By Michael O Connor.
Real talent in a Limerick forward line aided by the concession of three goals ended Clare’s interest in senior hurling for 2012. It was a unspoken perception in Limerick and in hurling circles that John Allen was as keen on a solid run in the championship as much as the league. Winning was important but not crucial as Limerick on a summer Saturday booked their quarter final slot on July 29th.
The immense changes on the Clare team in the space of one game between the Munster semi final against Waterford and this encounter with Limerick saw 7 different players as Enda Barrett, James McInerney, Jonathan Clancy, Colin Ryan, Paudge Collins, Pat O Connor and Conor Cooney were replaced due to injury or otherwise. Four of the Clare team on 2011 started as many older players who started the season eyeing up top 20 jersies were out of the equation when it came to the serious end of the year.
Much was being made by commentators on the potential that possibly existed in this Limerick side in the forward ranks as they left Seamus Hickey (defender), Declan Hannon and Kevin Downes on the replacements bench. All three were introduced with Hannon in particular delivering when asked.
The good will engendered from the Dublin win had Clare supporters buoyant of further improvement yet respectful of the fact that Limerick apparently had endured the same early season work done when the two sides had met so often.
The onfield clash between David Fitzgerald and John Allen in the league final added much to the anticipation of a tense hard hitting encounter in Semple Stadium that led many to suggest that extra time might be a probability before a result would be decided.
Clare hit the scoreboard first as Tony Kelly after a smart handpass from John Conlon in the first minute. Niall Moran with the first of three points in seven minutes gave Cian Dillon worrying moments throughout the hour as the entire Limerick full forward line were playing 30 yards from the Clare goal looking for loose ball in behind the Clare half back line. Nicky O Connell (free) hit Limerick’s second score before Wayne McNamara soloed 70yards unhindered and buried the ball past Patrick Kelly. Niall Moran (2) plus scores from 2011 minors Cunningham and Galvin left Clare (1-3) to (0-4) adrift after 8 minutes.
Nicky O Connell and Graeme Mulcahy exchanged scores before Patrick Kelly engineered a vital body block to deny Limerick a second goal courtesy of Seanie Tobin as the Limerick forwards were making the Clare full back earn their crust. John Conlon who laboured to produce the heroics of the Dublin game, Shane Dowling and Gavin O Mahony were on target as Cian Dillon and Niall Moran were booked after a prolonged melee in the Clare goalmouth. Colm Galvin and Conor McGrath (2) who was starved of possession for the second week running as Honan appeared to be the designated target man with little success were on the scoresheet by the 26th minute as the sides were level on (1-6) to (0-9)
This was the best of what Clare had to offer on the scoresheet as they hit seven in a row between the 23rd and 31st minutes as Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan and Conor McGrath (2) finished off this scoring spree to spring four clear after being three points in arrears.
Clare really struggled in the air and Limerick’s second goal came after a brace of Dowling frees when a high ball sent into the Clare square was doubled to the net by Sean Tobin with a timed run and jump. Limerick were now (2-9) to (0-13) with the last score of the half falling to Tony Kelly as Clare were behind by the minimum (2-9) to (0-14) but looking most unsure of even creating a sure goal chance.
Neither team executed any changes at the interval and it was Nicky O Connell who struck for a 60m free after John Conlon was fouled seconds into the new half. Seanie Tobin from play responded for the shannonsiders before the game’s third goal. Over the 70 minutes Clare were guilty of 8 wides as opposed to 6 for Limerick but Limerick will feel that they squandered two more goal chances as well at the hat trick they claimed.
A cross field ball contested by Moran and O Connell was flicked across the square by O Connell into the onrushing path of Declan Hannon who first timed past Kelly. Within seconds the crumbling edifice of the Clare full back line was eroded with Cian Dillon conceding two points to Moran and when Graeme Mulcahy added a truly stunning effort from the corner Clare had let in (1-4) in four minutes.
Limerick let Clare back into the game as Nicky O Connell and Conor McGrath but it was a brief interlude with Limerick due to Clare indiscretions adding two more Shane Dowling frees before Colm Galvin with his third score left Limerick (3-15) to (0-18) ahead with twenty minutes to play. The intensity in play increased but neither side created a chance until Darach Honan forced a save from Quaid. A free from resulting action was hit by Kelly but again saved by Quaid. Shane Dowling and Clare sub Jonathan Clancy hit minors to leave 6 points in the game with four minutes of normal time.
The game was up for grabs when at the third attempt Tony Kelly hit the net from a close in free with three minutes to go. Kevin Downes took the pressure off with a great score but when Conor McGrath hit another free as the game went into injury time a chance still remained for Clare as the shannonsiders lived dangerously. A harsh free given against Brendan Bugler as he fell to the ground for handling the ball or throwing the ball allowed Shane Dowling to put the game beyond the reach of Clare as Limerick march onto the last 6.
LIMERICK: Nicky Quaid, Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy, Tom Condon, Wayne McNamara (1-0), Donal O Grady, Gavin O Mahony (0-1), James Ryan, Paudie O Brien, Shane Dowling (0-8), Brian Geary, David Breen, Graeme Mulcahy (0-2), Niall Moran (0-5), Sean Tobin (1-1). Subs: Kevin Downes (0-1) for Tobin, Shane O Neill for Condon, Declan Hannon(1-0) for Geary, Seamus Hickey for Ryan, Tom Ryan for Mulcahy
CLARE: Patrick Kelly, Domhnall O Donovan, Cian Dillon, Seadna Morey, Brendan Bugler (0-1), Pat Donnellan (0-1), Nicky O Connell (0-4), Sean Collins, Colm Galvin (0-3), Fergal Lynch, John Conlon (0-1), Tony Kelly (1-2), Aaron Cunningham (0-1), Darach Honan, Conor McGrath (0-6). Subs: Liam Markham for Collins, Colin Ryan for Aaron Cunningham, Jonathan Clancy (0-1) for Honan
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).