Contrary to what the scoreline might have suggested, the first twenty minutes of the game were not at all pretty, and Limerick struggled to put two passes together while Kevin McHugh was finding gaps in between the home side’s centre halves; his effort on the ten minute mark sailed way over the crossbar.
Harps threatened again soon after when a fantastic through ball from Thomas McBride found Shaun McGowan in the clear. Corie Treacy rushed back to make a crucial intervention, and in turn, deny Harps from obtaining a shock lead.
It looked as if Limerick would make Harps pay for their missed opportunities just a minute later as Denis Behan went clean through. Cutting inside, his touch was too heavy, and Ciaran Gallagher rushed out to smother the ball.
Inspired by an atmospheric showing from the Limerick faithful, the Blues opened the scoring on the half-hour mark. After a scramble in the Harps area, the defence was unable to clear. James McGrath fired in an effort from twelve yards, to see it deflect off Denis Behan, and nestle into the bottom corner of the net.
The rather large US contingent at Jackman Park thoroughly enjoyed the experience of League of Ireland football, a major positive for all involved, and the remainder of the half played out with Limerick growing in confidence and playing the ball around with any real pressure. Harps, by contrast, were beginning to tire.
Limerick almost doubled their lead five minutes into the second half as Stephen Bradley worked some magic on the left wing. His cross found Brosnan in the middle, but he was ousted by McMonagle’s clearance off the line.
The turning point of the game centred around the introduction of substitutes. Derek O’Brien and Rory Gaffney produced fantastic performances in the second period and contributed immensely.
The remarkably consistent Shaun Kelly produced a pin point cross for Gaffney just shy of the hour mark. The floated ball was met at the back post by Gaffney whose header struck the woodwork, and went behind for a goal kick.
Harps’ slender hopes of finding an equaliser were put to rest on seventy two minutes. Derek O’Brien weaved in and out of defenders before making a darting run across the edge of the box. He was adjudged to have been fouled. The referee indicated a free kick on the edge of the box, however his assistant awarded the spot kick. In the midst of the Finn Harps frustrations, Thomas McBride was shown a straight red card. He was given his marching orders, but beforehand, ensured he took the corner flag with him, by smashing it with his right boot.
Shane Tracy was the calmest man in the ground and he slotted the ball down the middle to send the crowd into raptures. This spot kick ensured the three points for the Blues.
Limerick added salt to the Finn Harps’ wounds late on as a beautiful cross from Stephen Bradley was met with a thunderous volley from Gaffney at the back post.
A well deserved win for the Blues was topped off by a fantastic team effort and a footballing performance in front of a valiant home crowd.
Limerick FC: Barry Ryan; Shaun Kelly, Corie Treacy, Paddy Purcell, Shane Tracy; Sean Brosnan (Rory Gaffney 52), David O’Leary, Stephen Bradley, James McGrath (Steven McGann 84); Denis Behan, Garry Sheahan (Derek O’Brien 70). Subs not Used: Dave Ryan, Shane Guthrie, Jeffrey Judge, Garbhan Coughlan.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Thomas Bonner, Thomas McMonagle (James Doherty 62), Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll; Aaron O’Hagan, Thomas McBride, Shaun McGowan, Gary Merritt (Shane McGinty 78); Kevin McHugh, Paul McVeigh. Subs not Used: Rory Kelly, Matt Harkin, Adam Clarke.
Referee: Sean Grant.