By Michael O Connor.
If championships were awarded in January Clare would be regular finalists such is their impressive record in pre season challenges in the last season or so. Already this season Clare have overcame LIT, drew with Dublin, hammered Kerry with a third string so much so that the order went out to take points and this latest win over Limerick.
There is little doubt that Clare will be hitting the league with much intent next month. Whilst public utterances may suggest survival will be a success privately a place in the Div 1 semi final will be demanded. Clare were without their under 21 hurlers as they were on a deserved weekend away as a gift for their 2012 success. Limerick for their part are not as prolific starters early season and were missing a number of key starters in this challenge played before a crowd of 500 in LIT sports ground on Saturday morning.
Match referee McAllister let the sides away with a lot of steps that would be punished in competitive fare and even though Clare were the better side once again the over play when on the attack cost scores as the third and fourth pass often went astray. When the possession game works Clare are quite proficient but when it breaks down against better side Clare suffer.
Sean Collins opened the scoring after a minute before Limerick veteran Niall Moran and Seanie O Brien responded to send the Shannonsiders into a short lived lead. Five scores in seven minutes from Clare’s Colin Ryan (3), Nicky O Connell and John Conlon left Clare comfortable (0-6) to (0-2) ahead at the end of the first quarter. Paudie O Brien and John Conlon exchanged scores as Limerick began to slow down the Banner sides advances as the first half defending better but ironically gave away the game’s two goals in the final moments of the half.
Declan Hannon and Adrian Breen tagged on scores in the 21st and 23rd minutes to leave only two points between the sides the closest it became in the game. Jonathan Clancy with two in a row and Shane O Donnell were on target before O Donnell and Clancy created the goal chance executed well by Sean Collins as Clare raced (1-10) to (0-5) ahead. Hannon struck for a minor before Alan O Neill hit the second goal of the game as Clare led a (2-10) to (0-6) advantage with two minutes remaining in the first half. Declan Hannon rifled a free off the Clare crossbar as Nicky O Connell had the final score to leave Limerick in arrears (2-11) to (0-7) at the break.
Limerick introduced five or more second half replacements and scored four of the second half’s first five scores as Shane Dowling (3) and David Reidy brought cheers from the large Limerick support. Sean Collins was the lone Clare scorer. Patrick Kelly replaced Liam Markham at this interval and indeed the former NUIG and WIT Fitzgibbon winner did well at left half back. Collins and Reidy exchanged scores before Colin Ryan and Barry O Connell did likewise at the end of the third quarter to leave Clare (2-14) to (0-13) ahead. Nicky O Connell was the star act in the last quarter as just like in American football he was set up for the scores by moving into loose space waiting for the back pass. Clare introduced two of their elder lemons with Fergal Lynch and Mark Flaherty going into the full forward line.
Cillian Duggan who had a busy and confident display at corner back was replaced by Colin Nelson who is on the LIT panel as Pat Donnellan improved at centre back as the game went on. Limerick were unlucky not to score one second half goal and missed a number of scorable chances as did Clare in the last ten minutes. It mattered little as no one will remember this game next month. Nicky O Connell hit four points in the last ten minutes with responses from Shane Dowling (2), David Reidy who did well in the second halfand Paudie Ahern as Clare ended six points ahead at the long whistle.
Best for Clare were Donal Touhy, Cillian Duggan, Pat Donnellan, Colin Ryan, Nicky O Connell, Sean Collins, Alan O Neill in patches and Jonathan Clancy in the first half. Limerick’s subs scored 11 points when introduced suggesting that they were holding a little in reserve. Both sides have different agenda’s with Limerick needing a win from Division 2 and Clare needing to hit the ground running in the premier grade.
CLARE: Donal Touhy, Cillian Duggan, James McInerney, Conor Cooney, Brendan Bugler , Pat Donnellan, Liam Markham, Colin Ryan (0-4), Nicky O Connell (0-6), John Conlon (0-2), Sean Collins (1-3), Enda Barrett, Shane O Donnell (0-1), Alan O Neill (1-0), Jonathan Clancy (0-2). Subs: Patrick Kelly for Touhy, Pat Kelly for Markham, Colin Nelson for Duggan, Mark Flaherty for O Donnell, Fergal Lynch for O Neill
LIMERICK: Aaron Murphy, Alan Dempsey, Pat Begley, Shane O Neill, Steve Walsh, Wayne McNamara, Cathal King, Paudie O Brien (0-1), David Moloney, Declan Hannon (0-3), David Breen, Seanie O Brien (0-1), Mike Ryan, Niall Moran (0-1), Adrian Breen (0-1). Subs used: Nicky Quaid, Mark Carmody, Tom Condon, Barry O Connell (0-1), Shane Dowling (0-5), David Reidy (0-4), Paudie Ahern (0-1), Mark O Connell.
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).