Eighteen-year-old Paudie O’Connor headed Limerick to another memorable victory as they kept their Premier Division survival hopes well and truly alive, beating title challengers Cork City 3-2 at Turner’s Cross on Friday night despite twice being clawed back.
Limerick had started on fire and Lee-J Lynch stung the palms of ‘keeper Mark McNulty, before the midfielder supplied the pass for Vinny Faherty to fire them into a seventh-minute lead with a clinical strike.
Lynch then sent a powerful drive down the throat of McNulty before Dean Clarke should have made it 2-0, but after making the opportunity to find himself with a clear shot, he fired wide.
After a break in play for an injury, Cork equalised against the run of play when a cross from substitute Ross Gaynor went all the way into the net, and from there Cork were on the front foot.
Their centre-half Dan Murray had a glorious chance to give them the lead after Karl Sheppard’s pull-back, but he hooked over from close range.
Then, on the break, Limerick restored their lead eight minutes before half-time. A fantastic forward move ended with Seán Russell supplying a perfectly-weighted pass for Ian Turner to run onto, and after McNulty got down to push the ball away Clarke was following in to shoot to the net and silence the Shed End.
At the start of the second half, Faherty’s block-down almost extended their cushion. Then Sheppard shot wide before Cork equalised as substitute John O’Flynn bundled in on the line following a corner.
The moment of the night then arrived, on 65 minutes, when Russell’s free-kick was onto the head of O’Connor who rose to net his very first goal in senior football.
Cork tried to respond and went closest through Murray, but it was Limerick who could have added a fourth with McNulty denying both Clarke and Lynch, with the Shannonsiders defence holding firm despite a late aerial bombardment.
Limerick manager Martin Russell made two changes to the team that defeated Bohemians 4-3 six days earlier and they were enforced. Suspended duo Shaun Kelly and Patrick Kanyuka were replaced by O’Connor and Russell, who earned a recall after his wonder goal against the Gypsies.
And it was Limerick that started on the front foot, having all of the play in the opening exchanges. Indeed, they could have been in front after two minutes when McNulty’s clearance fell to Lynch 35-yards out and he let fly with a tremendous effort that the ‘keeper got back well to palm away.
But they did break the deadlock on seven minutes. O’Connor stepped out of defence brilliantly, with Lynch’s through-ball finding Faherty who rifled a low shot past McNulty.
Then Lynch picked up possession just outside the box and drilled a powerful shot that McNulty did well to hold. On ten minutes, it should have been 2-0. Clarke created the chance, blazing past Colin Healy, but after setting himself in front of goal in the box he fired wide with the Limerick bench already celebrating.
On the quarter-hour, a heavy challenge from Johnny Dunleavy on O’Connor left the Cork captain requiring treatment and he was forced off, with Gaynor his replacement.
After play resumed, Cork equalised on 21 minutes when Gaynor’s cross from the right went all the way into the far corner of the net. Before the half-hour, the Leesiders should have been in front after Kevin O’Connor and Sheppard combined to set up Murray but he put it over from close in.
Limerick, though, retook the lead on 37 minutes after a fantastic break, which ended with Russell putting Turner in the clear. He raced towards goal and his low shot was well pushed away by McNulty but only into the path of the in-rushing Clarke who made up for his earlier miss.
On 53 minutes, McNulty’s attempted clearance was blocked down by Faherty and the ball slowly rolled towards goal only to hit the side-netting. At the other end, Sheppard’s shot from outside the box whistled narrowly wide.
Then, after the Limerick bench were incensed for a foul on Freddy Hall where a corner was awarded, Cork equalised, the delivery bundled in on the line by O’Flynn. Then Alan Bennett headed narrowly wide.
On 62 minutes, Limerick looked for the lead for a third time when Shane Tracy raided down the left and pulled it back for Russell but he curled his effort over.
Then came the winner. Russell delivered a sweet ball into the box and O’Connor rose to glance a header to the net, with ‘We Are Staying Up’ ringing around the Stadium.
Cork looked to reply and Murray sent a header just wide from Gaynor’s dangerous delivery. Then Clarke done well down the left and cut into the box before sending a low strike that McNulty got down to push away.
With two minutes remaining, a low free-kick from Gaynor looked to catch Limerick out and they eventually cleared off the line. And then they broke, with Prince Agyemang playing in Lynch but McNulty’s outstretched foot denied him. It did not matter, though, as Limerick recorded a third win on the bounce.
Cork City: Mark McNulty, Colin Healy, Dan Murray, Alan Bennett, Kevin O’Connor, Steven Beattie, Johnny Dunleavy © (Ross Gaynor 18), Liam Miller, Garry Buckley, Karl Sheppard, Mark O’Sullivan (John O’Flynn HT). Goals: R Gaynor (21), J O’Flynn (56). Booked: None. Unused Subs: Kevin O’Brien (GK), Michael McSweeney, Danny O’Connell, Liam Kearney, Stephen Folan.
Limerick: Freddy Hall, Paul O’Conor, Paudie O’Connor, Robbie Williams, Shane Tracy, Ian Turner, Lee-J Lynch, Shane Duggan ©, Dean Clarke (Darragh Rainsford 90+3), Seán Russell (Prince Agyemang 82), Vinny Faherty. Goals: V Faherty (7), D Clarke (37), P O’Connor (65). Booked: V Faherty (32), S Tracy (39), P O’Conor (58), S Duggan (67), R Williams (75), D Clarke (87). Unused Subs: Tommy Holland (GK), Tony Whitehead, Ross Mann, Seán McSweeney, Cyril Guedjé.
Referee: Dave McKeon (Meath). Attendance: 3,018 (Official).
Report Date: Friday 14 August 2015