Both the Super Blues and Bohs are nothing without their nines

Alan O’Brien 

Considering both sides registered five blanks in their last seven games, this was always likely to be a stalemate. But if Dinny Corcoran and Mark O’Sullivan were fully fit, things could have been very different.

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Absent throughout Limerick’s prior six games with a broken hand, O’Sullivan’s return here caught many by surprise — not least the Bohs centre-backs. Tommy Barrett’s direct side desperately lacked an attacking focal point in the 35-year-old’s absence. And the target man wasted no time in reminding Limerick fans what they’ve been missing, winning a free-kick from Dan Casey in the first minute.

O’Sullivan bullied Casey, and midfielder-by-trade Ian Morris, throughout. The Cork native won the lion’s share of his aerial duels, and converted several speculative long punts into set-pieces for his side.

Manna from heaven

The striker’s preternatural ability to release the pressure on his defence was manna from heaven for Barrett, on a night where his side were second best throughout. Crucially, however, O’Sullivan’s lack of match sharpness cost Limerick at key moments.

Bohemians’ possession monopoly restrained the kind of third-man running at which Limerick’s midfield excels. But on three of the four occasions Limerick did get men in advance of O’Sullivan, it was the 35-year-old who fluffed his lines.

Twice, in the second-half, O’Sullivan beat the tired-looking Casey to a channel ball without squaring it for an onrushing midfielder. And Cian Coleman’s energy went to waste in the first-half too, when O’Sullivan failed to convert the 21-year-old’s pull-back from six yards.

That early chance proved a false dawn for the Super Blues, as Keith Long’s side went about carving them open at will. Blighted by injuries to an even greater extent than Barrett, Long’s eleven defied its makeshift nature with some wonderful one-touch football.

Wing-backs

Keith Ward, drifting into the inside-left pocket, was invariably the glue that knitted these attacking moves together. And with that pocket’s guard, Kilian Cantwell, often drawn out to chase Shane Tracy’s man — Darragh Leahy — Barrett knew a change was necessary.

The Limerick manager’s chosen solution was a risky one; a return to the 3-4-1-2 shape Waterford cut apart the prior Friday. Tracy, unfit and unable to assist Shaun Kelly, was shunted into midfield beside Coleman — hardly ideal. Winger Will Fitzgerald, meanwhile, was again asked to play the fish out of water role alongside O’Sullivan.

But the reintroduction of wing-backs, on 36 minutes, did temporarily stem the forward momentum of Bohs’ full-backs, Leahy and Keith Buckley. Limerick shipped no further chances before half-time, and indeed should have taken the lead themselves at the whistle. Dylan Watts foiled Tracy from close-range after another Coleman pull-back.

The relief was only temporary for the travelling support, however, as both Leahy and Buckley scampered forward relentlessly throughout the second-half. Here is where Long was forced to rue the fitness issues suffered by his own number nine.

Hamstrung

The telepathic understanding enjoyed by Ward and Dinny Corcoran has been broken up by the latter’s fitness issues this season. Hamstrung throughout the opening weeks, the 29-year-old was given only ten minutes here. And even that looked a push.

As such, the torrential rain of crosses pelted down upon Limerick’s penalty-area was completely, and utterly, wasted. The likes of Tony Whitehead, impressive here, nodded them away for fun as Bohs’ understandable frustration grew. The mobile Eoghan Stokes tried gamely, but he was not the horse for this particular course. And he missed a one-on-one in the first-half to boot.

It took a set-piece, and Barry Maguire’s criminal languidity, for the hosts to create a second-half chance. Initially cleared, a Ward corner found its way back to the taker. And Maguire was kind enough to stand there and allow the ex-Dundalk craftsman to walk inside and force a goal-line clearance from Kelly.

Conclusion

Maguire, like Tracy — the man he replaced here — has a lot of work to do from a conditioning perspective. Which, in many ways, was the story of this game. Restricted by injury, neither side’s bustling number nine was fit enough to take advantage of the opportunities that were, clearly, there for the taking.

Keeping O’Sullivan fit is a must for Limerick if they are to avoid the dreaded playoff. And the same goes for Bohs and Corcoran. Modern football may have moved on to a certain extent — who could have foreseen the likes of Roberto Firmino as a top-level striker just a  few short years ago? But at this level you can’t put a price on an old-style, classic, number nine.

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