Saturday 23 September 2017

Strange sequence can get 'flat' Treaty pumped up for derby

Former Limerick defender Stephen McDonagh. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Former Limerick defender Stephen McDonagh. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It's an extraordinary sequence that Clare will want to ignore because if it continues on a similar course to the past 26 years, Limerick are guaranteed to win Sunday's Munster hurling semi-final in Thurles.

Remarkably, victory has alternated between the counties in 12 Championship meetings since 1991. It leaves them 6-6 and given that Clare won last year's All-Ireland qualifier tie, Limerick will be hoping the pattern of alternate wins applies again.

Clare are favourites to complete the first two-in-a-row between the counties since Limerick won in 1990 and '91 and book a place in the provincial final for the first time since 2008.

Insipid

That assessment is based on Limerick's insipid performance against Galway in the Allianz League semi-final, having finished third in Division 1B. Clare finished fifth in 1A before winning a relegation play-off with Dublin.

Limerick's repeated failure to escape from 1B has damaged their stock in the ranking market, leaving supporters unsure what to expect in this Championship.

An unexpected win over Cork in the League quarter-final provided encouragement but it was cancelled out by the poor showing against Galway, which ended in a 10-point defeat.

"That was very disappointing. We were expecting a big performance but it didn't happen at all. We have seen Galway move on again since then but that game left Limerick people feeling very flat," says former star defender Stephen McDonagh. "The mood has been very quiet since then - as quiet as I've seen it."

Still, the sight of a Clare jersey will send a surge of determination coursing through Limerick veins, and while the fierce rivalry between the counties is always a great leveller, McDonagh believes that Clare are at a more advanced stage in squad development.

"There would be a view that Clare have underperformed since winning the 2013 All-Ireland title and I'd say the lads themselves think that too," he says.

"Everyone would have thought they would a big force in the Championship for years after that but it hasn't happened - not so far at least.

"Being realistic, you'd still have to say they are a bit ahead of Limerick. Then again, as results have shown over the years, there's usually little enough between the teams."

Indeed, it's quite common for either side to win against the odds, a pattern that has shown up quite often in the rotation since the early '90s. Limerick beat Clare quite easily in the 1994 Munster final, but Clare beat them just as convincingly in the following year's decider.

In 1996 Clare, then the reigning All-Ireland champions, were clear favourites in the Munster semi-final, only to lose to Ciarán Carey's famous late point.

Limerick went into the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final as Munster champions but were well beaten by Clare, who had come through the qualifiers. The Banner were fancied in the 2015 Munster quarter-final but lost by a point.

"What happened in the past doesn't matter very much when Clare and Limerick meet," reasons McDonagh, who is expecting new Limerick manager John Kiely to apply a youthful look to the starting 15.

"We've got to be patient. There are a lot of very good young players in the county and the only way you can find out if they will make it at senior level is to give them a chance."

McDonagh pays little attention to Clare's close call with relegation, believing that joint-managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor targeted Sunday's game at the start of the year.

"It was all about June 4 for Clare," he said. "They haven't won many Munster games in recent years and would have seen this as a great chance to reach the final. Of course our lads are looking at it in the same way - the prize for the winners is huge."

CLARE v LIMERICK

It's 6-6 in an every-second-game sequence since 1991

2016: Clare 0-19 Limerick 0-15 (Qualifiers)

2015: Limerick 1-19 Clare 2-15 (Munster q/f)

2013: Clare 1-22 Limerick 0-18 (All-Ireland s/f)

2012: Limerick 3-18 Clare 1-20 (Qualifiers)

2008: Clare 4-12 Limerick 1-16 (Munster s/f)

2007: Limerick 1-23 Clare 1-16 (All-Ireland q/f)

2006: Clare 2-21 Limerick 0-10 (Qualifiers)

1996: Limerick 1-13 Clare 0-15 (Munster s/f)

1995: Clare 1-17 Limerick 0-11 (Munster f)

1994: Limerick 0-25 Clare 2-10 (Munster f)

1993: Clare 3-16 Limerick 3-12 (Munster q/f)

1991: Limerick 0-21 Clare 1-15 (Munster q/f)

Irish Independent

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