Limerick 1-21 Clare 0-24
This was proper Munster hurling fare. The Shannonside rivals threw everything at each other from start to finish before shaking hands, and hugging old college pals in some cases, and living to fight another day after a cracker in Cusack Park yesterday.
Some think that it doesn’t feel like a real championship in May, but this had everything that was expected and more with no quarter asked or given from both sides, and their Munster final rematch on June 5 can hardly come quick enough.
Tony Kelly and Diarmaid Byrnes were like two prize fighters duking it out in front of the posts at either end. The former firing over a sensational 0-16 in yet another extraordinary display while Limerick’s Byrnes arrowed over 0-9 from wing-back with unerring accuracy from placed balls.
Over 18,000 wedged into Ennis and they weren’t left disappointed with the sides level 14 times throughout a gripping contest as Brian Lohan’s masterful job as manager with the Banner took yet another major step forward in his third year at the helm.
His troops share all of the same heroic traits which the former Hurler of the Year displayed during a glittering playing career in saffron and blue, and the Clare legend was delighted to back up the hype which their previous two provincial victories created.
“We had a big crowd and a little bit of expectation, our own supporters came in their droves to support the team and we were under a little bit of pressure to make sure we didn’t disappoint them,” Lohan said.
“You are conscious of that when the place hasn’t been packed for a while and there hasn’t been as big a demand for tickets in a while and when you have that level of expectation, you want to perform for the county.
“It was important for us to back up that expectation and for the players to put in a performance for themselves, but also for the followers that came.”
Lohan is “just happy that the bunch are getting some element of reward” having earned their Munster final rematch against the Treaty in three weeks’ time, while they still have the small matter of their final round-robin clash with Waterford next Sunday on home soil.
As for Limerick – who will contest Munster senior finals in both codes for the first time in the same year since 1934 – it was yet another example of their unique ability to grind out a result in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
There was no two-time Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury, while Aaron Gillane, the game’s most potent inside forward at present, was a notable absentee from John Kiely’s squad before throw-in due to a “minor strain.”
Throw in the loss of 2020 Hurler of the Year Gearóid Hegarty in the closing minutes after picking up his second yellow – which Kiely confirmed they will appeal and that they are confident of having overturned – and that should have been too stiff a mountain to climb, but it wasn’t.
“It’s hugely satisfying (to grind it out),” Kiely said. “The players worked really hard for each other. Just super impressed with the guys who came into the team that just settled straight away. They all made really valuable contributions.
“That is really good for our group going forward because the lads who had been carrying knocks, they know when they come into training they have an added fight to try and win their place back. And that is a really good thing for our group.”
A feisty affair started in a blaze of glory with the sides sharing the first 10 scores in front of a raucous crowd before Kyle Hayes tucked away a neat goal in the 15th minute to leave the visitors 1-5 to 0-6 to the good.
The Kelly Show was already threatening to hit top gear at that stage, though, and the the three-time All-Star responded with two sweet points before the influential David Fitzgerald quickly sent them into the lead.
Diarmuid Ryan added another quick-fire point in what was a typical spell in a rip-roaring contest as control ebbed and flowed throughout with Limerick back ahead by the 31st minute as Tom Morrissey sent over a lovely point, 1-11 to 0-13.
The sides were level at the break, 1-12 to 0-15, with Kelly 12 from 12 in front of the posts in the first period. Byrnes was similarly effective with 0-6 from six shots as the sides couldn’t be separated.
Remarkably, Kelly hit his 16th and final point from a free in the 44th minute to see them edge ahead by two points once again, but another mini-scoring surge, led by Hegarty, Byrnes and David Reidy had Limerick ahead on 56 minutes, 1-18 to 0-20.
It was tit-for-tat from there to the finish, but it looked like Hegarty leaving the pitch might just tip the balance in the Banner’s favour with Ryan Taylor, who stormed into proceedings in the second period, sending them one ahead with normal time almost up.
As is their wont, Limerick fashioned an opportunity to level and it was left to the brilliant Byrnes to snatch a draw, ensuring that the appetite is perfectly whet for round two when they renew acquaintances.
Kiely hailed “two cracking hurlers” in Byrnes and Kelly while the latter’s exploits are no surprise to Lohan as he sees such displays of class in “every single training session”.
“We see it every single training session, he is just a top guy in every area that you look at,” Lohan said of Kelly.
“Regardless of what you look at, he is just a top guy and he has been like that for a long number of years. I had him in UL and in almost every match we played, he was man of the match.”
Kiely can now afford to kick his feet up next weekend and watch from afar as the other four counties fight it out – “Ah sure, listen. Best of luck to ‘em all” – with a possible Munster four-in-a-row, and another crack at Clare, the next target for his green army.
“I think if it’s anything like that game today it will be a cracker. That was a great game of hurling and some fantastic scores were taken by both teams with some lovely passages of play,” Kiely said of a classic.
“We’re just really proud of our guys, we’ve had a tough couple of weeks with different injuries and different knocks so we’re very happy with that.”
SCORERS – Limerick: D Byrnes 0-9 (7f, 0-1 ‘65); D Reidy (4f), G Hegarty 0-4 each; K Hayes 1-0; S Flanagan, T Morrissey, D O’Donovan, O O’Reilly 0-1 each.
Clare: T Kelly 0-16 (10f, 0-1 ‘65); D Fitzgerald, R Taylor, D Ryan 0-2 each; D McInerney, S Meehan 0-1 each.
LIMERICK – N Quaid 7; S Finn 6, M Casey 7, B Nash 7; D Byrnes 9, D Hannon 7, D Morrissey 6; W O’Donoghue 8, R Hanley 6; G Hegarty 8, D Reidy 6, T Morrissey 7; C Boylan 6, K Hayes 6, S Flanagan 6. Subs: R English for Casey (blood 44-46), G Mulcahy 6 for Boylan (53), D O’Donovan 7 for Hanley (56), O O’Reilly 7 for Flanagan (57).
CLARE – E Quilligan 7; R Hayes 8, C Cleary 7, P Flanagan 7; D Ryan 7, J Conlon 7, D McInerney 7; J McCarthy 5, C Malone 6; D Fitzgerald 7, S O’Donnell 6, R Taylor 7; T Kelly 9, P Duggan 7, R Mounsey 5. Subs: A Fitzgerald for Ryan (blood 16-17), S Meehan 7 for McCarthy (half-time), D Reidy 6 for Mounsey (46), Fitzgerald for Flanagan (blood 61-65), A Shanagher for Duggan (73).
REF – C Lyons (Cork)