Sunday 16 December 2018

Cyril Farrell: Improving Banner men show they can go distance

John Conlon caused terrible trouble for the Limerick backs. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
John Conlon caused terrible trouble for the Limerick backs. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

Leaving Cusack Park yesterday, having seen how they put an abrupt stop to Limerick's momentum, there was little doubt in my mind: Clare are the favourites for the Munster title.

Granted, there will be very little between them and Cork, but yesterday showed they've developed the traits of a team that can win Munster - then maybe even the All-Ireland.

First things first, though, that scoreline flattered them. Eleven points was a big victory and, to be fair to Limerick, they were a lot closer than that makes out. But the Treaty men never got their game going and for that, Clare deserve massive credit.

Being such close neighbours, both sets of players knew each other inside out. A lot are playing together in colleges, some of them would even be sharing houses together, and as a result they'd have a great insight into how to neutralise the opposition's key players.

Any time Limerick looked like getting going yesterday, Clare just squeezed them for space and were always able to close them down.

For me, the pivotal moment was the double sending-off, when Limerick's Tom Condon and Clare's David Reidy were given their marching orders just before half-time.

It meant Limerick had five backs and with Clare playing five forwards, Limerick then took off a corner-forward, Graeme Mulcahy, and brought on a back, Richie McCarthy, to make it six backs against five forwards at either end.

Jamie Shanahan ended up sweeping for Clare and he was very good at it, making great use of the ball. You'd imagine the open space would have suited Limerick but it didn't work out that way.

Tony Kelly never really got into the game in the first half but with the extra space in the second, he got motoring and popped up everywhere. Peter Duggan again was immaculate from frees and John Conlon caused terrible trouble for the Limerick backs.

They were both playing sweeper systems but Clare always had the run of the field. Some might have criticised John Kiely's decision to keep Aaron Gillane on the bench until 20 minutes to go but to be honest, I don't think that was where Limerick got beaten - it was out around their half-back line.

Their backs were under pressure when David Reidy, Podge Collins and Shane O'Donnell started running at them, while the physicality of Conlon and Peter Duggan was also causing trouble.

In the second half, with Limerick coming out four points down and playing with the benefit of the breeze, I expected them to go for broke, to push up another forward, but they never did and truth be told they never even looked like creating goal chances with only five up there.

They were playing cautious when they couldn't afford to and the likes of Cian Lynch, who's normally very good, just never dominated the field the way he did on other days.

And once again, Clare finished very, very strong. If there was any tiredness lingering from the weekend before it didn't affect them - they went from strength to strength with each passing minute.

Cork may be Munster champions but for me Clare will have the slight edge, even if they have five points to find since last month's clash.


As for the other game yesterday, it didn't surprise me that Waterford put up a fantastic display against Cork. When you look at their season they were missing so many early on and were so unlucky with the controversial goal against Tipp.

They were hurling for pride, and they certainly didn't let down 'Brick' Walsh, themselves or Waterford - they went out with their heads held high. A narrow escape like that will be a great wake-up call for Cork, if anything it'll do them good ahead of the Munster final.

As for Limerick, they'll head into the preliminary quarter-finals where they'll meet - and beat - either Carlow or Westmeath, and then face Galway or Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final. The big thing now is for the lads over the team to sit them down and say, 'Look, we didn't become a bad team overnight.'

It'll be hard enough to pinpoint what went wrong yesterday. To me it looked like they were outmuscled when the physicality came into it, but there was nothing wrong with their hurling. At least a loss like that will now put a stop to any sense of over-confidence among their supporters.

Limerick can still have a fantastic summer and sure, they won't have a Munster title, but that will count for nothing if they can work their way into an All-Ireland final.

As far as we've come, it's still all to play for.

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