By Michael O Connor.
In a much needed boost for Clare football and in a powerful effort weakened by wayward shooting Clare booked a place on the weekend of 13/14th June in a semi final meeting in Pairc Ui Rinn with Cork. The better side won the game but yet could have easily lost the tie and in the words of a GAA follower " Clare won dirty and could have lost with much kindness".
Team captain Gary Brennan led by example and burst through on the first attack to give Clare the lead after twenty seconds. Clare exerted pressure but on the counter Robert Browne the left corner back for Limerick responded after three minutes. Shane Brennan forced a great save from Limerick netminder Brian Scanlon as the resultant 45 was kicked wide by Cathal O Connor. Ian Ryan had the next scoring chance from a free won by Ryan and he made no mistake. On a big weekend for the Cleary family Eoin made his first start for Clare footballers a successful one with a punched point with seven minutes elapsed.
Sean Collins hit the top of the post at the end of a good Clare move involving Gordon Kelly, Martin McMahon and Collins. After ten minutes Clare had five wides kicked as Clare had the benefit of the stiff breeze in the first half in Cusack Park. The game had to wait a full six minutes for the games next score and when it did it was two scores from the Brennan brothers in the 12th and 13th minutes as the home side opened up a (0-4) to (0-2) lead. This was richly deserved as Clare were the dominant side in possession but only for their wasteful shooting would have been out of sight at the end of the opening quarter.
Cathal O Connor increased the Clare lead to three with a well kicked 45 but again the folly of wides continued as wide number seven was provided by Eoin Cleary. A moment of magic from Podge Collins saw him beat three and score off his left foot for the game's best moment to date in the 22nd minute in front of the attendance of 4520.
Limerick lifted the siege with a 40m free scored by goalkeeper Brian Scanlon after 26 minutes as three points was the difference. It was but a temporary reprieve for the shannonsiders as Clare struck back with two scores from Eoin Cleary and Gary Brennan who was in sparkling form restored a five point Clare lead.
Clare should have been coasting with a six plus lead at the break and were six clear with Jamie Malone's first score a minute into the new half as the heavy drizzle was appearing and the wind was rising. Limerick rallied well for three minutes with two points courtesy of Peter Nash and Stephen Cahill as Clare looked to be on the back foot even at this early stage in the second half
Shane Brennan's retirement with a suspected shoulder injury was a loss to Clare as Sean Collins was put through by brother Podge but his effort was over the bar when a goal would have ended the game as a serious event from a Clare viewpoint.
Once again Clare began to falter and it was in no small part to the efforts of Limerick as Ian Ryan (free) and Peter Nash with a sweet effort had the Clare lead cut to a goal with 23 minutes left of action in Cusack Park. Rory Donnelly, a veteran of many years football with Clare and recently brought back into the panel was introduced and after a couple of errors paid back in spades the selectors faith in him with an important point. The two Ian's, namely Ryan and Corbett as well as Cian Sheehan showed great hope for Limerick entering the final quarter with three in a row to narrow the deficit to the minimum with 12 minutes remaining.
Indeed, many Clare supporters were fearing the worst as Gary Brennan who had been dominant in the first half had showed little in the third quarter. Rory Donnelly rallied with a second score before Ian Ryan ensured the minimum separated the sides. From a Clare viewpoint never conceding an equalising score was crucial and it displayed great spirit that may help them later in the season that has already seen safety in division three of the NFL.
The introduction of Davy O Halloran who was centre of a media storm in February had the cameraman working with intent and whilst he did not score he worked hard and a was a vital link man between the backs and midfield. In the final ten minutes the workrate of Podge Collins was essential to Clare blocking out Limerick. However the last sub introduced, namely Cathal McInerney was the match winner. He pointed a free in the 65th minute and Clare were two clear once more. Both sides had chances for scores in the following five minutes but Limerick were depending on goalkeeper Brian Scanlon with long range free and he tagged on a third with the game entering the final minutes. Yet, it was left to Cratloe man McInerney to secure the win with the coolest of strokes as the game entered the 71st minute
Best for Clare were Ciaran Russell who worked hard, Kevin Hartnett, Gordon Kelly, Dean Ryan, Gary Brennan who had a superb first half and rallied in the final ten minutes. Cathal O Connor, however was the Mr consistent of the team and he was aided well by Podge Collins, Jamie Malone until black carded, Eoin Cleary plus subs Donnelly, McInerney and O Halloran. Interestingly over the 70 minutes Clare and Limerick had 16 different scorers which was quite a high tally for a football game and one would have expected a higher tally in scoring returns for each side.
Limerick's best included Brian Scanlon, Johnny McCarthy, Stephen Cahill, John Riordan, Peter Nash, Ian Ryan and Ian Corbett.
CLARE: Joe Hayes, Ciaran Russell, Kevin Hartnett, Martin McMahon, Shane Hickey, Gordon Kelly, Dean Ryan, Gary Brennan (0-4), Cathal O Connor (0-1), Sean Collins (0-1), Jamie Malone (0-1), Shane Brennan (0-1), Eoin Cleary (0-2), Paraic Collins (0-1), Pat Burke. Subs: Stephen Collins for S Hickey, Rory Donnelly (0-2) for S Brennan, Davy O Halloran for J Malone (Black card), Cathal McInerney (0-2) for Cleary, Chris Dunning for Stephen Collins (inj), Keelan Sexton for Burke,
LIMERICK: Brian Scanlon (0-3), Sean O Dea, Johnny McCarthy, Robert Browne(0-1), Ian Corbett (0-1), Cillian Fahy, Stephen Cahill (0-1), Thomas Lee, Gearoid Hegarty, John Riordan, Pa Ranahan, Darragh Treacy, Peter Nash(0-2), Seanie Buckley, Ian Ryan (0-4). Subs: Kevin Moore for Ranahan, Gareth Noonan for Browne, Cian Sheehan (0-1) for J Riordan.
Referee: Derek O Mahony (Tipperary).