Clare repel Treaty tide
Clare 0-15 Limerick 0-13
Munster SFC quarter-final After a brilliant first-half performance from Clare, Limerick took an age at half-time to digest what their opponents had rammed down their throats before roaring back and coming up just short.
After the interval, Clare were on the field for close to five minutes before Limerick emerged from the darkness of the tunnel as a completely new team.
They were only five points down and had the breeze to come but Clare were still in such total control that this match looked done and dusted. Yet once Limerick finally found a spark to fire up their hearts and minds, the match ignited in a blaze with 20 minutes remaining.
Limerick charged at Clare like a rhinoceros. Clare were penned back against the fence and hanging on for their lives but they summoned enough resolve to get over the line. Limerick had all the momentum and the clock on their side when Ian Ryan reduced the deficit to one point on 61 minutes.
When Clare dug in and goalkeeper Brian Scanlon pared the deficit back to a point again with time almost up, Clare were staggering but they kept their heads. Keelan Sexton, a minor this year, picked out Cathal McInerney with a crossfield ball and McInerney got Clare home.
McInerney was one of four Clare players with All-Ireland senior hurling medals from 2013 on the pitch (with a fifth on the bench) and that experience was critical down the home straight. When Clare were gasping for air, Davy O'Halloran got on a lot of ball while McInerney settled them with the last two scores.
"We started really well and should have been more ahead at half-time," said Clare manager Colm Collins, who watched the game from beside the TV cameras while serving a suspension. "We went in with a comfortable lead but Limerick showed great spirit and came right back at us. The overall thing from the Clare players' point of view that it was tremendous to dig out a result."
After being wiped out at midfield in the opening half, Limerick changed to a short kick-out strategy after the break and gradually picked Clare off with a hard and incisive running game. Their discipline was also a crucial factor because they only conceded one scoreable free over the 70 minutes.
Ultimately, Limerick just ran out of road after leaving themselves too much ground to make up. "We just didn't perform in the first half but the second half was very encouraging," said Limerick manager John Brudair. "We played to the level we wanted to play.
"We were fortunate to be still in touch at half-time but at the end, we let them off the hook. With five or ten minutes to go we had a couple of scoring opportunities that if we'd nailed and got level, I think we'd have gone on to draw or win the game."
Clare fully deserved the win but when their stranglehold at midfield disappeared after the break, they couldn't get their best forwards on the ball. Podge Collins made 15 first-half plays. His work rate was brilliant but Collins was still restricted to just six plays after the break. Limerick won the kick-out stat 12-6 in that period but limiting Gary Brennan's influence was critical to Limerick's second-half resurgence.
In the first half, Brennan underlined his status as one of the game's outstanding players. Although his midfield partner Cathal O'Connor dominated the opening 20 minutes, especially on the Limerick kick-out, Brennan gradually began to assert his authority. From 19 first-half plays, he kicked four points from play and had a hand in another score.
Limerick switched Darragh Treacy onto Brennan after the break in an adhesive man-marking job, and also kept the ball away from him. Brennan was carrying a hamstring strain and was limited to just eight plays but he still won two kick-outs and set up a point.
Clare's bench was ultimately the difference. Along with McInerney and O'Halloran's steadying hands, Rory Donnelly kicked two good points while young Sexton also stood up.
The Banner led by 0-9 to 0-4 at half-time, which was built on absolute control around the middle third. Their half-forward line, particularly Shane Brennan and Jamie Malone, had two of the highest possession counts on the pitch, but when Clare broke from defence, they did so at pace and with large numbers of support runners.
Limerick struggled to manufacture anything decent from their handful of attacks and their sole first half-wide was more a reflection of their struggles than their conversion rate. Yet Limerick completely upped their energy and intensity after the restart and it was game on with 20 minutes still to play.
Limerick were surging forward with their tide of possession but Clare's defensive levees refused to crack.
Scorers - Clare: G Brennan 0-4; C McInerney (1f), R Donnelly, E Cleary 0-2 each; C O'Connor ('45), Sean Collins, P Collins, J Malone, S Brennan 0-1 each. Limerick: I Ryan 0-4 (2fs); B Scanlon 0-3 (2 '45s, 1f); P Nash 0-2; R Browne, S Cahill, D Neville, C Sheehan 0-1 each.
Clare - J Hayes; C Russell, K Harnett, M McMahon; S Hickey, G Kelly, D Ryan; G Brennan, C O'Connor; Sean Collins, J Malone, S Brennan; E Cleary, P Collins, P Burke. Subs: Stephen Collins for Hickey (h-t), R Donnelly for S Brennan (39), D O'Halloran for Malone (BC, 47), C McInerney for Cleary (58), C Dunning for Stephen Collins (67), K Sexton for Burke (69).
Limerick - B Scanlon; S O'Dea, J McCarthy, R Browne; I Corbett, C Fahy, S Cahill; T Lee, G Hegarty; J Riordan, P Ranahan, D Treacy; P Nash, S Buckley, I Ryan. Subs: D Neville for Lee (36), C Sheehan for Riordan (h-t), K Moore for Ranahan (57), G Noonan for Browne (62), K Phair for Nash (BC, 71).
Ref - D O'Mahoney (Tipperary)