Misfiring Clare have enough in the tank to keep Limerick at bay
Clare 0-19 Limerick 0-15
Clare won't be winning any All-Irelands hurling like this, but they are where they wanted to be, successfully through the qualifiers and in an All-Ireland quarter-final in a fortnight's time. Judged by the poverty of the last two years, their recent League win aside, that marks some progress. But they'll need to improve if their interest in the championship is to proceed to August or beyond.
Limerick haven't been good for a while but carry a history of producing big performances when not expected. This wasn't good enough but they did show some fight and spirit, helped by a good start to both halves and a late rally as they went from seven points down at one point to move to within a goal of Clare on the hour mark.
Ultimately they hadn't enough cut and thrust up front and playing with five forwards the goal they needed to win rarely looked probable. In the first half, during one of their better phases, Graham Mulcahy fed Shane Dowling who looked destined to score but the vigilant Brendan Bugler, who had a huge match, raced back to the line to save.
While Limerick are in the process of transition, blending players in from last year's All-Ireland winning under 21 side, last night brought a recall for Richie McCarthy, who stormed into the match from the start as if intent on proving he should never have been dropped. Limerick made the early running, good scores from Kevin Downes and Darragh O'Donovan raising their hopes that this might be the start of something special.
Instead Clare, 0-2 to 0-5 down after 18 minutes, found their feet and wrenched control of the match. From there to half time they did all the scoring, landing nine points, with Podge Collins providing three and Shane O'Donnell chipping in with two more. David McInerney also helped stoke them from their slumber with an exceptional solo score, finishing after his first attempt was blocked by James Ryan.
They should have finished the match more ahead, and their shooting, with nine first half wides and five more in the second, needs attention before the quarter-finals. They sorely missed the injured Conor McGrath and John Conlon started brightly but faded and was replaced. Aaron Shanagher came into match after scoring 3-1 in the rout of Laois and had a point after 20 seconds but failed to score again. Yet, with Clare often going long, he became increasingly influential as the match went on, always showing and brave, and winning a penalty in the 67th minute.
By then Limerick, trailing 0-5 to 0-11 at the interval, had worked their way back from 0-7 to 0-14 down, to get within a goal of Clare. While within that kind of range they were always a danger but Tony Kelly elected to put the penalty over the bar and they held out reasonably comfortably in the five minutes of injury time played. Ryan popped over another Limerick score, but Kelly finished the scoring with his ninth point, from play.
The result could signal the end for Limerick manager TJ Ryan, who has overseen two disappointing league campaigns followed by a second poor championship. The momentum gained by their run to the All-Ireland semi-finals two years ago, culminating in a huge performance against Kilkenny, looks to have been lost.
Too many players didn't perform. Cian Lynch, who starred a year ago when Limerick beat Clare, was largely anonymous. Declan Hannon also looked a shadow of his former self, eventually taken off. One glaring exception was Diarmuid Byrnes, their half back, who put over three long range points and in injury time made a penetrating run in search of a life-saving goal. He did all he possibly could.
Limerick made two changes at half time, taking off O'Donovan and Hannon. The response was encouraging, with Gearoid Hegarty, one of the replacements, scoring within a minute of the restart. Dowling added a free, striking beautifully, and Limerick had renewed hope. Clare reacted to the danger: points by Kelly, both frees, and O'Donnell's third opening a 0-14 to 0-7 lead eight minutes into the second half.
Still they would not yield. Byrnes' rose to the challenge with excellent long range shooting, and on the hour mark Paul Browne had their third score in succession, leaving a goal between them. Limerick sensed an opportunity but failed to make more headway. Clare, with plenty room for improvement, had enough done for one day.
Scorers - Clare: T Kelly 0-9 (5f, 1 65, 1 pen), P Collins, S O'Donnell 0-3, A Shanagher, J Conlon, D McInerney, J Browne 0-1. Limerick: S Dowling 0-6 (5f, 1 65); D Byrnes 0-3, J Ryan 0-2, K Downes, D O'Donovan, G Hegarty, P Browne 0-1.
Clare: A Fahy; P O'Connor, C Dillon, J Browne; P O'Connor, D McInerney, B Bugler; D Reidy, C Galvin; C Cleary, P Collins, T Kelly; J Conlon, S O'Donnell, A Shanagher. Subs: A Cunningham for Conlon (47); D Fitzgerald for Bugler (65).
Limerick: N Quaid; T Condon, R McCarthy, R English; D Byrnes, G O'Mahony, P O'Brien; P Browne, D O'Donovan; D Hannon, J Ryan, C Lynch; K Downes, S Dowling, G Mulcahy.
Subs: T Morrissey for O'Donovan & G Hegarty for Hannon (half time); S Hickey for O'Brien (42); B Nash for Mulcahy (56); A Dempsey for English (60);
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).
Sunday Indo Sport