By Michael O Connor.
When Clare were last in a Munster final the Banner county was in the top four in the country at senior level and the minor team had reached its third Munster final in a row. Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair were just getting used to the trappings of power and Bill Clinton was coming to the end of his enjoyable stint in the White House. Since then the power of all as well as Clare has waned markedly yet maybe in a quiet way a small resurgence is occurring and step by step a new era not a profitable as the 90s but as competitive may be emerging.
A wave of quiet optimism had followed this minor team all year and even though defeat greeted them in Waterford a huge day for Clare hurling awaited when they accounted for Tipperary in the quarter final in dramatic circumstances that one could say drew the underage hurling support their way.
Clare started this game in the Gaelic Grounds in a fashion only a team manager can dream of. The Banner boys had four scores on the board after only five minutes and easily a goal could have gone in. James Shanahan, Daire Keane and Niall Arthur (2) were on target. Clare found themselves on the receiving end of impressive Limerick pressure as the Shannonsiders finally announced themselves at the fixture and it became a battle royal for the remaining 40 minutes.
After 17 minutes Clare were apparently coasting on a (1-7) to (0-2) lead but could have counted themselves more than fortunate to be a goal clear at the interval such was the improvement of Limerick and demise of Clare’s performance. John Fitzgibbon was responsible for the brace of Limerick scores. David O Halloran with a well taken goal added a point to give Clare real confidence. Paudge Collins and Niall Arthur tagged on points.
Limerick steadily chipped away and scored five points without reply in ten minutes action. Sean Kelly, Shane Dowling, John Fitzgibbon, Declan Hannon (2) were the scorers as Limerick got back into contention. Arthur and Hannon exchanged scores in the 30th minute as the visitors held onto a nervous but deserved (1-8) to (0-8) half time advantage. A free conceded by Stephen O Halloran when he was in fact fouled ended up in the Clare net after poor defending allowed Michael Ryan to poke home the dropping ball.
Within a minute centre forward Paudge Collins settled Clare nerves with a well taken score after earlier sending a scorable effort well wide. Shane Dowling, Tony Kelly and Declan Hannon after a mistake by Noel Purcell were all on target to leave the sides level after 39 minutes on (1-10) apiece. Clare had half a dozen wides hit in the first ten minutes of the second half. Niall Arthur missed a free before scoring the lead point in the 41st minute. The Clare full back line that starred in the quarter final were living on frayed nerves.
Clare were beginning to assume control of midfield once more and scores from David O Halloran and a stunner from Tony Kelly reaffirmed Clare’s superiority on the scoreboard. However Limerick did not lie down for long as Limerick bypassed midfield with long ball but bar a Declan Hannon score were chalking up the wides as Clare had managed in the opening minutes. After 48 minutes one could sense that Clare were going to win the game bar a collapse as they were good value for their (1-13) to (1-11) lead as Niall Arthur (2) and a stunning score from Kelly were the scorers.
Haulie Vaughan entered the game at corner back as Paul Flanagan moved to full with Noel Purcell making way. Clare had little scope for handling Declan Hannon when in full flight and to their credit they managed to crowd his space but ultimately he was the star turn on the night. Jamie Shanahan, Declan Hannon, Niall Arthur, Padraig Collins who had a storming second half and Niall Arthur all hit minors between the 48th and 58th minutes as Clare looked franked winners leading (1-17) to (1-12).
One last foray upfield by Hannon ended with the Adare man being fouled. The close range free was struck to the net by Shane Dowling as now Clare led by two points.
They are now guaranteed at least two more games in the championship but the pace of Thurles may yet worry this team as they struggled in this game. It was enough as Clare reached their first decider since 1999.
Best for the winners were Paul Flanagan, Stephen O Halloran, Enda Boyce, Tony Kelly, Niall Arthur from frees, Paudge Collins, and David O Halloran. Declan Hannon was the star of the show for the defeated with John Fitzgibbon, Brian Hannighan, Kevin O Donnell, Shane Dowling, Michael Ryan and Mark Carmody capable supporting cast members.
CLARE: Ronan Taaffe, Paul Flanagan, Noel Purcell, Seadna Morey, Enda Boyce, Kevin Lynch, Stephen O Halloran, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly (0-2), Cathal Malone, Padraig Collins (0-3), Jamie Shanahan (0-2), Daire Keane (0-1), Niall Arthur (0-8), David O Halloran (1-1). Subs: Alan Mulready for Cathal Malone, Haulie Vaughan for Purcell.
LIMERICK: Owen Webb O Rourke, Brian Murphy, Alan Dempsey, Brian Hannigan, Chris Riordan, Kevin O Donnell, Mark Carmody, Declan Hannon (0-6), Sean Kelly (0-1), Mike Fitzgibbon, Thomas Ryan, Dan Morrissey, John Fitzgibbon (0-3), Shane Dowling (1-2), Michael Ryan (1-0). Subs: David Murphy for O Riordan, Jack Mulcahy for Kelly, Brendan O Connor for Mulcahy, Richie Ryan for T Ryan, Jack Aherne for M Fitzgibbon,
REFEREE: David Copps (Ballyhea).