Promise first shown by a minor team in 2010 when narrowly surrendering to Kilkenny in a minor final is now reality as Clare raced past a hapless Limerick side that did as much in the first half to hand the game to Clare as the winners own efforts. For many following this group of Clare players it is case of perhaps arriving a year or two ahead of expected dominance of the scene but such has been the rate of development, intense and dedication of players and management alike that the Liam McCarthy cup is now within their realistic scope of ambition.
The penultimate step to hurling’s greatest day as both Limerick and Clare battled for a slot to take on Jimmy Barry Murphy’s charges. Davy Fitzgerald and his selectors held faith with the same starting fifteen that overcame Galway in the quarter final late last month. Likewise, John Allen despite a few injury scares in the immediate aftermath of the munster final win decided to entrust the same 15 that brought glory to Limerick with the task of ensuring a date down Jones road on . If the attendance or colour was a sign for success then there would have been no contest as Limerick won both contests hands down.
The decision to suspend the hawakeye following graphic errors inconsistencies in the minor game had spectators throwing their eyes up to heaven at yet another great initiative by the GAA that is now being laughed at and mocked having cost a sizable chunk of cash.
The first effort for a Limerick score fell astray as Declan Hannon sent a free wide with Colm Galvin also off target from play seconds later. A smart short free from Colin Ryan found the onrushing Pat Donnellan whose effort was pin point accurate for the opening score. Both sides were operating a two man full forward line condensing the middle of the field. The second score fell to Patrick O Connor and the wing back made no mistake. A surging run through the centre exposing Clare was made by Graeme Mulcahy as Patrick Kelly in the Clare goal deflected the ball for a 65 that was sent wide by Declan Hannon for Limerick’s fourth wide in 6 minutes.
Finally after eight minutes Declan Hannon opened the shannonsiders account with a pointed free after a foul by Pat O Connor. With a number of early frees for both sides the stop start nature of the game needed a big score to open up the play. Tony Kelly with a snap effort put two between the sides before a scramble in front of the Limerick goal saw Darach Honan toe poke the ball past Nickie Quaid’s line. Clare were now five clear and made it six when Colin Ryan sent over a well angled free. Seamus Hickey retired with a serious injury to be replaced by Conor Allis who pointed with his first touch in the 14th minute. Despite having a comfortable lead Clare did not look in real control as Limerick were hitting the self destruct button with wide after wide from free and play until Declan Hannon put this issue to bed with a free after 19 minutes.
Padraic Collins finished off a good Clare move before a hotly contested score by James Ryan was awarded the score after the intervention of the linesman. The following six minutes saw the banner men outscore Limerick 4 points to 1 to go (1-9) to (0-5) ahead. The final two scores of the half went to Colin Ryan and Gavin O Mahony to leave the winners unbelievably due to good play and ten first half Limerick wides (1-10) to (0-6) ahead at the interval.
The air of confidence amongst supporters at the interval was surreal as Limerick had underperformed and Clare had struck a fortunate goal. Now, with Dowling on the field the freetaking duties reverted to the Na Piarsaigh and within five minutes had three in a row on the scoreboard to reduce the Clare lead to five points. Colin Ryan and Graeme Mulcahy swopped scores as Fergal Lynch replaced John Conlon who had received a heavy knock in the opening minutes.
With 41 minutes elapsed Clare were now the closest they would ever be to Limerick for the remainder of this All Ireland semi final as they held a (1-11) to (0-10) lead. This was now the time for Limerick to challenge if the effort and ability was within their bodies. A goal was the required stimulant as points were going to be cancelled out by Clare such was the ease they were piercing the Limerick half of Croke park. The nine minute spell up to the 50th minute sealed David Fitzgerald’s side place in the final as four different scorers namely Colin Ryan, Tony Kelly, Padraic Collins and Colm Galvin were on target as opposed to a single Limerick effort from Paul Browne.
Limerick were amazingly blinkered in their sideline attitude to the Clare lineout and tactics that sometimes can be over emphasised. On this occasion how they did not just try and hit points to negate the Clare sweeper so send up the spare man to mark him was stunning. It was oh so easy for David McInerney and colleagues with aimless ball sent into four defenders to mop up and clear safely to their wingmen.
Colin Ryan and David Breen who gave Brendan Bugler a few troubled moments in the first half exchanged scores before Tony Kelly and Shane Dowling did likewise by the 55th minute as Clare were still holding onto a seven point lead. One of the highlights of the game from a Limerick perspective was an excellent sideline cut point by Gavin O Mahony that was lost in the overall depression of Limerick huge travelling support. In the first semi final it was commented on that the Cork support got behind their players in the last quarter when they sensed victory. Limerick fans, however never got a chance to even clear their throats. Eight points resulted in the final ten minutes but with Limerick unable bar a last minute Shane Dowling free unable to construct a single decent goal chance Clare were able to defend with ease and attack down the wings.
Colin Ryan (3) and Cathal McInerney with a stunning score after being introduced rounded off the Clare scoring as Shaned Dowling (2) , plus efforts from subs Tomas Ryan and Kevin Downes as Clare celebrated with wild uncontrolled elation as for the first time and the fourth times since 1995 will seen supporters with saffron and blue shuffling down Jones Road, and dancing the night away in copper face jacks the night previous. The key factors that led to victory could be suggested as Patrick Kelly’s first half save, Colin Ryan’s accuracy, Limerick awful first half tally of ten wides, speed of Clare in croke park and the freedom of the park afforded to the Clare sweeper.
CLARE: Patrick Kelly, Domhnall O'Donovan, David McInerney, Cian Dillion, Brendan Bugler, Conor Ryan, Pat O'Connor(0-1), Colm Galvin (0-1), Tony Kelly, John Conlon,, Colin Ryan (0-11), Padraic Collins (0-3), John Conlon, Pat Donnellan (0-1) Darach Honan (1-0), Conor McGrath. Sub: Fergal Lynch for Conlon, Cathal McInerney for Honan, Shane O Donnell for McGrath, Nicky O Connell for Galvin
LIMERICK: Nicky Quaid, Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy, Tom Condon, Paudie O’Brien, Wayne McNamara, Gavin O’Mahony (0-2), Donal O’Grady, Paul Browne (0-2), David Breen (0-1), James Ryan (0-1), Seamus Hickey, Graeme Mulcahy (0-1), Declan Hannon (0-2), Sean Tobin. Subs: Conor Allis(0-1) for Hickey (inj), Shane Dowling (0-6) for Tobin, Niall Moran for Hannon, Tomas Ryan (0-1) for Allis, Kevin Downes (0-1) for Breen,
REFEREE: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).