While Shelbourne lined up with five in midfield, it was the advances of Chris Mulhall and Conan Byrne that caused Limerick their problems. Pat Scully questionably opted for a highly defensive formation, lining up with five across the back.
The warning signs were there for all to see from the very beginning as Mulhall and Mathews caused problems down the right wing. It was this connection that produced a well floated cross into the six yard box where Philly Hughes was unmarked. But somehow he skewed his header wide of the post.
It would be only too easy to place all the blame on a very lacklustre Limerick performance, but credit must be awarded to a fantastically well organised Shels team. Shelbourne dominated the midfield early on and the presence of David McGill was a tough obstacle to negotiate with. The away side forced Limerick into playing the long ball for most of the first half towards the small frame of Chris Breen. Stephen Paisley rarely looked troubled.
Limerick were reduced to long range efforts when they encroached upon Shelbourne territory; the less than impressive Sean O’Connor firing straight into the arms of Dean Delany on 15 minutes. The Shels keeper, in truth, has little to contend with all night, and did well to manage to stay awake.
Philly Hughes produced a man of the match performance as he somehow managed to hold off the presence of the towering Brian McCarthy. His sheer strength was symbolic of the grit and determination that Shelbourne showed throughout. He looked to have had a valid claim for a penalty turned down by referee Paul McLoughlin on 24 minutes, much to his dismay.
Just as Limerick looked to have escaped, justice was served, as Gareth Mathews crossed, on the overlap. His ball landed perfectly on the head of David Cassidy who made no mistake with his well directed header and Shels went into half time with a well deserved lead.
In what is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the evening, over eight hundred spectators turned out to watch the Blues take on a tough test against Shelbourne; the majority won’t be coming back.
Limerick started the better in the second half as Peter Hynes’ physical presence was a clear caused some panic among the Shels back-line. It was his header which found Breen at the back post, whose volley struck the inside of the post before being collected by Dean Delany.
In a strange series of events, John Frost managed to get himself sent off for a second bookable offence on 74 minutes. As Limerick won a throw on the halfway mark, Alan Mathews had a few choice words for Frost. The full back then appeared to push the Shelbourne boss with considerable force. Referee McLoughlin issued him his marching orders despite excessive protest from Frost’s teammates.
While the second half lacked any real action of note, two late goals saved the encounter to an extent. Firstly, Philly Hughes beat the offside trap by the narrowest of margins, then wrong footed Corey Treacy. Treacy dived in and appeared to have won the ball. To everyone’s surprise, McLoughlin pointed to the spot and Philly Hughes sent Barry Ryan the wrong way.
However, the embarrassment wasn’t to end just yet as Mulhall was picked out splendidly by Mathews once again. His well timed run coincided with that of Conan Byrne’s. The cross was inch perfect and Byrne was there to blast into the roof of the net.
Pat Scully will be left to wipe the egg off his face, while Shelbourne show once again why they’re the team to beat in the First Division this season.
Limerick FC: Barry Ryan; Corey Treacy, Garvan Broughall (Peter Hynes 45), Peter White, Brian McCarthy, John Frost; Sean O’Connor, David O’Leary, Paudie Quinn (Sean Brosnan 70), Jeffrey Judge (Shane Tracy 55); Chris Breen.
Subs Not Used: Dave Ryan, Barry Sheedy, Andrew Bhandarkar, Stephen McGann.
Shelbourne: Dean Delany; Gareth Mathews, Ian Ryan, Stephen Paisley, Lorcan Fitzgerald; Conan Byrne, David McGill, David Cassidy, Kevin Dawson, Chris Mulhall; Philip Hughes.
Subs Not Used: Paul Skinner, Brendan McGill, Barry Clancy, Colm James, Sean Byrne, Andy Boyle, Karl Bermingham.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Philly Hughes – sensational throughout, held up the ball very well and deserved his goal.