CLARE came back from the dead to seal a sensational victory in last night's gripping final at the Gaelic Grounds. Davy Fitzgerald's battlers were eight points down in the second half but still managed to dig out a two-point victory in front of 9,897 enthralled spectators.
And sparks flew in the first half as rivals bosses Davy Fitzgerald and John Allen clashed on the touchline. Soon after, Limerick midfielder James Ryan was booked after barrelling into Fitzgerald beneath the Mackey Stand.
Those exchanges were indicative of the high stakes in last night's game -- with promotion to Division 1A the big prize -- and Clare did it the hard way, with Nicky O'Connell slotting over a stoppage time '65' before top scorer Conor McGrath popped over his 10th free of the night, and 12th point in all.
Conor McGrath opened the scoring last night with a free in the very first minute. But Dowling, who was Limerick's most impressive performer during their 1-13 to 2-24 defeat to the same opponents in the group stages, was quickly into his stride with the equalising score and he would add six more before half-time.
Limerick, without the services of forward pair Declan Hannon and Kevin Downes, as well as soon to return defender Seamus Hickey, dominated the early exchanges and with Dowling leading the way, the Shannonsiders were 0-11 to 0-5 clear after 28 minutes.
In stoppage-time at the end of the first half, Sean Collins spurned Clare's best chance, whipping a ground-stroke wide after McGrath had created the opening by selling a couple of beautiful dummies to Limerick defenders. Ten minutes after half-time, Limerick had turned a three-point half-time advantage into an eight-point lead. Shane Dowling buried an unstoppable 43rd-minute penalty before Graeme Mulcahy and sub Seanie O'Brien added points. But Clare came roaring back with a run of seven unanswered points to cut the gap back to one. Limerick stopped the rot through Ryan in the 57th minute before Treaty shotstopper Nickie Quaid denied Clare ace John Conlon with a superb save 10 minutes from time.
Nicky O'Connell pointed the '65' before Clare sub Aaron Cunningham tied the scores at 0-18 to 1-15 with less than 10 minutes remaining.
In a remarkable finish, Clare hit the front for the first time since the third minute when the classy McGrath flashed over a superb 66th minute point. Limerick sub Seanie O'Brien levelled matters again before Clare found the crucial scores at the death.
At half-time, Limerick led by 0-11 to 0-8 but Clare would have been happy enough, having been outplayed for spells in the opening half. Clare trailed by six points on two separate occasions in the first half and managed just two points from play before the break, both scored by Colin Ryan.
Scorers -- Clare: C McGrath 0-12 (10f), C Ryan 0-3, N O'Connell 0-3 (2 65s, 1f), P Donnellan, J Conlon, A Cunningham 0-1 each. Limerick: S Dowling 1-7 (1-0 pen, 0-4f, 0-1 '65'), G Mulcahy 0-3, S O'Brien 0-2, J Ryan, N Moran, T Quaid, K Downes 0-1 each
Clare: P Kelly; D O'Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney; B Bugler, J McInerney, P O'Connor; N O'Connell, P Donnellan; C Morey, S Collins, E Barrett; C Ryan, C McGrath, J Conlon. Sub: A Cunningham for Morey (51)
Limerick: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; W McNamara, D O'Grady, G O'Mahoney; P Browne, J Ryan; S Dowling, D Breen, C Allis; G Mulcahy, N Moran, T Quaid. Subs: S O'Brien for Breen (35+3), K Downes for Moran (h-t), S Tobin for T Quaid (41), M Ryan for Allis (61)
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly)