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Limerick 1-19 Clare2-15: Munster SHC quarter-final

Published 25/05/2015 | 02:30

Limerick manager TJ Ryan jumps for joy after Graeme Mulcahy's goal
Limerick manager TJ Ryan jumps for joy after Graeme Mulcahy's goal
Limerick’s Cian Lynch bursts past Clare’s Domhnall O’Donovan at Semple Stadium
A melee breaks out which results in Clare’s Pat Donnellan being shown a red card
Clare’s Pat Donnellan being shown a red card by referee Colm Lyons
Limerick goalscorer Graeme Mulcahy

If this is a taster of what's to come, then hurling fans are in for a special summer feast.

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Sure, there were times when the quality of play in Semple Stadium lacked refinement, but it was more than compensated for by the relentless intensity and the sheer determination of both sides to get their championship campaign off to a winning start.

There were lots of intriguing sub-plots too, arising from two dismissals, Clare's resolute recovery, Limerick's impressive persistence, a disputed point and a controversy at the end when confusion arose over the length of stoppage time added on.

One minute was flagged on the electronic board but it was later shown with the figure 4. However, referee Colm Lyons played only 90 seconds, much to Clare's dismay.

The explanation given was that 4 referred to the withdrawal of Limerick corner-back, Seamus Hickey, who was replaced in the 66th minute, and not to the amount of stoppage time.

It was all very unsatisfactory and should not happen in any game, let alone the first round of the Munster SHC. After all, how hard can it be to get the substitution boards right?

Descent

When it all settled, Limerick were heading home to prepare for the semi-final clash with Tipperary, while Clare withdrew to reflect on why they are finding it so hard to get their fingers on the parachute cord and stop a descent, which has been going on for the last 13 months.

Their league win over Dublin in March remains Clare's only win from their last 11 competitive games, a scenario which seemed utterly improbable when they topped the 1A table in March 2014 as All-Ireland champions.

Much has changed since then, not least in terms of their confidence levels. There's a degree of uncertainty in their game nowadays, which makes everything so much harder for them.

In those trying circumstances, the last thing they needed yesterday was to have another heavy load hoisted on their backs. But that's exactly what happened just before half-time when Patrick Donnellan was sent off for striking Donal O'Grady as a melee erupted close to the sideline.

Referee Colm Lyons dismissed Donnellan just before the teams jostled their way down the tunnel, with Limerick leading by 0-9 to 0-8. It was a significant development as it left Clare, who had played against the wind in the first half, facing an even bigger handicap after the interval.

Typically, their response was doggedly defiant - they actually led by a point after 41 minutes - before running into a green storm.

By the time it blew itself out, Limerick were leading by 1-16 to 0-13, the goal coming from Graeme Mulcahy in the 52nd minute after he got the better of Domhnall O'Donovan and Patrick Kelly under a lobbing ball.

It left Clare facing the possibility of a morale-sapping wipe-out and, once again, they reacted positively.

Sub Aaron Cunningham scored two goals in an 11-minute spell and when Shane O'Donnell pointed in the 66th minute, it was all square. Only one point followed, crucially going Limerick's way, when sub John Fitzgibbon hit the target in the 68th minute.

By then, they too were under-manned, having lost sub Sean Tobin seconds after he came on for O'Grady in the 56th minute. He lashed out at Pat O'Connor in a moment of recklessness, which could have proved very costly. But then, Donnellan was equally rash at a time when Clare should have been counting the seconds down to the interval and an assessment of how they might use the wind constructively in the second half.

Donnellan will miss Clare's All-Ireland qualifier on July 4, while Tobin will be ineligible for Limerick's clash with Tipperary on June 21.

Donnellan's absence is another worry for Clare, who were without the suspended Brendan Bugler yesterday. Perhaps even more significantly, they missed Colm Galvin, currently in the US, and the injured Conor McGrath.

The absence of the latter two robbed Clare of power and mobility around midfield and also reducing their attacking threat.

Shane O'Donnell did well off a limited supply; John Conlon had some good moments and sub, Cunningham made a big impression, but the fluidity which underpinned Clare's attacking play in the successful All-Ireland run two years ago remains frustratingly elusive.

Limerick were sloppy at times too but, on the positive side, there were hugely valuable contributions from full-forward trio, Cian Lynch, Graeme Mulcahy and Shane Dowling, who scored a total of 1-15.

All of Dowling's 11 points came from placed balls, including a disputed point from a free in the 62nd minute. The umpires appeared uncertain before flagging a point, which appeared to be the correct decision.

Lynch, a wonderful young talent whose touch and timing make him a joy to watch, marked his championship debut by scoring three points.

Some of his flicks were electrifying and once he grows accustomed to the demands of the highest level, his value to Limerick will be incalculable.

Yesterday's experience will have been hugely beneficial to him, but then it will also have given the whole squad a new sense of self-belief after a disappointing league, during which they failed to escape from Division 1B, before losing heavily to Dublin in the quarter-final.

All those bad memories were banished yesterday as Limerick once again launched the championship with a well-constructed win.

Clare, in contrast, left Thurles ankle-deep in frustration. Davy Fitzgerald insisted that they didn't deserve to lose, but the reality is that for a second successive year, they failed to survive their first game in Munster.

Of course, that doesn't mean they won't exert a major influence on the All-Ireland series later on, as the margin was so tight yesterday that they could count themselves unlucky not to earn a draw at least.

Scorers - Limerick: S Dowling 0-11 (10f, 1'65'), G Mulcahy 1-1, C Lynch 0-3, P O'Brien, S O'Brien, T Condon, J Fitzgibbon 0-1 each. Clare: A Cunningham 2-1, Colin Ryan 0-7 (5f), J Conlon, T Kelly 0-2 each, S Golden, D Reidy, S O'Donnell 0-1 each.

Limerick - B Hennessy 7; S Walsh, 7, R McCarthy 6, S Hickey 7; S O'Brien 7, G O'Mahony 7, T Condon 8; J Ryan 7, P O'Brien 7; D O'Grady 6, D Hannon, 6, P Browne 6; G Mulcahy 8, S Dowling 8, C Lynch 9. Subs: S Tobin for O'Grady (56), D Morrissey for Walsh (62), W McNamara for Hickey (66), J Fitzgibbon for Ryan (66), K Downes for Browne (71).

Clare - P Kelly 6; D O'Donovan 5, C Dillon 6, D McInerney 6; J Browne 7, Conor Ryan 7, P Donnellan 4; P O'Connor 7, G O'Connell 6, S Golden 6, T Kelly 7, Colin Ryan 7; D Reidy 6, S O'Donnell 8, J Conlon 8. Subs: A Cunningham 9 for Reidy (48), S Morey 6 for O'Donovan (54), B Duggan 5 for O'Connell (58), D Honan for Golden (67), N O'Connell for Kelly (69).

Ref - C Lyons (Cork)

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