Allianz HL D1A: Limerick battle past Wexford
Allianz Hurling League Division 1A
LIMERICK 1-17 WEXFORD 2-11
by Ronan Fagan at Innovate Wexford Park
Reigning All-Ireland champions Limerick celebrated their return to top-flight Allianz NHL competition for the first-half since 2010 with a merited victory over Wexford at a bitterly cold Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.
But the Shannonsiders almost paid the price for out-shooting Wexford by 14 wides to 4 as the Slaneysiders mounted a strong closing surge during which Conor McDonald was unfortunate to strike an upright with a stinging goal-bound drive as John Kiely's men survived.
An absorbing opening featured an exchanges of points before both sides also netted, Wexford raising the first green-flag on seven minutes when a clearance from Conor Firman culminated in Cathal Dunbar rifling to the net (1-1 to 0-1).
But Limerick mined the levelling goal within three minutes as Cian Lynch set up Aaron Gillane for an angled finish from the edge of the square.
Wind-assisted Limerick gained their first taste of the lead as Gillane (free) and Peter Casey made it 1-3 to 1-1 before David Dempsey forced an outstanding save from Wexford 'keeperMark Fanning on 18 minutes.
Wexford were keen, and after bridging the gap through Jack O'Connor (free) and Conor McDonald, they responded in style to Limerick regaining the upper-hand by 1-5 to 1-3 as Wexford outwitted the Limerick defence with a chain of hand-passes before Jack O'Connor stabbed the ball home on 24 minutes (2-3 to 1-5).
The otherwise honest exchanges boiled over momentarily on 27 minutes when Wexford full-back Liam Ryan and Limerick's full-forward Seamus Flanagan were red-carded after a mass scuffle on the sideline.
It was Limerick who made hay though while enjoying advantage of the strong wind as they outstripped Wexford during added-time to lead 1-10 to 2-4 at half-time with Peter Casey, Aaron Gillane (3) and a line-ball from Colin Ryan fuelling the charge.
Limerick maintained a tidy advantage during a largely tepid second-half, a Diarmaid Byrnes free extending them clear by 1-14 to 2-7 after 61 minutes.
But raucous cheers from the locals amongst the 7,000-strong attendance greeted a battling late uprising by Wexford, who closed to within 1-14 to 2-10 on 66 minutes courtesy of subs Harry Kehoe and Paul Morris together with Conor McDonald.
Wexford then hit a couple of costly wides while Darragh O'Donovan (sideline-cut) and Gearóid Hegarty settled Limerick nerves entering added-time (1-16 to 2-10).
The drama wasn't over though as Wexford threatened to nab the spoils. But Conor McDonald's goal-bound drive rebounded from the woodwork before Liam Óg McGovern's follow-up attempt yielded a '65 pointed by Jack O'Connor.
Sub Barry Murphy hit back to ensure a merited victory for John Kiely's men.
Scorers for Limerick: Aaron Gillane (1-5, 0-3fs), Peter Casey 0-3, Colin Ryan (sideline and free), Diarmaid Byrnes (2fs) 0-2 each, Tom Morrissey, Seamus Flanagan, Darragh O'Donovan (sideline), Gearóid Hegarty, Barry Murphy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: Jack O'Connor (1-5, 0-4fs, 0-1 '65), Cathal Dunbar 1-0, Conor McDonald 0-2, Pádraig Foley, Liam Óg McGovern, Harry Kehoe, Paul Morris 0-1 each.
Limerick: Nickie Quaid; Tom Condon; Seán Finn, Richie English; Diarmaid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Dan Morrissey; Cian Lynch, Colin Ryan; Gearóid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey, David Dempsey; Aaron Gillane, Seamus Flanagan, Peter Casey.
Subs: Barry Murphy for Dempsey (54); Darragh O'Donovan for Ryan (56); Pat Ryan for Casey (64).
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, Conor Firman; Pádraig Foley, Matthew O'Hanlon, Shaun Murphy; Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Kevin Foley; Jack O'Connor, Aidan Nolan, David Dunne; Cathal Dunbar, Conor McDonald, Liam Óg McGovern.
Subs: Shane Reck for Firman (21); Paul Morris for Dunne (54); Damien Reck for P Foley (62); Harry Kehoe for Nolan (62).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).