Seán McSweeney was the star of the show as his wonder goal in extra-time kept Limerick’s Under-19 National League dream alive, with Killian Brouder going on to score the decisive penalty after a dramatic 5-5 draw with Sligo Rovers at a rain and windswept Showgrounds on Saturday afternoon.
Limerick fell behind inside two minutes when Liam Flatley struck, but by the half-hour they were in control, leading 3-1 through goals from McSweeney, Yoyo Mahdy and Liam McCartan.
Sligo were within touching distance soon after when Brian Morley netted, but Limerick restored their two-goal cushion when Killian Brouder fired in after a corner was only half cleared, past the hour-mark.
Still, there was plenty of life left in the game and substitute Paul Doyle brought it back to 4-3 with a long-range free-kick. Blues captain Paudie O’Connor then saw red when a yellow would have sufficed on 84 minutes, and Sligo grabbed an equaliser right at the death through Morley to force extra-time.
The hosts then put one foot in the semi-final with Gary Armstrong’s penalty, but Limerick recovered and McSweeney supplied an incredible goal from distance which went in off the crossbar to make it 5-5 on 103 minutes.
Goalkeeper Tommy Holland ensured there would be a shootout after he denied Mikey Place three times – the first one in particular a superb stop – before Limerick went down to nine after vice-captain Val Feeney was sent-off.
In the shootout, Limerick were perfect from five, while Holland denied skipper Ross Taheny midway through it as they sealed a place in the last four for the second season in succession.
After a long trip up the west, Limerick got off to the worst possible start when Flatley’s strike appeared to take a wicked swerve as it flew past Holland, inside two minutes. Armstrong had also threatened in the opening moments while Holland got down to save another Flatley effort on nine minutes.
But on the quarter-hour, the young Shannonsiders turned the game on its head with two goals in two minutes. The first was a wonderful move, Brouder’s pass over the top finding McCartan down the right and he squared for McSweeney who rattled the net.
They hit the front when McCartan was again the creator, playing it to Mahdy in the box and he too made no mistake with a low finish beyond Jack Burke.
POST-MATCH REACTION: SEÁN MCSWEENEY
On 20 minutes, Holland was forced into another save from Flatley before Brouder’s cross from the left almost found its way into the net in the windy conditions. Then McSweeney’s delivery was met by Ross Mann who saw his connection fly over.
As Limerick looked for a third, they went close when McCartan’s sweet strike was brilliantly pushed behind by Burke. But there was no denying him on 29 minutes when McSweeney’s clever quick free-kick released McCartan behind the defence and he finished coolly over the out-rushing ‘keeper.
However, within five minutes, Sligo were back in the game when Morley’s strike from the right took a deflection and found the far corner of the net. Then Morley played in Armstrong whose low shot was well blocked by the feet of Holland. Before the break, Chris Flanagan crashed the crossbar.
Before the hour, Limerick almost restored their two-goal advantage when a good move ended with Feeney’s low strike only being denied by a wonderful save from Burke who got down to turn it around the post.
But the Blues did make it 4-2 on 64 minutes when, after Feeney’s corner was met by a header which was cleared off the line, Brouder rifled through a number of bodies to find the net from the edge of the box.
Brouder almost made it two in three minutes when McSweeney’s corner was flicked on by O’Connor at the front post to his centre-half partner at the back but it went off him and wide from close in.
On 69 minutes, Jason Hunt volleyed inches wide from the right of the box, but Sligo did reduce the deficit once more shortly after when Doyle’s free-kick from close to halfway was assisted by the wind and managed to beat Holland.
With six minutes remaining, O’Connor was very harshly shown a straight red card, and although Limerick looked to be comfortably seeing out the game, they were caught four minutes into injury-time when Morley fired in at the back post for his second of the game.
In extra-time, Sligo went 5-4 in front when Armstrong converted from the penalty spot after substitute Evan O’Connor was adjudged to have committed a foul. But ten-man Limerick equalised late in the first half with a wonder strike from McSweeney from close to 35-yards which went in off the bar.
In the second period, Limerick had Holland to thank for keeping them in it, firstly denying Place with a stunning save in a one-on-one, before he twice stopped the same player from scoring after a long free-kick into the box. Before the end, the Shannonsiders were reduced to nine men when Feeney was sent off, but they held on for penalties.
In the shootout, both teams converted their first two penalties – McSweeney and Kelly for the Blues – before Holland saved from Taheny, getting down low to his left. Mann and Lowth then made no mistake, leaving it to Brouder to win it and he did so in style as Limerick made it into the last four for the second year running.
Limerick now prepare for next weekend’s semi-final where they face a home tie against either Saint Patrick’s Athletic – who they met at that stage last season – or Dundalk, who clash in Dublin on Wednesday night.
Sligo Rovers: Jack Burke, Ryan O’Donoghue (Paul Doyle 63), Shane McCallion, Ross Taheny ©, Fintan Borotto, Brian Morley (Martin Walsh 116), Chris Flanagan (Mikey Place 74), Callum Frempong (Keelan Kennoy 119), Jason Hunt, Gary Armstrong, Liam Flatley (Cathal Carney 74). Goals: L Flatley (2), B Morley (34, 90+4), P Doyle (74), G Armstrong (95). Booked: C Frempong (58). Unused Subs: Adam Byrne (GK), Shay Doherty.
Limerick: Tommy Holland, Shane Lowth, Paudie O’Connor ©, Killian Brouder, Alan Murphy (Evan Cusack 102), Ross Mann, Clyde O’Connell (Declan Cusack 69), Val Feeney, Liam McCartan (Evan O’Connor 86), Seán McSweeney, Yoyo Mahdy (Oisín Kelly 113). Goals: S McSweeney (14, 103), Y Mahdy (15), L McCartan (29), K Brouder (64). Booked: C O’Connell (50), S McSweeney (75), V Feeney (117). Sent-Off: P O’Connor (84), V Feeney (118). Unused Subs: Carl Williams (GK), Ross Fitzgerald, Denis Haverty.
Report Date: Saturday 28 November 2015