James McGrath was the toast of the Limerick dressing room on Saturday evening as his 77th-minute strike salvaged a point for his side and denied Liam Buckley's St Patrick's Athletic their second win of the season. McGrath's equaliser came as a sickening blow to the Saints who will feel they deserved all three points after bossing the second 45 minutes.
The game began in rather pedestrian fashion with both sides seeming content with playing keep-ball. Indeed it was not until the 24th minute that the game had its first meaningful attempt at goal when a shot from Limerick skipper Shane Duggan fizzed past Brendan Clarke's left-hand post.
Despite their failure to fashion any first-half attempts on goal, Pat's did have a couple of early penalty shouts waved away by referee Tomas Connolly. The first of these came on nine minutes when Conan Byrne took a tumble in the box, followed by a second claim which came after McCormack took down Greg Bolger's crossfield pass and cut inside James McGrath before claiming to have been fouled by the Limerick youngster inside the box.
In stark contrast to the manner in which they played the first-half, Pat's began the second period with a noticeable zest and sense of conviction marking their play. With just five minutes of the second stanza played, they hit the front courtesy of Christy Fagan who smashed home a left footed half-volley after being played through by Chris Forrester's hook over the top. Fagan's opener was followed by a subsequent period of dominance for the Saints as they sought to double their advantage with Conan Byrne, Christy Fagan and Forrester all coming close to a grabbing a second.
The first of Forrester's efforts was particularly impressive. After being picked out on the right flank by Greg Bolger's raking pass, Forrester cut inside and unleashed a thunderous effort that seemed destined for the back of the net only for Barry Ryan to deny him with a spectacular fingertip save.
It seemed only a matter of time before the Inchicore men would grab a deserved second but the game took a most unexpected twist with Limerick grabbing an equaliser against the run of play with just 13 minutes remaining. Duggan picked the ball up in the centre of the park and played a defence splitting through ball between Pats centre-half Derek Foran and right-back Conor McCormack that found James McGrath in the box with the young winger making no mistake in dispatching a cool finish beyond the reach of Clarke in the home goal.
Determined not to surrender a home win, the home side responded by beginning a desperate search for a late winner. After forcing several late corners, the Saints went agonisingly close to grabbing an elusive winner when Forrester turned and shot only to see his effort parried at the near post by Ryan.
Although the Saints manager, Liam Buckley, is sure to see the result as two points dropped, the draw sees Pat's maintain their unbeaten start, while Limerick on the other hand will head back to the Treaty City happy having picked up their first away point of the season against the champions.
St Patrick's Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Conor McCormack, Derek Foran, Ken Oman, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne, Greg Bolger, James Chambers (Killian Brennan 86), Chris Forrester; Mark Quigley (Lee Lynch 80), Christy Fagan (Daryl Kavanagh 82).
Subs not used: Rene Gilmartin, Peter Durrad, Sam Verdon, Sean Hoare.
Limerick FC: Barry Ryan; Shaun Kelly, Stephen Folan, Sam Oji, Shane Costelloe (Darragh Rainsford 39); Jason Hughes, Shane Duggan, Shane Tracy; Patrick Nzuzi, Rory Gaffney, James McGrath.
Subs not used: Ali Abass, Prince Agyemang, Barry Sheedy, Tony Whitehead, Garbhan Coughlan, Val Feeney.
Booked: Nzuzi (34), McGrath (46), Folan (88).
Referee: Tomas Connolly.
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Sam Oji (Limerick FC).