Limerick make bold statement of intent
Limerick 0-16 Clare 0-10
There is something incongruous about watching a hurling trophy presentation on the second Sunday in January, but after disappointing times on the senior circuit in recent years, Limerick supporters were delighted with the gleam of silverware in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday.
So too was team manager John Kiely, who described the performance as "probably our best since I got involved".
No, he wasn't getting carried away with a success achieved through wins over Cork, Kerry and Clare - the latter on a wet, dark afternoon where slog trumped slick. Limerick brought more of both to their endeavours, squeezing Clare into submission with high levels of efficiency in front of a crowd of 3,209.
Kiely's delight emanated from the structured manner in which Limerick conducted their business, a point also made by team captain Paul Browne.
"The most pleasing aspect was that some of the things we've been doing in training over the last few weeks came to fruition today," said Browne.
That was very much in evidence in the second-half when they responded to Clare's early burst of enterprise by powering up their intensity levels. They led by 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time, but Clare shot three unanswered points in the opening five minutes of the second-half to lead for the first and only time.
By the time Clare next scored in the 75th minute, Limerick had added eight points. They played exceptionally well in that period, regularly working the ball out of defence with some tidy passing movements.
Their case was further strengthened when Clare defender Jack Browne departed on a second yellow card just past the hour mark, although the odds already favoured a Limerick win.
Clare shot 17 wides to Limerick's nine, a stat which summed up the key difference between the teams. However, Limerick's superior shooting tells only part of the story.
They were more precise in general play on a day when attackers Tom Morrissey, who won the Man of the Match award, Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan troubled the Clare defence on a consistent basis.
Cian Lynch and Browne did well at midfield, but ultimately it was the solidity of the defence which was most influential. Apart from Cathal Malone, who scored four points, the Clare attack made little progress.
Tony Kelly's radar malfunctioned, while the inside trio, Shane O'Donnell, Cathal O'Connell and Podge Collins, were too lightweight to cope with physically stronger opponents in the heavy ground. It might be different on summer surfaces, but it was very much advantage Tom Condon, Seamus Hickey and Richie English yesterday.
"We played a few lighter, more mobile guys today - we'd be thinking in terms of later on in the league and championship," said Clare joint manager Gerry O'Connor.
He accepted Limerick were very much the better side, but believes Clare have picked up some valuable information in the pre-season games.
"We used it as an opportunity to try out 10 or 11 new players and to try other players in new positions. We know where we are now. We've a lot of work to do," he said.
Over in the Limerick dressing-room, Kiely was reminding the players what lies ahead.
"I said to them inside, there are a lot of guys who aren't involved today who want to be involved and probably expect to be involved. They're going to have to work extremely hard now because it's all about holding your place. It's very competitive and that's the way it should be," he said.
Having lost the last two Munster League finals by a point, it was encouraging for Limerick to get so many things right yesterday.
Morrissey, who scored 0-4 from play and Gillane (0-8, 0-3 from play) were the star acts in attack, while the overall energy rate throughout the team pointed to a group who are determined to have a good season.
"The younger lads are putting their hands up now. Their attitude has been phenomenal. The good thing today was that when Clare scored three points early in the second-half we stuck to the game plan. It's a huge year. It's time we drove on from the U-21 successes and learned from the mistakes of the past," said Browne.
Kiely was thrilled by much of the Limerick performance.
"We would be very happy with the way we kept our shape. We put some pretty decent ball into our inside forwards. They worked very hard. The overall workrate and application was very pleasing. It's a step in the right direction, but there's still an awful lot of work to do," he said.
Scorers - Limerick: A Gillane 0-8 (5f), T Morrissey 0-4, P Browne, S Flanagan, B O'Connell, G Hegarty 0-1 each.
Clare: C Malone 0-4, C O'Connell 0-2 (1f), P Collins, N Deasy (f), T Kelly, D Reidy (f) 0-1 each.
Limerick: N Quaid; T Condon, S Hickey, R English; D Byrnes, D Morrissey, W O'Meara; P Browne, C Lynch; T Morrissey, D O'Donovan, B O'Connell; A Gillane, S Flanagan, G Hegarty Subs: B Murphy for O'Connell (57), D Reidy for Hegarty (67), A Latouche Cosgrave for Morrissey (70)
Clare: A Fahy; J Browne, C Cleary, P O'Connor; D Fitzgerald, D McInerney, D Ryan; R Taylor, C Galvin; C Malone, T Kelly, N Deasy; S O'Donnell, C O'Connell, P Collins. Subs: D Reidy for Taylor (46), J Conlon for Deasy (53), C McGrath for Collins (59), J McCarthy for O'Connell (69), S Morey for Fitzgerald (71).
Ref - C McAllister (Cork)