Clinical Clare punish low-energy Limerick display
Clare 0-26 Limerick 0-15 (Munster SHC Round-robin)
All John Kiely could do in the final 15 minutes was watch and admire as Clare ran Limerick off Cusack Park and out of contention for a place in the Munster final.
The Limerick manager admitted afterwards that his team were short of energy, which was in stark contrast to Clare, who looked as if they could have hurled on until nightfall.
But then the game was flowing beautifully for them, the defence clamping Limerick as if they were on a bonus for each tackle and block and the attack picking off points from all angles and distances.
Some of those who didn't get on the scoresheet were making a different type of contribution, as typified by Podge Collins, who worked exceptionally hard in an undermanned attack in the second half.
Tony Kelly didn't get on the ball very much in the first half, but was in the right place all the time from there on. He scored four points from play and added another from a '65 when Peter Duggan was receiving attention for a blood injury.
Duggan scored 0-11 from placed balls and added another two more from play while John Conlon built on the excellent form he has shown recently. He made a statement of intent early on, firing over a point which settled him into a highly-efficient routine.
He contributed four points and also won a few frees which Duggan pointed. Limerick had no such focal point and came up short in lots of other areas as well on a day when their All-Ireland ambitions suffered their first setback.
It won't prove fatal, but it has left them with plenty to reflect on before relaunching their bid against Carlow or Westmeath next month.
They trailed all the way but it's the final 20 minutes which will be of most concern to Kiely when he undertakes a detailed analysis. Clare started that period four points ahead and finished it 11 clear after scoring seven times without reply.
Kiely put it down to a lack of energy among his squad, possibly originating in their busy schedule, which took in three games in 15 days.
Whatever the reason, Limerick were very flat in the final quarter but then they didn't exactly fizz earlier on either.
Clare took their lead out to five points after 35 minutes and while Limerick cut the margin to four points in stoppage time (0-13 to 0-9), there was never a sense that their game was good enough to beat Clare.
Granted, Clare had played with the wind in the first half but there was more to their superiority than that. Their touch was better, as was their reaction time, an area where Limerick had done very well in most of their earlier games in league and championship.
Both sides were reduced to 14 men just before half-time after the dismissal of Limerick's Tom Condon and Clare's David Reidy. Referee James Owens consulted at some length with his umpires before red-carding Condon, who had come on for Seán Finn in the 13th minute.
After further discussions with his umpires, Owens despatched Reidy to the bench too. It looked a very harsh call and is likely to be challenged by Clare, who will be very anxious to have Reidy back for the Munster final.
Limerick responded to losing a corner-back by withdrawing corner-forward Graeme Mulcahy and sending in Richie McCarthy for the second half, but it made no real difference as they remained in Clare's slipstream.
Limerick needed a good start to the second half but instead found themselves six points down after 42 minutes.
And with their attack rarely getting close enough to test Clare goalkeeper Donal Tuohy, their prospects of launching a meaningful comeback were limited.
Their was nothing wrong with their work ethic, but the rest of their game simply wasn't functioning at the level required to beat a Clare team intent on making home advantage count.
That was evident from early on as they hurtled into every challenge with relentless ferocity. None more so than Séadna Morey, who picked up an injury which forced him out a few minutes later. His replacement, David Fitzgerald made an immediate impression, driving forward to fire over an inspirational point.
It was that sort of day for Clare, whose confidence levels will have shot up after successive wins over Waterford, Tipperary and Limerick.
It lines up a repeat of last year's Munster final against Cork on July 1 which, on the evidence of the overall Munster campaign, is very difficult to call, although revenge for last year's defeat will be a motivational tool.
Also, Cork beat them by five points in the opening series of round robin games but it wasn't a fair reflection of the overall game as Clare missed a few good goal chances.
John Kiely said that sometimes a team learns more from defeat than victory, so now the challenge for Limerick is to work out what exactly went wrong yesterday and correct it for the second coming.
Despite this setback, their season is still very much alive.
Scorers - Clare: P Duggan 0-13 (10f, 1'65); T Kelly 0-5 (1 '65); J Conlon 0-4; D Fitzgerald 0-2; J Shanahan, C Galvin 0-1 each.
Limerick: S Dowling 0-4 (4f); T Morrissey 0-3; K Hayes, D O'Donovan (s/l), C Lynch, D Byrnes, G Hegarty, D Morrissey, S Flanagan, A Gillane 0-1 each.
Clare - D Tuohy 7; P O'Connor 7, D McInerney 8, J Browne 7; S Morey 6, C Cleary 7, J Shanahan 7; C Galvin 7, C Malone 6; P Duggan 8, T Kelly 8, D Reidy 6; P Collins 8, J Conlon 9, S O'Donnell 6.
Subs: D Fitzgerald 7 for Morey (14), J McCarthy 6 for Malone (54), I Galvin 6 for Fitzgerald (61), C McGrath for O'Donnell (65), M O'Neill for Collins (70).
Limerick - N Quaid 7; S Finn 6, M Casey 6, R English 7; D Byrnes 7, D Hannon 6, D Morrissey 7; D O'Donovan 6, C Lynch 7; G Hegarty 6, K Hayes 6, T Morrissey 7; S Flanagan 6, S Dowling 6, G Mulcahy 6. Subs: T Condon 4 for Finn (13), R McCarthy 6 for Mulcahy (h-t), A Gillane 6 for Flanagan (49), D Dempsey 6 for Hegarty (56), B Nash for English (64).
Ref - J Owens (Wexford)