Just the tonic for the rather pathetic showing the previous week, Limerick ran out 4-0 winners over Mervue in Jackman Park on Friday night, a comfortable affair from the half hour mark on.
A more straightforward line-up – the return of O’Leary and a recognised right winger – saw Limerick rise above their inequity of last week, though it did take a while to get going. A greater emphasis on a passing game, with the back line especially knocking it about with a great air of patience, saw Limerick exert much more control on proceedings, with Gaffney and Behan getting more opportunities to have an impact when the ball was played low to them, as opposed to high and lofted.
It wasn’t all good – some rudimentary mistakes were made and passing accuracy needs to improve but it was not as bad as last week. With more access to the ball the midfield was able to get more involved, and while the Galway outfit put it up to them for a while, it was a battle that Limerick were getting the better of. The forwards were working better, still finding it hard to make opportunities, but putting the pressure on.
It helped that the opposition was so poor, breaking forward on occasion in the first half but not really threatening for the most part. The red card given to Mike Elwood for a deliberate handball in the area – well deserved – was just part of Mervue’s failings when it came to defending set-pieces, Limerick’s main offensive option in the first. That card and the following ten minutes killed the game did, with Tracy’s penalty and O’Leary’s header from a wonderful toe-poked Gaffney cross ending the affair as a contest.
Mervue have a FAI Cup quarter final to be thinking about, and were engaged in damage control from that point on. Gaffney’s speed up the left in the second half was remarkable, with his own teammates struggling to catch up with him and make themselves available for his crosses. If they had, Limerick would have hit six or more. As it was, in a comfortable 45 minutes of football where they were allowed to strong together passes at will and soak up what little pressure Mervue tried to inflict, Gaffney got a beauty (the two passes in the build-up, from Behan and MacGrath, were excellent) and Behan slammed one home to put the cherry on top of another consistently good showing from him.
Both Waterford, at SD Galway, and Longford, against Wexford, got three points from the weekend leaving the table in the exact same way it was at the start of the weekend, now with only four games remaining. A break of two weeks for the top three now, owing to the FAI Cup, before they dive back into the run-in. Limerick travel to SD Galway in what should be, nominally, an easy three points, while a much bigger contest takes place between Waterford and Longford. In the event of a Limerick win and a team dropping points in that other game, that other team will probably be done in the hunt for automatic promotion. A draw favours of Limerick of course. I suspect Waterford, if Maguire is not marked out of the game, will take it.
Up top, two things, in my eyes, came to an end at the weekend. The first was Shamrock Rovers last hopes of a title defence, as they dropped points away to Shelbourne. It is up to Drogheda and St Pats to catch Sligo now, while Kenny does everything he can to secure European football for Rovers next season.
The other is the race at the bottom, with UCD beating Dundalk, leaving Dundalk six points adrift at the foot of the table. I can’t see any possible way back for them now, with so few games left in the season and UCD on a decent run of form.
To Ireland then. My thoughts on the situation in the international camp generally can be found on Back Page Football. PO nth actual game itself I have little to add to the sea of complaining voices. The formation was haphazard, non-existent in the forward lines at times. The “hoof and hope” tactics were a total failure. The leadership on the field was non-existent for most of the game. Cox was played out of position and suffered. Keane demonstrated again why he does not work as a target man. The midfield was ineffective, largely by passed. The defence struggled against mediocre opposition, hopeless in a set-piece again. Westwood was the lone saving grace of the starting line-up, with Doyle the golden boy of the subs.
It was awful. Ireland were out-played by a minnow, pure and simple. The late late show that rescued the three points is a comfort, but only deflects from the awfulness that occurred. Ireland are struggling big time, with the tactics, player positioning and lack of drive all adding up. Germany, the team that qualifies for tournaments in a brutally efficient manner, will have little fear of us if Ireland play like this. It actually will be grimly fascinating to see how Trapattoni and Ireland approach that game in the aftermath of this.
This wasn’t Trapattoni’s Cyprus, but it was his San Marino. A horror show of a campaign beckons.