Antrim 0-17 Limerick 3-22: Antrim's dreams of promotion to the top table in the Allianz NHL crumbled at Casement Park on Sunday, when they were soundly beaten by a workmanlike Limerick side that dominated the play all over the field.
The Shannonsiders ran out the easiest of winners on a 3-22 to |0-17 scoreline to shoot themselves into the Division 1B play-offs against Clare.
The winners deserved their huge 14 points victory but certain referring decisions blotted the afternoon.
Certainly, Antrim manager Jerry Wallace and the home crowd didn't appreciate some of the calls that Galway whistler Alan Kelly made.
“I'd like to be as generous as I can be,” reflected Wallace.
“When we had gone level, or maybe a point in front, during the first half, we were in possession of the ball and it looked as if we had got a free but we didn't. Limerick got it.
“My players were distracted. I'm mystified at the decision. “They (Limerick) then got a free inside and, suddenly, we were four points down.
“It destroyed what was turning out to be a very entertaining game.
“The paying public deserve better. They came in expecting to see a quick, fast game of hurling and what they got was a game that was destroyed by pernickety decisions.”
During the first quarter, Antrim matched their opponents in many quarters with Michael Herron, Neil McManus and Shane McNaughton picking off points from play to put the Saffrons ahead |0-4 to 0-2 on 10 minutes. James Ryan and shot-sure Conor Allis levelled the battle before McNaughton and corner-back Stephen Walsh traded points to leave it five apiece after 16 minutes.
Within seconds, Shane Dowling fired Limerick ahead and they were never again caught.
Slack marking by the Saffron players caused problems for the home side as the visitors ran up a 1-10 to 0-5 lead by the 24th minute.
The Limerick goal was blasted home by Dowling from a 20 metres free and, when he added another from the same spot eight minutes later for an away 2-10 to 0-6 advantage, the writing was on the wall for Antrim.
Limerick led by 2-12 to 0-8 at the interval and, in an effort to stem the tide, Antrim sent in three replacements but it didn't really make a difference.
After McNaughton pulled a point back for Antrim, the winners continued to dominate and, when substitute Sean Tobin rifled in Goal No 3 for a 3-17 to 0-10 lead, the contest was well and truly over.
In the end, Antrim will be reflecting on a hurling lesson handed to them by Limerick and the fact they relied upon keeper DD Quinn to prevent a humiliation.
After the promise of the opening win over Wexford and a comeback success over Laois, a win could have earned Antrim a place in the promotion play-off.
Instead they were delivered a stern reality check by the impressive Limerick outfit who will face Clare in the Division 1B decider.
ANTRIM: DD Quinn; A Graffin, C Donnelly, K McGourty; N McAuley, N McManus (0-1), M Gettins; K Stewart (0-1), P Sheils; S McCrory, M Herron (0-2), E McCloskey (0-2); PJ O'Connell (0-1), C Carson, S McNaughton (0-9, 4f). Subs: B McFall (0-1) for McCrory (h/t), B McAuley for Shiels (h/t), Scullion for Carson (h/t), J Kerr for Donnelly, inj (47).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Walsh (0-1), R McCarthy, T Condon; W McNamara, D O'Grady, G O'Mahoney; P Browne, J Ryan (0-2); S Dowling (2-4, 2-0 frees, 0-1 pen), D Breen (0-2), C Allis (0-9, 2f, 0-2 '65s'); G Mulcahy, N Moran (0-1), T Quaid (0-1). Subs: S O'Neill for Condon (h/t), S Tobin (1-2) for T Quaid (47), K Downes for Moran (55), S O'Brien for Breen (59), T Ryan for McNamara (63).
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).