dálaigh again found the target before Scott Walsh replied only for Grame Mulcahy, Paddy O’Donovan’s free, O’Neill and and Mulcahy to pile on the agony before Thomas Walsh’s final whistle called time.

MATCH STATS

Limerick J Power; F O’Connor, D Morrissey, A Costello; D Byrnes, D Reidy (0-2, 0-1 free), M Quinlan (0-1); B Murphy, C Coughlan; G Hegarty (0-3),C O’Neill (0-3), C Boylan; D Ó Dálaigh (0-7), S O’Brien (1-5) A English (0-10, 0-6 frees)

Subs M Houlihan (0-2) for C Boylan (ht), J Fitzgerald for B Murphy (44), E Hurley for D Byrnes (44), G Mulcahy (0-2) for A English (50), P O’Donovan (0-1) for G Hegarty

Antrim T Smith; P Griffin, R McCloskey, P Burke; S Walsh (0-1), R McGarry, C Boyd; S Rooney, N O’Connor (0-2); R McMullan (0-1 free), A O’Brien, A Bradley (0-1); C Cunning (0-4 frees), C McCann, F McCurry (1-0)

Subs E Trainor for S Rooney (50), C McGarry for C McCann (52), J McLoughlin (52)

Referee T Walsh (Waterford).