Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
This was daylight robbery from Limerick, and Conan Byrne’s stats are evidence enough to convict. Byrne, a principal actor in Pat’s opening goal, scorer of their second, was central to seven other chances, as Limerick’s ravaged left-side led a charmed life.
Byrne v. Tracy
The 32-year-old’s pre-eminence was no surprise either. Back in June, when Pat’s came from two down to take a point from the Markets Field, Byrne turned in a man-of-the-match performance. Shane Tracy, making his first league start of 2017 at the time, was the victim; so it proved again here.
The sheer volume of crosses the former UCD man was permitted to deliver was staggering. Cognisant of his pace deficit, and welded to centre-back David O’Connor, Tracy, more often than not, handed Byrne the freedom of the right-flank.
And, when Tracy did confront his tormentor one-one-one, he was beaten; including for Byrne’s second-half goal.
Attack, attack, attack
Despite hugging the touchline almost throughout, Byrne also boasted a final-third partner-in-crime in right-back Graham Kelly. The former Bray Wanderers man was robbed of an assist when Billy Dennehy’s back-post finish was perhaps unfairly ruled out for offside.
Kelly’s positioning, and Ian Bermingham’s frequent overlaps on the opposite side, best illustrated exactly how positive Pat’s were here, in a must-not-lose game. Liam Buckley is a particularly aggressive leopard, that is not likely to change his spots any time soon.
His side’s offensive outlook made for a surprisingly open, entertaining, six-pointer. And, as in the previous two fixtures between the sides, Chiedozie Ogbene was primed to take full advantage.
All four of Limerick’s first-half chances, including the 20-year-old’s woodwork-assisted stunner, fell to Ogbene. The ex-Leesider again exploited the wide-open space behind a Pat’s right-back — this time Kelly, of course — to spurn three gilt-edged chances. The raw youngster’s composure in front of goal still desperately needs improvement.
On the opposite flank, Stephen Kenny, replaced at half-time, struggled to deal with those Bermingham overlaps. Facilitated by Billy Dennehy’s timely infield drifts, the Pat’s captain instigated the move that produced his side’s instantaneous leveler.
Penalty-box defending has been a plus for Limerick in recent weeks, but allowing Dennehy, Byrne, Fagan, and the eventual scorer O’Conor, to take touches in the box was criminal; even if the former Limerick midfielder did appear to finish from an offside position.
Kenny’s receipt of the half-time hook appeared designed to help a frazzled Tracy, as the subsequent reshuffle saw Dean Clarke shift from right-back to left-wing. Kenny’s replacement Barry Cotter, who would later inspire Limerick’s last-gasp leveler, took up Clarke’s old mantle.
It didn’t work. Clarke himself lasted only 20 minutes more on the pitch, as Pat’s remained dominant down Limerick’s left. Neil McDonald acted again to secure a point, replacing the 24-year-old with newly-minted holding-midfielder — and defender-by-trade — Joe Crowe.
But this gambit backfired too. Spectacularly. Crowe’s 71st-minute hospital pass to Bastien Héry saw O’Conor pick Limerick pockets and feed Kelly on the underlap. The right-back duly slipped in Byrne, who jinked past Tracy and finally struck the goal his sublime performance deserved.
Now McDonald held his nerve, choosing not, for once, to replace spent target-man Rodrigo Tosi. And, with two minutes remaining, his patience almost paid off, when a Tosi knock-down produced a one-two with Crowe, and an agonising left-footed miss from the Brazilian.
Eventually, just moments after seemingly wasting Limerick’s last chance to attack with some poor touchline control, Cotter struck. Pat’s repeated Limerick’s late first-half failing, by allowing Tosi to control the teenager’s grounded pass into the area.
Captain Shane Duggan, a relative non-factor in general play again, collected the 34-year-old’s resultant lay-off and stood up to be counted. A wonderfully composed finish followed, enrapturing Limerick’s ecstatic travelling support. Pat’s plundered players and fans stood silently, shocked and perplexed. They truly were robbed here.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112
And, you can listen back to this game’s thrilling conclusion, courtesy of Limerick Soccer Live, here.