Fitzgerald grounded as Banner hit heights
Clare 2-24 Limerick 1-13
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DAVY Fitzgerald was eager to preach caution after watching his side demolish Limerick by 14 points at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday.
However, there was no disguising the fact that this appears to be a Clare team moving in the right direction under the meticulous guidance of the county's 1995 and '97 All-Ireland-winning goalkeeper.
While Fitzgerald was almost desperate to defuse expectations and heartfelt in his plea to the Clare public to remain grounded, there was nevertheless a cool glow of satisfaction emanating from the former Waterford boss.
Because this was not just good -- it was very good. Just a single point separated the two teams after a total of 170 minutes in the recent Waterford Crystal Cup quarter-final, but 14 points was the massive difference with the stakes much higher in this clash.
Conor McGrath was tormentor in chief -- the Cratloe hitman bagged 1-10 -- while John Conlon (scorer of 1-3 for Munster in the recent inter-provincial semi-final defeat to Leinster) opened up with four points from play in the second half. Both are All-Ireland U-21 medallists from 2009, and both are players of rich promise.
Overall, this is a Clare set-up full of potential, and when he took over late last year, Fitzgerald will have believed in his heart that the time was right.
He tried to stop the lid from blowing off a boiling pot on Saturday, but was moved enough by his team's performance to admit that "there could be something in them".
Niall Moran's early goal helped Limerick to lead by 1-6 to 0-4 after 21 minutes, but Clare exploded with a run of 1-8 without reply to turn a five-point deficit into a six-point lead.
A brace of scores before half-time from Limerick's most impressive forward Shane Dowling left the interval score at 1-12 to 1-8, but Clare bombed out of the traps again after the break to cruise home.
McGrath hit a 56th-minute goal to ensure that there was no way back for Limerick and that was that.
"When we went down five points, it wasn't looking great, but I had a feeling that we just hadn't got into gear," Fitzgerald said.
"We gave up a soft goal at the start and we know why that happened -- it was something that we had talked about for three to four weeks coming into this. But that will stand us in good stead going forward.
"But we recovered very well afterwards and they stuck to their stuff. How good were Limerick up to tonight? They just didn't seem interested after the first half, so I don't know. I can only think about our lads and they played really well, but Limerick again will be a different kettle of fish.
"It's only the first round of the League and there's no point in the people of Clare getting carried away. All they can expect -- and I said this from day one -- is a hard-working team.
"We still have things to work on and we still will have dips, but in the long run, the lads won't be too far away. But it's going to take time. There's no point getting carried away with this thing, but we're on the right track."
And that's all that Clare supporters can ask for from a developing bunch and a team laced with players fresh out of the underage ranks.
However, for Limerick boss John Allen the road ahead appears far less smooth. Like he did in Cork, Allen has decided to step into the shoes vacated by Donal O'Grady, and this was not the best way to start in front of 5,390 spectators on a chilly, but perfect, evening for hurling.
"We have no excuses. After 15 minutes it looked like we were going to dominate the game, but they started winning at midfield, started winning in the half-back line, and they over-ran us from then on," he said.
"We came back into it for a few minutes before half-time, but again they over-ran us in the second half. Absolutely no excuses, they were better than us all over the field, that's it."
Allen seemed almost taken aback by Clare's performance, which was infinitely improved from what they had previously shown this year.
"They had so much play that we were being beaten everywhere, it was like an avalanche at times. There's no doubt we are behind in sharpness but it's day one, we have to keep the heads up, focus on the next game," he said.
"This is over. If we can win the next four games we can make it to the final of this, but on that performance we have a lot of work to do."
Man of the Match: Conor McGrath (Clare)
Scorers -- Clare: C McGrath 1-10 (8f), C Ryan 1-1, J Conlon 0-4, N O'Connell 0-3, C McInerney, S Collins 0-2 each, P Donnellan, F Lynch 0-1. Limerick: S Dowling 0-7 (4f), J N Moran 1-1, C Allis 0-2 (1 sl), D O'Grady, J Ryan, K Downes 0-1 each.
CLARE -- P Kelly 6; D O'Donovan 7, C Dillon 7, C Cooney 7; J McInerney 7, P O'Connor 7, B Bugler 7; P Donnellan 8, N O'Connell 8; J Conlon 8, S Collins 7, F Lynch 7; C McInerney, 7 C Ryan 8, C McGrath 8. Subs: L Markham for Lynch (65), E Barrett for Bugler (65), C Galvin for Ryan (66).
LIMERICK -- N Quaid 6; P Browne 6, R McCarthy 6, T Condon 7; C Allis 6, W McNamara 6, G O'Mahony 5; D O'Grady 5, J Ryan 5; S Dowling 7, D Breen 6, S O'Brien 6; G Mulcahy 6, N Moran 7, M Ryan 6. Subs: P O'Brien 6 for J Ryan (9), S Walsh 6 for O'Mahony (h-t), K Downes 6 for S O'Brien (h-t), T Quaid 6 for M Ryan (46), J O'Brien 5 for O'Grady (62).
Ref -- J Ryan (Tipperary).