Limerick step up to the plate for O'Grady
The Donal O'Grady era began yesterday for Limerick with a convincing statement of intent.
From the warm-up in Ennis, Limerick's attitude reflected a team that meant business, while their method and play mirrored the personality and core coaching philosophy of their manager; efficient, organised, together, defensively sound.
Limerick were light years ahead of Clare in how they played as a unit, with all of their men playing with their heads up and continually looking to take the right option with the ball.
Limerick had more experience and they physically dominated the game, but O'Grady's fingerprints were still clearly visible in all aspects of their play.
Their defence gobbled up Clare's attack while Limerick's midfielders, Paul Browne and Donal O'Grady, largely bossed the game. There were also tints of Cork's old style evident in some of their support play.
Moreover, when Kevin Downes had a goal chance late on, he tried to bat the ball to the net; that was a ploy routinely practised in Cork under O'Grady, and which was often used to devastating effect later under John Allen.
The performance was all the more impressive given that O'Grady's team was a fusion of the players which were on both sides of the divide after the split in the squad under Justin McCarthy. Two of the standout performers were full-back Stephen Lucey and centre-back Seamus Hickey, both of whom didn't play for Limerick last year.
"Honestly, I don't know if there was pressure on the returning players to put in a big performance," said O'Grady afterwards. "Everyone was under pressure to perform, including the backroom team. We didn't overkill it, but everyone going out on the field was aware of what they were expected to do.
"I was honest when I said last week that I didn't know where we were at. The performance was what we were looking for, but the two points are handy. It comes down to work rate and there's an awful lot of credit due to the lads themselves. They've worked really hard. You'd have to be pleased.
"Any time you win a match, there's a bit more of a buzz there, a bit more of a lift. All these things are important. Confidence is important."
On the other hand, this was a complete horror show from Clare. They only managed one point from play, while their often woeful use of possession, lack of movement and cohesion up front, combined with the deficit in leadership, physicality and team-work has left the players and management with a huge amount of soul-searching to do.
"Notwithstanding that Limerick played well, we were just diabolical," said Clare manager Ger O'Loughlin. "We have to say that overall, we're rightly down in Division 2 based on that display. We deserve to be there.
"In fairness to Limerick they wanted it badly and we didn't stand up to them. We let the ball out of our full-forward line far too easily. We allowed their full-back line and half-back line to dictate, especially in the first half. We regrouped for the second half but overall we've no excuses."
Underfoot conditions were made extremely difficult due to a torrential downpour at the outset of the game, but Limerick got the perfect start after just three minutes with a goal from a penalty from Richie McCarthy. Although McCarthy hit five wides, he went on to notch 1-5.
Limerick's first score from play didn't arrive until the 19th minute, but they had clearly established their dominance by that stage. They were completely on top around the middle third and in a period before half-time, they won six successive Clare puckouts and soon began to cash in on their glut of possession.
Their second goal arrived on 29 minutes after Downes showed great composure to pick out Graham Mulcahy under pressure with a measured pass. Mulcahy made no mistake from close range and Limerick were cruising at half-time, 2-4 to 0-1.
Clare picked up the pace in the third quarter but they couldn't make it count on the scoreboard and they finished the half with seven wides. Even their free-taking malfunctioned at times, with six missed frees in total over the 70 minutes. The one chance they had to get back into the game came in the 59th minute, but Nicky Quaid made a fine save from Darach Honan.
Inexperience is clearly a factor for Clare at the moment. Only three of the 19 players they used are over 24, but yesterday's performance was a whole new level of reality. With an away trip to come next week against Antrim, Clare need to get themselves sorted out, and fast.
"We have to travel to Antrim and try to grind out a result up there," said O'Loughlin. "If we don't improve 100pc on what we saw today, we'll struggle. Our backs are to the wall, we let a lot of people down today with our display. Maybe in a couple of weeks we mightn't even be talking about this match. But as of now it's a bitter pill to swallow."
For a Limerick team starting out under O'Grady, the taste was far sweeter.
Scorers -- Limerick: R McCarthy 1-5 (1-0 pen, 4f), G Mulcahy 1-1, K Downes , D O'Grady, J Ryan 0-1 each. Clare: C McGrath (2f), N O'Connell (1f, 1 '65') 0-2 each, J McInerney (1,f), F Lynch 0-1 each.
Limerick -- N Quaid; S Walsh, S Lucey, D Moloney; W McNamara, S Hickey, D Breen; D O'Grady, P Browne; R McCarthy, J Ryan, N Moran; A O'Shaughnessy, K Downes, G Mulcahy. Subs: S Tobin for O'Shaughnessy (63), N Maher for Moran (69).
Clare -- D Tuohy; E Glynn, J McInerney, C Cooney; D O'Donovan, C Dillon, P Donnellan; N O'Connell, C Ryan; F Lynch, J Conlon, P O'Connor; D Honan, D McMahon, C McGrath. Subs: C McInerney for McMahon (33), M Earley for Ryan (h-t), C Morey for Lynch (50), C O'Donovan for Conlon (65), S Collins for Honan (69)
Ref -- J Ryan (Tipperary).