Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
Five games in a fortnight always looked a tough ask for Tommy Barrett’s razor-thin Limerick squad. Liam Buckley’s St Patrick’s Athletic lay in wait at the last stop, primed to take full advantage. Ultimately, Barrett’s spent Super Blues, bereft of answers to the Saints’ energy and width, were lucky to lose by one.
This was a third straight outing in eight days for Limerick’s central midfield trio, comprised of Kilian Cantwell, Cian Coleman and captain Shane Duggan. And it showed.
Buckley, meanwhile, enjoyed the luxury of rotating two-thirds of his engine room. The tireless Jamie Lennon, 19, replaced the pedestrian Owen Garvan at the base. And, just ahead, former Shamrock Rovers attacker James Doona, 20, assumed Darragh Markey’s duties. The Pat’s manager’s intentions were clear; run them into the ground.
Madden makes his point
But it was another ex-Hoop who became this game’s prime mover. Simon Madden, like Doona, was surprisingly released by Stephen Bradley in the off-season. Faced with little Limerick resistance, the 29-year-old showed ‘Bradser’ exactly what he’s missing.
Madden has suffered more than his fair share of managerial duds, unfortunately, having also struggled through Steve ‘The Gaffer’ Staunton’s Darlington tenure. Happily, however, the attacking full-back now looks perfectly at home in Buckley’s gung-ho system.
And within 20 minutes, the ex-Leeds defender had already seen off Will Fitzgerald. The Limerick teenager failed to repeat the job he performed on Rovers’ Trevor Clarke just four days prior. Jake Keegan, preferred here to Christy Fagan, should have scored from a 10th-minute Madden cross.
Indeed, Madden’s combinations with Conan Byrne looked unstoppable in the opening quarter. The pair worked countless two-on-ones on poor Billy Dennehy, forcing Shaun Kelly to repel two dangerous crosses with vital back-post headers.
Barrett’s hand was duly forced, and Henry Cameron was asked to swap with Fitzgerald. But the Kiwi, a defensive liability on Monday, predictably fared little better than his fellow flanker.
Cameron had spent the first 20 minutes taking up unnecessarily central positions, after all, allowing Ian Bermingham to advance. Quite how the 20-year-old continues to merit a starting berth ahead of the likes of Karl O’Sullivan, for example, is anyone’s guess.
Funneling everything through their full-backs, Pat’s forced an already exhausted Limerick unit to shuffle back and forth across the admittedly tight Richmond Park turf. Here, Barrett’s side paid the price for their passive outlook, allowing the Saints to work the ball wide with impunity.
The midfield press that so nullified Cork City seven days prior was notably absent. Jamie Lennon, a revelation in the Pat’s holding role, was permitted to run the game at will.
The 19-year-old, in his first season of senior football, demonstrated an extremely impressive range of passing here, that belied his years. Duggan, Lennon’s on-paper marker, could not get anywhere near him. And when he did, the teak-tough teenager shrugged Limerick’s captain off with ease — no mean feat.
Obviously, a change in approach was discussed at half-time, however, as Limerick began pressing high right from the start of the second-half. Barrett’s side did enjoy a five-minute purple-patch, during which Darren Dennehy should have headed home a Fitzgerald corner. But, ultimately, this tactical switch was a huge mistake.
Already flagging badly, Limerick’s central midfielders were faced with an unsolvable conundrum. Pushing up meant potentially allowing Pat’s midfielders to get goalside. Staying back would render their side too easy to play through.
In the end, they did neither. Ryan Brennan began to find pockets of space behind Coleman, teeing up the Bermingham cross he himself was close to heading home.
And the situation worsened upon Darragh Markey’s arrival. The 20-year-old, drifting in behind Coleman, played through-balls for fun, instigating the move that culminated in Doona’s inexplicable missed sitter.
Of course, it was left to Madden to instigate the winner. The full-back easily skipped past Cameron — a regular second-half occurrence — to draw a needless Billy Dennehy foul. Bermingham, unmarked, headed in Byrne’s resultant free-kick. Limerick have shipped set-piece goals in six of their opening eight fixtures.
Now Limerick’s relative lack of squad depth really became apparent. While Buckley could turn to the likes of Markey and Fagan, Barrett had only a quarter-fit Barry Maguire and a bunch of kids at his disposal.
In truth, the Super Blues never looked likely to create a chance from open-play, and a third blank in four games was always on the cards. Connor Ellis, again a fish out of water in a lone striking role, desperately needs to improve his hold-up play. Mark O’Sullivan, who made so much stick in the Showgrounds on the opening weekend, was badly missed.
As time ticked away, and Limerick vainly threw caution to the wind, there was still time for Madden to underline his pre-eminence. Skipping past Cameron (again), the defender’s resultant left-footed cross found Ryan Brennan lurking in space at the back-post.
Tony Whitehead deserves the credit for a brilliant block to deny the ex-Bray midfielder. But the centre-back need not have bothered. An equaliser was never on the cards here anyway.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112