Limerick suffered the devastation of relegation as their brave efforts came to a crashing end following a 2-0 defeat by Finn Harps in the SSE Airtricity League Promotion / Relegation Playoff Final at Finn Park on Friday night, where they went down 2-1 on aggregate.
The Shannonsiders made the long trip north holding a slender lead after Monday’s first leg, but they had goalkeeper Freddy Hall to thank for keeping them ahead as he produced a top-drawer save to deny Raymond Foy midway through the half.
Limerick then should have hit the front on the night when Shane Tracy’s corner was met in the six-yard box by Robbie Williams but the centre-half saw his header cleared off the line.
Harps levelled the tie seven minutes before the break when a mistake in defence by Patrick Kanyuka was pounced on by Mickey Funston who rounded Hall and found the net despite the best efforts to keep it out.
After gaining control in the second half, Limerick should have found a lead goal in the tie in the closing quarter-hour of normal time but Ian Turner, Seán Russell and Dean Clarke failed to convert their chances.
And that would come back to haunt them as despite dominating the extra 30 minutes, they suffered a sucker-punch knockout three minutes from the death as substitute BJ Banda rose to head in a winner as Harps went back up after seven years out of the top tier.
Limerick manager Martin Russell made one change to the team that lined out in the first-leg win last Monday as Lee-J Lynch came in to replace Russell.
Harps started the better, and although Limerick came into it, forcing two quick corners, the hosts went close past the quarter-hour with Hall blocking a shot while another shortly after was cleared off the line.
Then Funston headed wide at the back post before Hall produced a stunning save to get down and push Foy’s goal-bound shot away after the Harps man had got in behind Williams.
After strong pressure from the Donegal side, Limerick went close on 29 minutes when Tracy’s corner was met by Williams whose header was cleared off the line and the follow-up attempt was also cleared in the six-yard box.
But Harps were ahead nine minutes later when a terrible mistake in defence allowed Funston in and he rounded the ‘keeper before firing the ball which just crossed the line despite the best last-ditch attempts.
Before the break, Harps were only awarded a free-kick when the alleged foul clearly took place inside the box.
Early in the second half, Kanyuka was lucky to escape with just a yellow card, with McHugh’s resulting free-kick flying over from the ‘D’. On the hour-mark, Foy got in behind but this time from a difficult angle he fired wildly wide.
On 77 minutes, Turner fired over after Lynch set him up, and there were further chances in the closing minutes but Russell shot over after another Lynch assist, before Clarke headed over from inside the six-yard box in injury-time.
But after dominating possession in extra-time, Limerick were hit with the killer blow on 117 minutes when substitute Banda rose to head a cross in at the near post.
Finn Harps: Ciarán Gallagher, Damien McNulty, Keith Cowan, Packie Mailey, Ciarán Coll, Josh Mailey, Gareth Harkin (Kieran McDaid 101), Raymond Foy, Tony McNamee, Mickey Funston (Matt Crossan 96), Kevin McHugh (BJ Banda 103). Goals: M Funston (38), BJ Banda (117). Booked: K McHugh (72). Unused Subs: Tommy Lee McCarron (GK), Tommy McMonagle, Wilfried Tagbo, Conor Keddy.
Limerick: Freddy Hall, Shaun Kelly, Patrick Kanyuka (Seán Russell 57), Robbie Williams, Shane Tracy, Paul O’Conor, Shane Duggan ©, Lee-J Lynch, Ian Turner, Dean Clarke (Ross Mann 111), Vinny Faherty. Booked: P Kanyuka (50). Unused Subs: Tommy Holland (GK), Tony Whitehead, Prince Agyemang, Paudie O’Connor, Cyril Guedjé.
Referee: Derek Tomney (Dublin). Attendance: 3,200.
Report Date: Friday 6 November 2015