Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
This truly was the archetypal cup-tie. Free from the yoke of clear-and-present relegation danger, both Galway United and Limerick FC contested an incredibly open game that could have gone either way. Ultimately, it was the latter who punished the former for their shared looseness.
Shane Keegan’s plan-of-attack was simple: target Shane Tracy. In for his first start since June, the 28-year-old left-back found himself immediately pitched into one-on-one combat with Kevin Devaney.
Fortunately for Tracy, and for Limerick, the former Sligo Rovers man wasted the stream of possession trained on him with some woeful final-ball. Tracy coped well, but one imagines his shins might be feeling the effects this morning.
Given licence to roam from the other flank, a peripheral Ronan Murray looked like he would benefit from more defined instructions. Meanwhile, up top, recent Ballinasloe Town arrivee Eoin McCormack, a pre-match knee-injury doubt, looked physically unready for the rigors of professional football.
As such, Galway’s only chance of joy lay between the lines, where Limerick’s usual lack of a natural number six was offering oceans of space.
Spared on countless occasions by Bastien Hery’s timely interceptions, Neil McDonald’s side nonetheless still conceded countless strikes from around the ‘D’. Gavan Holohan and Devaney forced a big save apiece from Brendan Clarke either side of half-time. Both efforts emanated from inside-right positions, in behind Shane Duggan.
Devaney’s effort, probably Galway’s likeliest of the lot, was served up on a platter by a poor Tony Whitehead clearance. The 21-year-old, culpable at least in part for all three Limerick concessions back in July, endured another error-prone outing here.
McCormack was permitted to test Clarke with a lob just before half-time when the centre-back let the ball bounce — in a near-rerun of Galway’s third July goal. Fortunately, the cover provided by partner David O’Connor, who marked his return to central-defence with some marvelous defensive headers, was excellent.
And later, Whitehead’s bacon was saved by 18-year-old Barry Cotter, when the teenager’s characteristic sliding challenge prevented Murray from depositing a Holohan through-ball.
Holohan had received the ball between the lines after a failed, sliding, interception from Whitehead; the centre-back haring out of position in a vain attempt to compensate for his side’s continual looseness.
Burned without Byrne
The Tribesmen were loose too, mind, thanks in the main to Alex Byrne’s conspicuous absence. Removed at half-time last week, after a poor showing against Bohemians, Byrne was deprived the opportunity to repeat standout performances against Limerick in April, and again in July.
Affectionately referred to as ‘Timmy’ by Galway United fans, Byrne’s absence crippled the Tribesmen’s defence-screening ability. And the first clear-cut chance of the game stemmed from this very weakness.
Comfortably snaffled in the air throughout by Stephen Folan, Limerick’s frequent diagonals to Rodrigo Tosi nonetheless fashioned countless second-ball opportunities — opportunities from which the absent, and super-energetic, Peter Berki would surely have made hay.
Stephen Kenny, who again largely struggled in a narrow right-wing role, made one such ball-recovery, however, crossing for Tosi to beat a shaky Paul Sinnott at the back-post, and head disappointingly wide.
Both of Limerick’s subsequent goals also stemmed from the shared inability of David Cawley and Rory Hale to plug the gaps behind them. And Lee J. Lynch, who continually drifted right from his newly-restored number-10 position — as is his wont — was the progenitor on each occasion.
Both moves started with Lynch crosses from the inside-right pocket. The first saw Sinnott head into Kenny’s path, allowing Tosi to pop in the eventual rebound.
And the second was chested down at the back-post by Chiedozie Ogbene, who squared for an untracked Duggan. Byrne, who shackled Lynch throughout the 1-1 draw at the Markets Field, would not have stood for that.
A game of game-management
Staring elimination in the face, Keegan kicked off the tactical chess in the 69th minute, introducing Ronan Manning for Gavan Holohan to facilitate a switch to 4-4-2. Murray duly joined McCormack’s belated replacement, Padraic Cunningham, up top.
Devaney also tucked in, allowing captain and right-back Colm Horgan to advance, plopping Tracy into a regular 1-on-2 quandary.
Galway earned their 80th-minute consolation from this very Tracy dilemma, when a free Horgan facilitated a deft Murray penalty-area flick. Devaney ran off a between-two-stools Tracy, forcing another strong save from Clarke, before Cunningham pocketed the seconds. Paging Ogbene.
McDonald deserves credit for his reaction, however. Having waited too long to replace a spent Tosi, and relieve some pressure, the Englishman redeemed himself by immediately introducing a third centre-back in Joe Crowe, to counteract the Tribesmen’s new attacking status-quo.
It was an infinitely more sensible back-three switch from McDonald, than the one he enacted against ten-man Harps’ 4-5-0 last weekend. Ultimately, in the face of a Limerick 5-4-1, Galway’s chance-creation dried up, and Limerick comfortably saw out the game’s remainder to book a semi-final berth.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112
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