Sunday 25 February 2018

'Terrible' Clare edge through in dour contest

Clare 0-16 Limerick 0-13

Limerick’s Stephen Cahill tries to break the tackle of Clare’s Dean Ryan at the Gaelic Grounds. Photo: Sportsfile
Limerick’s Stephen Cahill tries to break the tackle of Clare’s Dean Ryan at the Gaelic Grounds. Photo: Sportsfile
Johnny McCarthy of Limerick is harried by Dean Ryan of Clare. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian O'Dea takes a shot at goal despite the attentions of Sean O'Dea. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Job done for Clare but definitely not in a manner that will contribute much to their confidence reserves as they prepare for the  assignment against Kerry in Killarney in a fortnight’s time.

Manager Colm Collins was refreshingly honest after watching his side stretched to their limits to beat opposition that haven’t won a competitive game since April last year.

“It was a terrible, terrible display. We knew Limerick would be very competitive and that they would push us all the way but what we didn’t expect was that we would play as poorly as we did,” said Collins.

Kerry spies certainly won’t be filling their dossier with details of how Clare might cause problems but, as Collins pointed out, the hope is that this was a one-off malfunction.

“If we bring that sort of display to Killarney, it’s not going to be pretty. We have to up our game big time. It was a flat performance by us and hopefully we’ve got it out of our system and we can go to Killarney and express ourselves,” he said.

Limerick, meanwhile will have a Round 1 qualifier on their minds as they seek to rescue something from a season which has already seen them relegated to Division 4.

Clare were at the other end of the Division 3 table, taking the title in impressive fashion.

Their solidity throughout the group games, followed by a wider expression of their capacity for improvement in the final, left them warm favourites in yesterday’s game, but they struggled for long periods against a dogged home side.

Indeed, if Limerick had been more accurate, especially early on, they would have set Clare a very difficult target. Instead, they shot six wides in the opening eight minutes, some from quite easy chances.

“You’d expect a higher return. They were all fairly well-constructed scoring opportunities too. It wasn’t as if they were ambitious shots,” said Limerick manager John Brudair.

“If we had nailed a few scores it would have given the team confidence and breathing space in terms of building further attacks and scores.”

His ultra-defensive alignment certainly troubled Clare in a dismal first-half that yielded only nine scores. They were accompanied by 14 wides (Limerick 8, Clare 6), underlining the absence of quality on display.

Clare lost midfielder Cathal O’Connor to injury just before half-time and while he was playing quite well, his departure led to an improvement in their attacking play, brought about by Podge Collins’s introduction.

He popped a delightful point over the bar just before the interval to leave Clare leading by 0-5 to 0-4.

They had out-scored Limerick by 0-4 to 0-1 in the final 20 minutes of the half and when they added two more points early in the second half, it looked as if they were poised to open up. It never happened. Limerick hung on defiantly and while they fell four points behind for the first time just past the hour mark, they continued to work hard.

Their persistence was rewarded and Danny Neville’s point early in five minutes of stoppage time left them only two points adrift.

It was a worrying time for Clare but they held their nerve and Jamie Malone kicked his third point to close out the scoring.

The big question surrounding Limerick is whether they would have been better served by a more attack-minded strategy.

Their policy of working the ball slowly off their kick-outs ensured they kept possession in the first half but it was more difficult from there on as Clare covered their defenders, thus reducing the options for goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan.

He was anxious to keep the ball away from Clare midfielder Gary Brennan and while it worked quite well, pressure points began to appear closer to the Limerick goal.

Clare disrupted some of Limerick’s kick-outs in the second-half, a change that Collins reckoned was very significant.

“It was vital that we stole a few of their short kick-outs. In the first-half, they kept them all but we made inroads on them in the second-half,” he said.

Brudair was pleased with how much of Limerick’s game worked but their inaccuracy ultimately cost them dearly. And while they are still seeking their first win of the season, he is confident that there will be no loss of ambition heading into the qualifiers.

“There hasn’t been any problem in getting focused to date. We’re just looking for the same response over the next few weeks,” he said.

The challenge facing Clare and Collins is very different. They know that anything like yesterday’s performance would leave them facing a heavy defeat against Kerry.

“We weren’t up to scratch in a lot of areas today – it’s as simple as that. We were fortunate to go in a point up at half-time. Limerick spurned a lot of opportunities in the first half, which was just as well for us.

“We improved a bit in the second half. We split them for a couple of goal chances, which we spurned.

“When you get those chances against as good a defensive system as Limerick had, you’ve got to score them. We didn’t punish them and it left us with a jittery end,” said Collins.

On specific aspects which Clare must improve on for the Kerry clash, Collins identified workrate as a priority.

“We need to work harder, tackle harder and do more closing down in every area,” he said.

Scorers – Clare: D Tubridy (2f), J Malone 0-3 each, K Sexton, P Collins, E Cleary 0-2 each, S McGrath, G Brennan, S Collins, C O’Connor 0-1 each. Limerick: I Ryan 0-8 (7f), D Neville 0-2 (1f), C Sheehan, S Buckley, S Cahill 0-1 each.
Clare –J Hayes 7; D Ryan 7, K Harnett 7, M McMahon 7; C O’Dea 7, G Kelly 6, S Collins 8; G Brennan 6, C O’Connor 6; J Malone 8, K Sexton 8, P Lillis 6; E Cleary 6, D Tubridy 6, P Burke 6. Subs: P Collins 7 for O’Connor (33), S McGrath 6 for Lillis (48), S Malone 6 for Kelly (51  black card), S Hickey 6 for O’Dea (56), E Coughlan 6 for Burke (56).
Limerick – D O’Sullivan 7; J McCarthy 7, P Browne 6, S Cahill 7; B Fanning 6, S O’Dea 6 , P White 7; C Sheehan 7, D Treacy 7; G Noonan 6, P Nash 6, S Buckley 7; I Ryan 7, D Neville 7, S McSweeney 5. Subs: E Hogan 5 for McSweeney(29), K Ryan 6 for Noonan (56), P Hannon 6 for Fanning (59), H Bourke for Hogan (63), C Fahy for White (72).
Ref – P Neilan (Roscommon).

Irish Independent

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