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Two goals from Garbhan Coughlan set Limerick FC on their way to a deserved 3-1 win over Bray Wanderers in their EA Sports Cup quarter-final at the Carlisle Grounds on Monday night.
As the First Division’s only surviving representatives in this competition, Limerick might have been considered underdogs but Pat Scully’s men had recent history on their side, having beaten Bray 4-0 in last season’s FAI Cup.
With ten minutes played another Limerick rout seemed highly unlikely. Bray dominated the opening exchanges, appealing long and loud for a penalty on nine minutes when a shot appeared to strike Shaun Kelly’s hand, though referee Paul Tuite was having none of it. Two minutes later Jason Byrne tested Barry Ryan with a low drive that the Limerick ‘keeper got down well to save.
It all seemed very comfortable for the home side, but a devastating nine minute spell would soon change that.
In the 12th minute Limerick’s lone striker, Rory Gaffney, took a long throw from the right. The ball reached Garbhan Coughlan and his back-heel stumped the Bray defence, rolling nonchalantly over the goal-line to give Limerick the lead. Defensively, it was not Bray’s finest hour, but three minutes later there were more questions to be answered.
A high dropping ball towards Gaffney went unchallenged and the striker knocked a perfect header back into the path of Coughlan, lurking unattended thirty yards fro goal. One cracking half-volley later and, despite the best efforts of Darren Quigley, the ball was in the top left corner of the Bray net.
Suddenly Bray looked in danger of a hiding, and on 21 minutes the excellent David O’Leary played a sublime through ball for Garry Sheahan to run on to. Sheahan kept his nerve as Quigley raced out, dinking the ball past the Bray keeper and in off the butt of the far post. Two minutes later it might have been four when Sean Brosnan met Gaffney’s volleyed cross from the right, but the youngster’s header went narrowly wide.
As the half progressed Bray did show some signs of life, Danny O’Connor playing in Kieran ‘Marty’ Waters, for an attempt on goal that didn’t have enough to beat Barry Ryan. But apart from a couple of free kicks that led to half chances Bray were still being outshone by a Limerick side that were playing considerably more ambitious football.
It was not until the second half that Bray began to restore their pride. Four minutes after the restart Jason Byrne fizzed a shot into Ryan’s side netting and two minutes later Dean Zambra and John Mulroy combined well down the left before Zambra’s decent cross went unclaimed in the Limerick box.
But on 54 minutes Bray had a life-line. After Shaun Kelly handled inside his own area, referee Tuite pointed to the spot and Jason Byrne did the rest, piling his penalty into the top left corner of the net and almost carrying Barry Ryan with it as he got a hand to the ball without being able to divert it’s course.
And Bray got plenty of chances to cut the arrears. Adam Hanlon had a shot charged down on the hour mark following a free kick on the right, and after some concerted attacking play from Pat Devlin’s men Waters fired narrowly wide, having latched on to a loose ball from Jason Byrne’s blocked effort.
Bray lost defender Dave Webster to a nasty looking injury on 68 minutes and went to three at the back as they continued to chase the game. Limerick almost took advantage when O’Leary cut the Bray defence open to send Gaffney through on goal, but Quigley did superbly to save at the striker’s feet.
Jason Byrne spun a volley wide on 74 minutes, and passed up a golden opportunity with five minutes remaining when he blazed over from six yards out following a knock down from a Bray corner.
Limerick might have snatched a fourth late on when O’Leary again split the home defence to set up Coughlan for a hat-trick attempt that Quigley parried, then Shane O’Connor headed off the line.
There was only time for Coughlan to get an undeserved sending off, picking up a second yellow card in added time. To Bray’s credit they never stopped looking for a way back, but it was Limerick’s night and they progressed to the EA Cup semi-finals on the back of a fine performance.
Bray Wanderers: Darren Quigley; Dave Webster (Daire Doyle 66), Shane O’Connor, Adam Mitchell (Graham Kelly 75), Kevin Knight; Adam Hanlon (Jonathan Kelty 81), John Mulroy, Danny O’Connor,Dean Zambra, Kieran ‘Marty’ Waters; Jason Byrne.
Subs not used: Brian Kane, Dane Massey, Conor Butler, Sean Hurley.
Bookings: D O’Connor (79).
Limerick FC: Barry Ryan; Shaun Kelly, Shane Guthrie (Corie Treacy 52), Pat Purcell, Shane Tracy; Garry Sheahan (Dominic Foley 58), David O’Leary, Stephen Bradley, Sean Brosnan; Garbhan Coughlan; Rory Gaffney (Denis Behan 72).
Subs not used: Dave Ryan, James McGrath, Stephen McGann, Derek O’Brien.
Bookings: Coughlan (41), Bradley (54), O’Leary (80).
Sent Off: Coughlan (90+2).
Referee: Paul Tuite.
Attendance: 150 (estimate).
Extratime Man of the Match: David O’Leary (Limerick FC).