Limerick beat Offaly 0-21 to 3-08 in their NHL Division 1B tie in O'Connor, but only their inability to take their goal chances prevented this being a far more comfortable success.
Offaly burst out of the traps and two Shane Dooley goals put them 2-3 to 0-1 in front after ten minutes, but they failed to build on that lead and only led by five at half time, 2-07 to 0-08.
Once Limerick had the use of the stiff breeze in the second half they dominated the game and only a Colin Egan goal kept Offaly in the tie up until injury time, when Kevin Downes made Limerick's victory safe with the final point of the match.
Dublin’s win over Wexford at Wexford Park means that unless Carlow beat Dublin next week in the final round of games and Offaly beat Antrim by a large margin, the NHL 1B final will be contested by Dublin and Limerick.
Offaly can have little complaint with being frozen out of the picture after they failed to make any impression when hurling into the wind in the second half.
Shane Dooley’s 70th-minute free to bring them back within a goal was their first point of the second half and Ollie Baker will be extremely worried about his team’s inability to win possession in the Limerick half of the field.
Only Shane Dooley scored more than once for the team, while it wasn’t as if they missed chances either – they shot just one wide in the second half and five overall.
For John Allen and his Limerick management team, there are some areas that will cause him concern but overall they'll be happy with their team’s performance.
Some poor free-taking from Declan Hannon and two outstanding saves from James Dempsey ensured that they didn’t trouble the scoreboard operator as much as he would have liked, but defensively they were outstanding and they gave Offaly little or no chance to break the momentum in the second half.
Graeme Mulcahy opened the scoring for the Shannonsiders but Offaly hit their stride quickly, Shane Dooley striking three points and then hitting the net from a penalty.
Dooley was fouled to draw the decision from Alan Kelly, Shane O’Neill the man who was deemed to have pulled him down as they contested a high ball from Séan Ryan.
Limerick looked to hit back immediately but James Dempsey produced an outstanding save to deny Conor Allis in the ninth minute. Offaly went right back down the field and goaled again, Dooley the finisher once more after Richie McCarthy failed to control a loose ball on the edge of the square.
Two Seamus Hickey points either side of a close-range score from Cathal Parlon kept Limerick in touch and, when Offaly needed to build a lead to defend in the second half, they struggled to create clearcut chances.
The home side led by 2-07 to 0-05 after Dooley pointed a free in the 24th minute but they were to go another 46 minutes before raising a white flag, while Limerick tacked on three fine points before the break, the pick of which was a stunning effort by Kevin Downes from out on the left touchline.
Poor free-taking prevented Limerick from reeling Offaly in as quick as they would have liked but they did pick off some fine scores from long-range early in the second half.
Midfielder Paul Browne and half backs Wayne McNamara and Gavin O’Mahoney all got on the scoresheet before Graeme Mulcahy gave his side the lead in the 50th minute, 0-14 to 2-07.
Their lead was short lived, however, as Offaly substitute James Mulrooney made an immediate impact, winning a ball at full-forward before darting around Richie McCarthy and towards goal.
Mulrooney lobbed the ball across the goals and into the path of Colin Egan, who swept the sliothar into the net.
Limerick’s dominance at half back and midfield continued unabated, despite this setback, and with Kevin Downes and Graeme Mulcahy both in fine scoring form, they took the lead again with ten minutes to go.
That lead was extended to four points before Dooley pointed a free in the 70th minute to leave Offaly supporters with some hope of robbing a draw that they didn’t deserve.
But Kevin Downes produced a fine point on the turn in injury-time to give them breathing room and make their victory safe.
Offaly: J Dempsey; C McDonald, D Kenny, P Cleary; D Morkan, R Hanniffy, K Brady; C Slevin, B Carroll (0-01); C Egan (1-00), C Mahon, S Ryan; S Dooley (2-06, 1-00 pen, 0-04f), C Parlon (0-01), T Carroll.
Subs: J Mulrooney for C Parlon (47 mins), G Healion for Ryan (60), T Bolger for Carroll (66), D Mooney for Slevin (66)
Limerick: N Quaid; A Dempsey, R Dempsey, S O’Neill; P O’Brien, W McNamara (0-01), G O’Mahoney (0-01); P Browne (0-02), J Ryan; D Breen, S Hickey (0-02), C Allis (0-04, 0-02f); K Downes (0-03), D Hannon (0-04, frees), G Mulcahy (0-04).
Subs: M Carmody for O’Neill (27 mins), T Quaid for Breen (66)
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)