McGrath steers Clare in third final in a row
Munster under 21 semi final
By Michael O Connor.
Clare are in their third Munster under 21 final in a row following a tension packed semi final played in Gaelic grounds Limerick on Wednesday evening. Clare had to weather a poor start before taking over in the second quarter with powerful displays from Morey, O Connor, Honan and a masterclass from Conor McGrath who were the stars on a Clare night of drama where all the experience of the last two seasons was used to good effect. They now play Tipperary in the final in two weeks time in Thurles.
Clare with the same management team as in 2008 and 2009 said goodbye to the full back line of Ciaran O Doherty, Cian Dillon and Eamonn Glynn. Others who were also overage included Colin Ryan, Conor Tierney, the O Donovan twins and Enda Barrett. It was a source of disappointment without doubt for Liam Markham and CIllian Duggan both of whom started the Munster final last year and Eoin Hayes who was brought on in the All Ireland final that they could not force their way into the starting 15 for this tie with their Shannon side neighbours. Debuts were handed out at this grade to Diarmuid Nash, Shane Golden, Pat Vaughan, Kevin Heagney and Fergus Kennedy with Conor McGrath also starting his first game even though he was introduced with telling effect in 2009.
For their part Limerick were hoping for some ray of solace after a year that saw only one win against Kerry to record in their annals. No doubt the late lamented Limerick GAA historian Sean Murphy would have recorded this fact and with much more detail. He will be sorely missed by GAA followers. Ar Dheis de ar a anam.
The opening score on a balmy evening fell to Limerick centrefielder Thomas O Brien from a 65. Limerick full back Patrick Begley won his first battle with Darach Honan as Fergus Kennedy limped off injured after his first sprint to be replaced by Eoin Hayes. After seven minutes Clare were three behind as Sean Tobin who stars with LIT and Thomas O Brien once more from a free had Limerick comfortably in front as Clare hit three wides in a row. O Brien with a third free in the 10th minute was just wide as John Conlon from the puck out won a hard free popped over the bar by Conor McGrath for the opening Clare score.
Graham Mulcahy raced clear and his narrow angled effort was tipped out for a 65 by Donal Touhy as Thomas O Brien sent the placed ball over the bar after 13 minutes. The Clare forwards were making little impression as Limerick's direct style was upsetting the Clare half back line. Paul Browne added Limerick's fifth point at the end of the opening quarter as Clare were losing possession with some ease at crucial times.
Sean Tobin ended a seven minutes drought for a score in the 21st minute as Clare were now in dire straits, creating no chances and with only Caimin Morey showing well as the Limerick midfield and half back line ruled the roost. A glimmer of hope came from a Darach Honan effort that skimmed the crossbar for Clare's second point. Limerick's luck was holding up with a Conor McGrath free came off the post with Pat Vaughan sending the rebound wide. The Cratloe corner forward made up for this miss with a smashing score two minutes later as Limerick were now unable to break down a previously suspect Clare defence. Smart play from Conor McGrath found Eoin Hayes and his smart effort flew up the crossbar. Darach Honan had the crowd on their feet when he robbed the ball and raced through for a great point. The margin was now down to the minimum. The equaliser arrived on the stroke of half time when Sean Collins was fouled allowing Conor McGrath to convert the free. Half time Clare (0-6) Limerick (0-6). The official attendance of 5,316 saw two quarters of differing fortune for the two sides in the first half and whilst one might have thought the impetus was now with the visitors it would have been a far from confident belief.
The first score of the new half fell to Conor McGrath after two minutes under pressure from three Limerick defenders. Kevin Downes, just introduced equalised for the shannonsiders straight from Barry Hennessy's puck out. Paul Browne sent Limerick back into the lead from a smart effort out near the sideline after four minutes as the quality of the game was increasing. Caimin Morey broke out with the ball and set up Conor McGrath for another score as the Cratloe man was keeping Clare in touch. Darach Honan won possession from a Sean Collins pass and was fouled allowing McGrath in for his sixth score as Clare went one clear after 40 minutes. Thomas O Brien, now operating upfield sent over his fourth score of the day for another equaliser just before Darach Honan spun a goal effort wide. Donal Touhy pulled off a diving save to deny Paul Browne but O Brien sent over the 65 as Limerick were now point clear in this tension packed yet far from exciting clash. Clare switched corner backs as KevinMoynihan replaced Kevin Heagney as Nicky O Connell went to midfield with Moynihan going to wing back and Vaughan to wing forward.
A 65 won by the hard work of McGrath was sent over by O Connell and when McGrath sent another free over Clare were ahead by the minimum with ten minutes remaining. Declan Hannon once more had the sides level and McGrath who was outstanding won a free that he sent over and again Clare were ahead, (0-12) to (0-11) with eight minutes of normal time to enact. Michael Kiely kept up the scoring sequence with another equaliser in the 53rd minute.
A long range free from Nicky O Connell fell to McGrath who found Vaughan who scored and Clare were ahead again. Disaster for Clare when a shot by Thomas O Brien may have got a deflection into the Clare net. Limerick (1-12)Clare (0-13). Keeping with tradition Clare attacked. Conlon spun the ball across the square and Honan first timed to the net (1-13) to (1-12) afgter 57 minutes. Pat Vaughan and Sean Collins set up Darach Honan for a narrow angled score and now Clare were two clear. The score of the hour was reserved for McGrath who from the tightest of angles sent over the bar with no support. Pat O Connor was hurling a storm at left half back as Limerick now hunted for a goal to save their championship season. This was not to be as Clare hung on for dear lives. Best for Clare were Donal Touhy, CaiminMorey, Pat O Connor, Shane Golden, Pat Vaughan late on, Darach Honan, Conor McGrath and the hard working Eoin Hayes. Limerick worked hard and on another night might have got the result with great displays from Thomas O Brien, Paul Browne, Sean Tobin, Pat Begley in the first half, Philip O Loughlin and Paudie O Brien.
CLARE: Donal Touhy (Crusheen), Diarmuid Nash (Scariff), Cathal Chaplin (Broadford), James Gunning (Broadford), Nicky O Connell (Clonlara)(0-1), Caimin Morey (Sixmilebridge), Pat O Connor (Tubber), Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge), Pat Vaughan (Smith O Briens) (0-1), Sean Collins (Cratloe), John Conlon (Clonlara)(capt), Kevin Heagney (Corofin), Darach Honan (Clonlara) (1-3), Conor McGrath (Cratloe) (0-9), Fergus Kennedy (Crusheen). Subs: Eoin Hayes (0-1) for Kennedy (inj), Kevin Moynihan for Heagney,
LIMERICK: Barry Hennessy (Kilmallock), Brian Cleary (Knockainey), Patrick Begley (Mungret), Cian Hayes (Kildimo), Paudie O'Brien (Kilmallock), Philip O'Loughlin (Capt) (Kilmallock), Nicky Quaid (Effin), Thomas O' Brien (Patrickswell) (1-5), Paul Browne (Bruff) (0-2), James O'Brien (Na Piarsaigh), Colin Madden( Bruff), Declan Hannon (Adare) (0-1), Michael Kiely (Ballybrown)(0-1), Sean Tobin (Murroe/Boher) (0-2), Graeme Mulcahy (Kilmallock). Subs: Kevin Downes (0-1) for Madden
Michael O Connor
Gaelic games officer