Limerick 4-26 Wexford 1-11
There are limits. Wexford ran into a brick wall this afternoon in Thurles as their adventures of the past month caught up even as they met a perfectly tuned Limerick team at precisely the wrong time.
TJ Ryan’s defeated Munster finalists had this quarter-final sewn up by half-time as they did to Wexford what they couldn’t do against Cork: score goals.
The nightmare in the sun began to unfold in two ways for Wexford: slowly and then all at once. From the first 10 minutes, it was ominously clear that Limerick had the wherewithal to win the battle of the skies and were in a mood to do just that, with David Breen and Declan Hannon plundering ball after ball up front and Gavin O'Mahony taking one brilliant catch on the run to unleash another Treaty attack and put further distance between him and a tough Munster final afternoon.
Limerick shot on sight: they went into a 0-9 to 0-3 lead in a half when they must have been disappointed not to convert half of the 10 wides they struck. On the sideline, Liam Dunne could do nothing but watch the players who had played with lightening sharpness and intensity on successive weeks against Clare and Waterford struggle to match Limerick's speed and wit and physical strength.
It is hard to pinpoint precisely when all sense drifted out of Semple Stadium. Certainly, it was almost impossible to see a way back when Breen, came thundering like a locomotive onto Shane Dowling’s delightful flick and struck low for Limerick’s first goal.
That score actually preceded Wexford's best passage, when they managed to produce three points on the trot; the best of those a crisp cross field pass from Andrew Shore for Conor McDonald to clip over unchallenged. But those open spaces were rare and Limerick's response was devastating: Breen rose to claim the puck-out over Ciarán Kenny, ran towards the endline and squared a pass for Dowling to bat home from close range.
The big Wexford support was still processing the awfulness of what was unfolding when Limerick were in again: Thomas Ryan ran through a stretched Wexford centre and got the tip of his hurl to the ball as he fell. Dowling made no mistake. It was 3-15 to 0-8 and suddenly Wexford's irresistible run of form and emotion seemed a distant memory.
Dowling had 2-6 to his name by half-time and added just 0-2 over the second half as Limerick were content to see the match out. As it happened, they couldn’t but score another goal, the excellent Browne exploiting a path as it opened up for him and firing from close range. It was a dispiriting end to Wexford’s adventure.
If they were to keep this run going, they probably needed to get on top early. They had once brief glimmer of a chance after 15 minutes. Lee Chin, who tried every key possible to get the machine up and running, played Paul Morris through and he found Podge Doran who was in an ocean of space. Green shirts rallied from all angles but Doran had the goal in his sightlines: his low shot whistled left and narrowly wide.
Limerick swept up field and Graeme Mulcahy finished with a point. If most of the Limerick forwards were bossing the high ball, Mulcahy tormented the tired Wexford back six with his running and energy, creating chance after chance. If Limerick had been tidier in their finishing, it could have been a really grim journey home to the southeast for Dunne's men.
A goal from Shane Tompkins after 62 minutes raised a huge cheer, giving a tantalising flavour of what the afternoon might have been like had Wexford managed to bring maintain the form that has thrilled the county for the past month. Instead, their championship ended with a red card for Matthew O'Hanlon, the team captain, who was whistled for chopping down on Dowling. There was no malice in it, just frustration and tiredness. Wexford were all out of steam. Limerick roll onto Croke Park and the final four for the second year in succession.
LIMERICK: 1 N Quaid; 2 T Condon, 3 R McCarthy, 4 S Hickey; 5 P O'Brien, W McNamara (0-1), G O'Mahony; 8 J Ryan (0-2), 9 B Browne (1-1); 10 D Hannon (0-4, one sideline), 22 T Ryan (0-3), 15 D Breen (1-1); 13 G Mulcahy (0-3), 12 S Dowling (2-8, four frees), 14 K Downes.
Substitutes: 19 S Tobin (0-3, one free) for D Breen (50 mins), N Moran for K Downs (50 mins), T O'Brien for D Hannon (55 mins inj.), 17 S Walsh for R McCarthy (59 mins inj), 18 C King for 8 J Ryan (65 mins).
WEXFORD: 1 M Fannin; 2 L Ryan, 3 M O'Hanlon, 4 K Rossiter: 5 A Shore, 6 E Moore, 7 C Kenny; 8 D Redmond, 9 L Chin; 10 P Morris (0-2), 11 P Doran (0-2), 12 D O'Keeffe (0-2); 13 J Guiney (0-3, one free, one 65), 14 C McDonald (0-2), 15 L Óg McGovern.
Substitutes: 26 S Tomkins (1-0) for D Redmond (half-time), 18 R Kehoe for C Kenny (half-time), 19 R Jacob for P Morris (43 mins), I Byrne for P Doran (43 mins), 23 H Kehoe for D O'Keeffe (43 mins).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).