Dave Donnelly reports from Dalymount Park
If Limerick are to play Premier Division football next season, it will now more likely than not come through winning the promotion/relegation play-off.
A devastating 5-0 defeat to an inspired Bohemians side at Dalymount Park on Friday night leaves the Blues seven points behind the Gypsies and five behind Sligo Rovers in the hunt for safety.
Should Limerick be forced into a play-off, their advantage will be that their First Division opponents will have come through two two-legged play-offs already.
Whether Tommy Barrett's callow squad have the experience to prevail over two games against a side with the experience of, say, Shelbourne or Finn Harps remains to be seen.
They certainly have the talent, as they showed in a first half where they took the game to their hosts and arguably outplayed them for half an hour with slick, skilful, high-tempo football.
It was the football of a side buzzing from last week's 2-1 win over Waterford, and whose performances have been good despite consistently failing to pick up points.
Their reaction to falling behind, to a Kevin Devaney header against the run of play, is of more concern – the game was effectively over as a contest at the break, and the Blues collapsed late on.
Dinny Corcoran – who remains Bohs' top scorer with five despite a disappointing season by his own standards – brought the first save within two minutes following a long passage of Bohs play.
Limerick, who had hardly touched the ball until Tommy Holland smothered the ball, could have gone straight down the other end to lead as Connor Ellis was taken out from the kick-off.
Billy Dennehy's inswinging free-kick sailed onto the head of the unmarked Killian Brouder but, seeing it a little late, he couldn't get over the ball to direct it on target.
A quick shimmy from 18-year-old winger Karl O'Sullivan saw him breeze past Darragh Leahy and his cross wasn't properly cleared, but Connor Ellis put the loose ball badly over the bar.
Another slick passage of one-touch football ended with Barry Maguire nodding down for Darren Murphy, and the former Cobh man's side-footed shot was tipped over by Shane Supple.
Bohs had plenty of the ball during the first half-hour but created little, until Keith Ward's cross was headed up in the air and Leahy nodded the ball back in for Devaney to head in from close range.
JJ Lunney made it two four minutes from the break, exploiting the vast space that existed all night in front of the back four where Bohs continually exposed Limerick's lack of a defensive midfielder.
If the second goal knocked the last of the fight out of Barrett's men, there were already signs they were flagging, and the second-half performance suggested a side who believed they were beaten.
The only surprise was that the third goal took so long to arrive, and in such spectacular fashion, Keith Buckley belting home his first goal since returning to the club from 25 yards.
Teenagers Danny Grant and Eoghan Stokes were sprung from the bench and both got their names on the scoresheet before the finish.
Grant had only been on the pitch two minutes when he tapped in Ward's pull-back after Holland had done brilliantly to turn Corcoran's shot onto the post.
Barrett brought on Colman Kennedy for his debut – finally allowing Cian Coleman to move into a more natural midfield position and provide some defensive steel – but his night soon went sour.
The defender hauled down Grant as he ran in on goal and was shown a straight red card – Stokes slotted his fourth goal of the season and inched Bohs ever closer to safety.
For Limerick, the loss of six squad members and an embargo on new signings has required Barrett to rely on some exciting young players, and their mettle will be truly tested in the coming months.
Bohemians: Shane Supple; Derek Pender, Dan Casey, Ian Morris (Dan Byrne 75), Darragh Leahy; Keith Buckley, JJ Lunney, Keith Ward (Eoghan Stokes 75); Kevin Devaney, Daniel Kelly (Daniel Grant 71), Dinny Corcoran.
Subs not used: Seán Bohan (gk), Oscar Brennan, Andy Lyons, Cristian Magerusan.
Booked: Ian Morris (23).
Limerick: Tommy Holland; Shaun Kelly, Killian Brouder, Cian Coleman, Billy Dennehy; Shane Duggan, Darren Murphy (Coleman Kennedy 61), Barry Maguire (Danny Morrissey 61); Karl O'Sullivan, Will Fitzgerald (Colm Walsh-O'Loughlen 74), Connor Ellis.
Subs not used: Jack Brady (gk), Tomás O'Connor, Adam Foley, Jason Cross.
Sent off: Colman Kennedy (86).
Referee: Derek Tomney.
Attendance: 2,000 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Kevin Devaney (Bohemians).