Clare overcome Limerick but know they must improve for Munster decider
Clare 3-17 Limerick 2-16
Clare, under new management and eager to revive their fortunes after three poor championships, fought off a typically spirited challenge from Limerick in Thurles to reach their first Munster final since 2008. It marked only their second championship win in the province in eight seasons, won with a performance that was good in spells but that left plenty room for improvement.
A 60th minute goal from Kyle Hayes, a minor last year and one of five newcomers on the Limerick team, arrived too late to allow a late twist. Clare should have made it safe when sub Aaron Cunningham won a penalty with four minutes left, only for Tony Kelly to blast the ball wide. Kelly had an unusually quiet day, failing to score and substituted near the end.
Instead Conor McGrath, who was outstanding, scored 1-3 and Shane O’Donnell recaptured the form that catapulted him to national prominence when Clare won the All-Ireland in 2013. O’Donnell finished with 2-2, all scored in the first half, easily his best show in a Clare jersey in four years. Clare roared into an eight-point lead in the first half after O’Donnell’s goals in the sixth and 14th minute, when playing against the wind, but Limerick fought back with an incredible burst of 1-5 without reply in six minutes to level ten minutes before half time.
Limerick, who reached the league semi finals but were well beaten by Galway, had their prospects reduced by injuries to Diarmaid Byrnes and Gearoid Hegarty in the lead-in and they were unable to maintain the kind of momentum that brought them back level in the opening half. Clare, more experienced and with less excuses for defeat, at times looked nervous and tentative, sitting on leads, and poor at winning primary possession. Later in the match they switched to shorter puck outs which served them better but their play and work rate will need to vastly improve if they are to win their first Munster title since 1998.
They went in leading by five points at half-time, 2-10 1-8, with O’Donnell whipping a ground stroke to the next after good work by John Conlon in the early stages of the match which settled them after Limerick opened more impressively, Shane Dowling landing two early frees. But Limerick were wasteful and didn’t use the wind to their advantage, hitting a number of heedless balls beyond the range of their full forward line. By the interval they had run up 11 wides.
A beautiful score from Colm Galvin had Clare leading 2-5 to 0-3 after 20 minutes before a brilliant response from Peter Casey, catching a puckout and pointing, launched Limerick’s best spell, 1-5 without reply in six minutes. The goal came from David Dempsey when Cian Lynch’s shot, having been partially hooked by Conor Cleary, was parried by Andrew Fahy and Dempsey pounced on the rebound. Having drawn level they failed to scored in the final ten minutes of the first half. Clare’s response was encouraging, as they hit a streak of five points without reply to open up a lead and reclaim their grip on the match, flags raised by Cleary (their first in 11 minutes), O’Donnell, David Reidy, Conlon and McGrath.
Limerick restarted following the interval break with scores from Dempsey and sub Barry Nash before Clare hit their third goal in the 50th minute, McGrath ghosting in unmarked to finish a long delivery from Colm Galvin. Dowling responded with a free but three scores without reply re-opened Clare’s eight-point lead, two from Reidy frees, and a glorious score from the impressive substitute wing back Jason McCarthy.
But Clare never hit top gear and Limerick refused to surrender. John Kiely’s side responded with three scores, reducing the deficit to five points and they should have been closer before Seadna Morey halted their momentum with a score after coming up from corner back. Kelly’s penalty offered the chance to put them out of sight and the miss, and Hayes’ late strike, left Limerick closer than they should have been.
Clare will welcome a long-overdue win, under the new management team of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor, but they have much to work on ahead of the final against Waterford or Cork.
Scorers: Clare - S O’Donnell 2-2; C McGrath 1-3; D Reidy 0-5 (0-5 fs); J Conlon 0-2; C Galvin, I Galvin, C Cleary, J McCarthy, S Morey 0-1. Limerick - S Dowling 0-6 (0-6 fs); D Dempsey 1-2; K Hayes 1-1; P Browne 0-2 (0-1 lineball); C Lynch 0-2; P Casey, P Ryan, B Nash 0-1.
Clare: A Fahy; S Morey, D McInerney, P O’Connor; D Fitzgerald, C Cleary, G O’Connell; C Galvin, D Reidy; T Kelly, P Collins, J Conlon; A Shanagher, C MGrath, S O’Donnell.
Subs: J McCarthy for O’Connell (53 mins); I Galvin for Collins (58); A Cunnigham for Shanagher (63); C Malone for McGrath (65); C McInerney for Kelly (69).
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, R McCarthy, M Casey; D Morrissey, D Hannon, S Hickey; P Browne, J Ryan; S Dowling, C Lynch, D Dempsey; P Casey, K Hayes, G Mulcahy.
Subs: B Nash for Mulcahy (half-time); R English for M Casey (40); fT Morrissey for P Casey (53); A Gillane for Dowling & P Ryan for J Ryan (57).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).