By Michael O Connor.
Clare hurling received another boost when in Cusack park on Wednesday evening before 3,618 spectators had to draw on every sinew, every ounce of spirit, fire and skill as well as dogged defending to deny a game Limerick side the Munster Intermediate hurling title. Word prior to the game was that Clare had only to turn up and gather the spoils against Limerick as they had impressed against Cork. This, however was never going to be the case against a youthful Limerick side who were physically strong and up for the challenge, many of whom may feature at under 21 on Tuesday 26th in Ennis.
16 years after a fresh faced Niall Gilligan won a junior hurling medal he returned to the same stage albeit with a different title to win a second medal at the secondary grade of munster hurling. A sizable attendance was present at a perfectly prepared Cusack Park to witness this novel final pairing at this grade. In 1992 in Kilmallock the two sides played out a thrilling Munster final that was narrowly won by Limerick. Clare started the game in some style with the opening score falling to Tony Carmody after great work by corner back Marty Regan in the 2nd minute.
Shane Golden and Patrick Kelly were to the fore as well and when full forward Declan O Rourke scored Clare’s second score all looked well. Limerick began to hold their own in possession terms and hit a 65 from Conor Allis for their opening score in the 5th minute. Clare, however struck gold when firstly Daire Keane picked up a loose ball and pointed and even though Sean Madden responded with a like score for the shannonsiders Keane had the ball in the Limerick net seconds later to send the home side four clear. Niall Gilligan added a free a minute later and it appeared Clare were coasting. Appearances however can be deceptive as Limerick were getting more confident as the half matured.
Michael Ryan who has pace to burn was bothering Alan Brigdale who would be considered one of the Banner’s quickest men. Niall Gilligan and Denis O Connor swopped scores in the 12th minute. Eventually Brigdale got the better and he along with Kelly and John Fennessy were truly great in the second half firefighting in front of Andrew Fahy’s goal. Michael Ryan broke through for a well taken goal and added a point to level the game after 17 minutes. Tommy Quaid sent Limerick into the lead for the first time with nine minutes remaining in the first half and indeed at this stage Limerick were playing the more direct hurling, causing pace issues for Clare and their defenders had shored up their earlier difficulties.
Niall Gilligan levelled matters from a free as Clare were lucky not to concede at least one more goal before the interval. Mark Earley replaced Marty Regan as the St Josephs corner back made way. The Sixmilebridge veteran restored the Clare lead in the 24th minute and held this against the run of play until Denis O Connor from a placed ball sent the sides in at the break on level terms (1-6) apiece and Clare the more relieved. In the first half Clare shot 8 wides as opposed to five for the visitors to Clare headquarters.
Pat Kelly had to effect a number of eye catching clearances in the first minutes of the new half before Niall Gilligan pointed from play. Conor Allis hit back within seconds. A possible decisive score materialised when Tony Carmody caught an Andrew Fahy clearance and released Ronan Keane who sprinted clear and blasted to the net. Clare built on the lead with further scores from Niall Gilligan free in the 38th and a fine effort from play two minutes later. Limerick were still causing Clare issues in front of goal and scored a point from Niall Maher after goal line clearances from Brigdale and Kelly.
Shane Dowling entered the fray for Limerick before Padraig Hickey and Sean O Brien exchanged scores by the 51st minute. With the tension levels rising scores were harder to come by each was treated like a match winner as referee Cathal McAllister allowed hard hurling to develop. Niall Gilligan pointed from play in the 53rd minute which was marked by Seanie O Brien to leave four points, 2-11 to 1-10 between the teams as Limerick hunted for the all important goal. A huge goal line clearance by John Fennessy was vital just after Padraig Hickey scored after being introduced. Conor Allis was on target from a free with the game entering the final five minutes of now tension packed exciting play.
Ronan Keane fresh from his goal scoring exploits restored a valuable five point lead entering the last three minutes. Denis Moloney denied Declan O Rourke a goal with a goal line block before the clearance found Conor Allis who found the target. Limerick sub Niall Kennedy with his first touch was on target to leave only a goal with the game in the final minute. Cometh the hour cometh the men and two wonderful scores from Daire Keane and captain Tony Carmody finally broke the Limerick resolve to leave Clare five clear a minute into two minutes of injury time. A late rally from Limerick allied to mistakes in the Clare rearguard resulted in a late late Niall Maher goal but it was too little too late
Best for Clare were Patrick Kelly, Alan Brigdale, John Fennessy, Michael Hawes, Kevin Moynihan, Ronan Keane, Shane Golden, Tony Carmody, Niall Gilligan and Padraig Hickey.
Limerick had solid displays from Denis Moloney, Patrick Begley, Niall Maher, Conor Allis, Seanie O Brien, Michael Ryan and John Dillon.
CLARE: Andrew Fahy, Marty Regan, Patrick Kelly, Alan Brigdale, John Fennessy, Mike Hawes, Kevin Moynihan, Ronan Keane (1-1), Shane Golden, Daire Keane (1-2), Kevin Dilleen, Tony Carmody (0-2), Martin Duggan, Niall Gilligan (0-7), Declan O Rourke (0-1). Subs: Mark Earley for Regan, Padraig Hickey (0-1) for Duggan, Joe O Connor for Dilleen
LIMERICK: Barry Hennessy, Sean Browne, John Dillon, Denis Moloney, Niall Maher (1-1), Patrick Begley, Tom O Callaghan, Conor Allis (0-4), Don Hanley, Dinny Aherne, Sean Madden (0-1), Seanie O Brien (0-2), Michael Ryan (1-1), Denis O Connor (0-2), Tommy Quaid (0-1). Subs: Niall Kennedy (0-1) for Madden, Shane Dowling for Hanley, Eamonn Gleeson for Ahern.
REFEREE: Cathal McAllister (Cork).
For the second time in three days Robert Frost as Vice Chairman of the Munster council presented a cup to a Clareman when he presented the cup to Tony Carmody who in a very eloquent speech in Irish praised all involved in a memorable win. Indeed it was the first time ever that a Clare team won a championship at Munster level in Cusack park.
Next Round – Clare qualify for the All-Ireland Semi-Final against Galway on August 13th.