Limerick youngsters hold on in thriller
September 16, 2001
Reigning All-Ireland champions Limerick made it two titles on the trot with victory over Wexford at Semple Stadium this afternoon, but they had to draw on previously untapped resources to hold off a stirring late revival from the Model men.
For three-quarters of the game, if it was not quite men against boys, Limerick definitely had more of the former, and had opened up an eight-point lead without so much as a whimper from their largely unfancied opponents.
But Wexford boasted six of those who featured against, and almost ousted, eventual senior champions Tipperary at the All-Ireland semi-final stage, and they possessed enough mettle to at least force Limerick to battle for their victory. They did that, and much, much more.
Trailing by double scores - 0-16 to 1-5, the goal coming from a Michael Jacob flick in the 15th minute - with a little under less than 13 minutes remaining, Wexford, led by an inspirational knock from substitute Paul Carley, embarked on a revival that would take them to within one of the Shannonsiders, but never could they grab that crucial next score that would have forced a different outcome.
The Leinster champions' defence struggled markedly for long periods in the first half, with corner back Robbie Kirwan in particular finding Conor Fitzgerald too hot to handle, the Limerick man plundering three first half points and missing the target with a couple more very scoreable opportunities. Kirwan was eventually switched to wing back, and was replaced before half-time as the Wexford management team tried to plug the gaps.
In truth, however, Kirwan was not the only defender to come out second best, with Kevin Tobin and Eoin Foley also causing buckets of trouble for their immediate opponents.
The Wexford full back, David O'Connor, such a revelation for Wexford in the county's march to the All-Ireland senior semi-final, again displayed many of the qualities that have made him a contender for the young hurler of the year, with full forward Niall Moran - brother of senior stars James and Ollie - only coming into his own when raiding further afield in the second half.
But come into his own he did, firing two vital long-range points at a time when Limerick were struggling to come by the scores.
The first of Moran's brace put Limerick eight points in command, and seemingly strolling towards the title. A Wexford scoring blitz soon stirred the favourites from their mid-afternoon reverie, and they awoke to the realisation that all All-Ireland medals must be fought for.
The memories of dawn training sessions, and the mental and physical resolve built up by such privation, was drawn on as their opponents raised both the stakes and the intensity.
Sub Paul Carley, introduced like an American Football-style one man "special team" to attempt a 20-metre free in the 50th minute, began the revival and his comrades responded in kind.
That free, driven with force towards the net, was deflected over the bar, but within a minute and a half, Carley did manage to raise a green flag. Michael Jacob, seconds after himself firing a point from a narrow angle, took a high catch in the Limerick goalmouth, and three scrambled goal attempts later, the ball beat Timmy Houlihan and nestled in the Limerick net.
Two between them, and Carley reduced that to the minimum with another point shortly afterwards. With seven minutes left, Wexford had seized the initiative, and it looked as though they would go on and claim an unlikely victory. Damien Reale, a star whenever introduced for his county's seniors this summer, was switched off Carley having received a yellow card for an off-the-ball clash with the substitute, and therein lay one of the secrets of Limerick's success. Full back Brian Carroll won the next two balls to drop between himself and the Wexford sub, and order was restored in the Limerick back line. No-one embodied the resistance of the Limerick defence more than left half back Maurice O'Brien, solid as a rock all afternoon, impassable as a boulder in those desperate last few minutes.
Mark Keane, impeccable from frees all afternoon, prised open the two-point gap again, only for Ger Coleman to cancel that out with a minute to go. As the clock drifted past the hour, Wexford were awarded a free, inside their own half. Barry Lambert had succeeded with two previous long-range efforts but this greater task proved beyond him and the sliotar dropped wide to hand Limerick victory. Hard-fought, eventually, but victory still.
Limerick: T. Houlihan, D. Reale, B. Carroll, E. Mulcahy, M.O'Riordan, B. Geary, M. O'Brien, S. Lucey (0-1), P. Lawlor, E. Foley (0-2), K. Tobin (0-2), P. Tobin, C. Fitzgerald (0-3), N. Moran (0-2), M. Keane (0-7, five frees, one 65). Subs: A. O'Shaughnessy for P. Tobin
Wexford: M. White, N. Maguire, D. O'Connor, R. Kirwan, R. Mallon, B. McGee, T. Kelly, Nicky Lambert, D. Stamp, R. Barry, G. Coleman (0-2), R. Jacob (0-3, two frees), B. Lambert (0-2, frees), M. Jacob (1-1), D. Lyng. Subs: P. Donoghue for Kirwan, P. Carley (1-2, one free) for Stamp
Referee: A. Mac Suibhne (Dublin)
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