Limerick 2-8 Clare 0-6
Unbeaten during the regular rounds last year, denied promotion only after a surprise loss to Wexford in the playoff, Clare were again expected to dominate the section this season.
Limerick too were expected to figure in the final shakeup but given the turmoil in the county last year which saw them failing to win a competitive match after being shorn of the services of over 20 of their top players, this one was expected to be too big a test too early.
So much for conventional wisdom.
Limerick hit the ground running, led by a goal to nil after four minutes (a drilled penalty by wing-forward Richie McCarthy after Graeme Mulcahy had been hauled down), and had extended that lead to nine points by the break, 2-4 to 0-1 (the livewire Mulcahy converting the goal, after a magnificent pass by teenage full-forward Kevin Downes). They then did enough to maintain that gap through a more evenly-contested second half.
We could go into more detail on the actual match happenings but really there isn’t a lot of detail to examine; the damage was done in a first half in which Clare were awful, as reflected by their solitary point — and that from a free — while Limerick were simply efficient, converting six scores from nine opportunities.
Of more importance are the details surrounding this Limerick win, this Clare loss. First, Limerick. Not since July 18th 2009 had the men in green won a competitive match, against Laois in the All-Ireland qualifiers, yet here, and with several of the players considered surplus to requirements by last year’s manager, Justin McCarthy, they played as though they’d never been away.
Keeper Nicky Quaid, making his debut, was solid as a rock, made a brave body-block to deny Darach Honan in the 59th minute, commanded his area under the high ball and placed his clearances and puckouts well.
The defence, solidly anchored by Stephen Lucey at full-back and Seamus Hickey in the centre, was focused and ever-vigilant, snuffing out danger. In midfield they monopolised with Donal O’Grady and youngster Paul Browne combining to great effect, while up front, all six forwards worked hard and efficiently.
Put together, the hallmarks of a Donal O’Grady-coached side, and a display that left him satisfied – for the moment. "The performance was what we were looking for but the two points are handy. It comes down to workrate and there’s an awful lot of credit due to the lads themselves, they’ve worked really hard. We’ve only been training since January the 2nd, and I was honest when I said last week I didn’t know where we were. We’re happy with the win because it takes some pressure off — two points is important."
That pressure wasn’t just on the returning players either, reckoned O’Grady. "Everyone was under pressure to perform. I was under pressure, Ciarán Carey, Pat Heffernan, TJ Ryan (his selectors), the whole backroom team — we were all under pressure to perform. We didn’t overkill it, but everyone going out on the field were aware of what they were expected to do. It worked for us today, it may not work next Saturday night against Westmeath, may not work the following match, but it worked today and we’re thankful for that. But it comes back to workrate; Jerry Wallis (trainer) has done excellent work with them since January. You’d be pleased, but it’s the start of a long campaign."
Not at all pleased however – and understandably so – was Ger O’Loughlin. "We have to say that overall, based on that display, we’re rightly down in Division Two, we deserve to be there. Next week’s game now is even more important, we have to travel to Antrim, try and grind out a result, but if we don’t improve 100% on what we saw today we’ll struggle. "Our backs are to the wall, we let a lot of people down today with our display. It is a bitter pill to swallow. We regrouped for the second-half but overall we’ve no excuses; Limerick played well – we were just diabolical."
Scorers for Limerick: R McCarthy 1-5 (1-0 pen., 0-4 frees); G Mulcahy 1-1; K Downes, J Ryan, D O’Grady 0-1 each.
Scorers for Clare: N O’Connell 0-2 (0-1 free, 0-1 65); C McGrath 0-2 (frees); F Lynch 0-1; C McInerney 0-1 (free).
Subs for Clare: C McInerney for McMahon (32); M Earley for Ryan (35); C Morey for Lynch (57); C O’Donovan for Conlan (65); S Collins for Honan (70).
Subs for Limerick: S Tobin for O’Shaughnessy (63); N Maher for Moran (70).
Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary