Limerick were pushed all the way by Shelbourne at a blistering Tolka Park on Sunday afternoon as they came away with a 4-3 win in what was an electrifying game of football.
Limerick got off to a dream start as Chris Mulhall dispossessed Daire Doyle in the middle of the park before releasing Shane Tracy on the left flank. Tracey put the ball on a plate for O’Flynn who confidently slotted home to make it 1-0 with two minutes on the clock.
The Reds reacted well to going behind so early, however, with James English forcing a corner after some excellent work down the left. Jamie Doyle planted it onto the head of Conor Keeley but his header looped over the crossbar and onto the roof of the net.
Limerick controlled the majority of the play in the opening stages, however, Shelbourne were pressing high up the pitch and on one occasion, just before the 20th minute mark, Cian Kavanagh won the ball from Paul O’Conor just outside the D. However, despite seeming to have the time and space to bear in on goal, he rushed his effort and it flew above the target.
From the resulting kick-out, Shels again won the ball inside the Limerick half before Robert O’Reilly threaded an inch-perfect ball through to James English. Tommy Holland was quick off his line, however, and denied English with a brilliant stop by his legs.
Before the half-hour mark Limerick grinded out two decent chances in quick-succession. First, Stephen Kenny lofted the ball into O’Flynn who hit a first-time, snapshot on the half-volley, however it rose just above the crossbar.
Shortly after, Paul O’Conor found space on the right before cutting inside and driving a ball low which bended just outside the post.
On 32 minutes, The Reds’ continuous high pressing paid off. As Limerick knocked it around the defence, the ball was played back to Holland to clear, however, O’Reilly darted in to make the block and it rebounded into the bottom corner of the net in what was a bizarre equalizing goal.
The game was now a much more open contest as the half reached its closing stages with both sides keeping the ball confidently when in possession ensuring that the game was nicely poised heading into the second period.
However, it was a case of déjá vu for Limerick as they scored their second of the afternoon barely a minute into the restart to retake the lead when Lee J Lynch won the ball from Keeley high up the pitch before sliding it through to Mulhall who calmly placed it under Jack Brady and into the net.
It only got better for Martin Russell’s men as two minutes later they doubled their advantage. Robert Duggan was caught inside his own half by Sean Russell who sprinted towards goal before turning inside with a sharp turn, however, he was tripped up by Duggan’s flailing leg and the referee showed no hesitation in pointing straight to the spot.
Up stepped O’Flynn who fired it towards goal and despite Brady getting his fingers to it, it nestled into the top right corner of the net to give the in-form striker his 18th goal in all competitions this season.
Kevin Doherty’s men almost reduced the deficit straight away as Holland’s attempted clearance bounced into the path of Lorcan Shannon, however, his effort to clip the ball over Holland fell just wide.
Limerick began to assert their dominance over proceedings as the half progressed with a number of menacing plays hampering the Shelbourne backline, however, the closest they came during this spell was a low-fizzed effort from Tracy which skimmed the post on its way past the target just before the 70th minute.
Going into the final 15 minutes, the Shelbourne challenge began to mount once more and after constant pressure on the Limerick backline, they eventually broke through with substitute Dylan Grimes finding space inside the area to lob it beyond Holland and into the net with seven minutes remaining.
However, almost immediately Limerick broke up the pitch and once again were awarded a penalty when Russell was bundled over inside the area.
Lynch was denied from the spot by a great save from Brady, however, he was quick to pounce on the rebound to restore the two goal lead.
The drama was far from finished yet, however, with three minutes left, The Reds were awarded an indirect free-kick inside the area for time-wasting by Holland. Doyle stepped up and rifled it low into the bottom corner to ignite the Tolka crowd.
They went in desperate search of a fourth and came within a fraction of doing so when Grimes picked out O’Reilly inside the six-yard box before his header clipped the post and fell wide.
Limerick managed to see out the remaining minutes to come away from Tolka Park with their 100 per cent record still intact, however, they were pushed all the way by an exceptional Shelbourne challenge who truly deserved something from the game.
Shelbourne FC: Jack Brady, Robert Duggan, Conor Keeley (Ryan Robinson 68), Aidan Collins, Alan Kehoe, Lorcan Shannon (Sodiq Oguntala 82), Robert O’Reilly, Daire Doyle, Cian Kavanagh (Dylan Grimes 59), Jamie Doyle, James English
Subs not used: Greg Murray, Carl Walshe, Dylan Kavanagh, Mark Sandford
Sent Off: None.
Limerick FC: Tommy Holland, Shaun Kelly, Paudie O’Connor, Paul O’Conor, Robbie Williams, Lee-J Lynch, Sean Russell, Chris Mulhall (Tony Whitehead 76), Shane Tracey, John O’Flynn (Ross Mann 73), Stephen Kenny
Subs not used: Freddy Hall, Shane Costello, Sean McSweeney, Clyde O’Connell, Killian Brouder
Bookings: Robbie Williams (50), Shaun Kelly (81)
Referee: Andrew Mullally
Extratime Man of the Match: John O’Flynn (Limerick)