Limerick 2-19 Clare 1-15
Clare’s dream of a fourth successive Munster U-21 hurling final appearance was comprehensively killed at Cusack Park on Tuesday evening.
The visitors led from the second minute when Michael Ryan had their opening goal and while the home side fought back to within two points on a couple of occasions, the physically stronger Shannonsiders always looked to be in control.
The foundations for the win were laid in the middle third of the field where the winners dominated the half-back, midfield and half-forward sectors.
They settled much quicker and Michael Ryan exposed weaknesses in the Clare defence when he got through for the opening goal in the second minute. Clare replied, straight from the puckout, with a Paudge Collins point but the visitors then hit four unanswered points to go six clear by the tenth minute.
The home side enjoyed their best spell in the next ten minutes and they struck four unanswered points to cut the deficit to two with ten minutes to play in the half. A foul on Tony Kelly as he raced away from his marker presented Conor McGrath with his first free in the thirteenth minute and he duly converted.
Minor captain Kelly, one of Clare’s more impressive performers on the evening, pointed at the mid-point of the half and like scores quickly followed from Cathal McInerney and McGrath, cutting the deficit to two. Clare hopes were rising but five unanswered Limerick points in the closing five minutes of the half sent the visitors to the break leading by seven and Clare with a mountain to climb.
For the second half, the home side made a number of changes. Aidan Lynch was introduced at centre-forward and Davy O’Halloran was in at corner-forward. Tony Kelly moved to midfield to partner Liam Markham.
Clare needed to start well and this they did with O’Halloran signalling his arrival with a point in the opening minute. The biggest cheer of the night went up in the third minute when Conor McGrath created the opening for his Cratloe clubmate Cathal McInerney to score Clare’s goal. When Tony Kelly added an excellent point after good work by Liam Markham, Clare hopes were on the up again.
However, they failed to maintain this form and by the mid-point of the half, Limerick had pushed their lead out to five points. Still, the home side were in contention but their hopes of victory took a major hit 11 minutes from time.
Full-back Patrick O’Connor lost possession as he raced away from goal and Limerick captain Kevin Downes pounced to score his side’s second goal and kill off the game as a contest. While each side managed four points in the last ten minutes, that goal knocked the heart out of the Clare challenge.
Patrick Begley, son of former Clare footballer Pat, who also managed the Clare senior football side for two seasons, Cian Hayes, Alan Dempsey, Sean O’Brien, Shane Dowling, Michael Ryan, Declan Hannon and team captain Kevin Downes were always prominent for the winners who lined out without the injured Graeme Mulcahy and James O’Brien.
In a Clare defence that was under pressure throughout, Diarmuid Nash and Patrick O’Connor got through some good work. Liam Markham won a lot of possession at midfield but his delivery to the forwards wasn’t always the best. Up front Conor McGrath and Tony Kelly were best for the home side.
Limerick: Aaron Murphy; Alan Dempsey, Patrick Begley, Steve O’Reilly; Cathal McNamara, Cian Hayes, Tom O’Callaghan; Conor Allis, Seanie O’Brien; Shane Dowling, Declan Hannon, Niall Kennedy; Michael Ryan, Kevin Downes (capt), William Giffin.
Cathal Chaplin (Broadford), Stephen O’Halloran (Clarecastle); Conor Ryan (Cratloe), Liam Markham (Cratloe); Cathal McInerney (Cratloe) Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge), Tony Kelly (Ballyea); Paudge Collins (Cratloe), Conor McGrath (Cratloe), Fergus Kennedy (Crusheen).
Subs: Davy O’Halloran (Éire Óg) for Kennedy (half time); Aidan Lynch (Ruan) for C Ryan (half time); John Fennessy (Sixmilebridge) for Golden (40 minutes).
Referee: Colm Lyons, Cork.