Limerick eye the big prize after O'Neill inspires Munster win
Limerick 1-17 Clare 1-11
Limerick manager Diarmuid Mullins says his team were deserved winners as they claimed their first Munster MHC since 2014 and are now setting their sights on an All-Ireland title which has eluded them for 35 years.
It's an eighth provincial crown for Limerick and Cathal O'Neill's brilliant display, along with Patrick O'Donovan's second-half goal, helped seal the win at the Gaelic Grounds. Limerick were 0-9 to 0-7 in front at half-time and Clare were right back in the game when Shane Meehan found the net. But O'Donovan goaled less than a minute later.
"Over the five games in Munster we have been the best team, and we have deserved to win," said Mullins.
"We are going to enjoy this, but we are also going to move onto the next competition and be right for that."
Limerick were wasteful in the opening quarter and had registered five wides by the time Patrick Reale blazed his shot wide of Aaron Shanahan's goal.
Clare hit the first two points with the efforts from Tony Butler and Shane Meehan, but the impressive O'Neill and Aidan O'Connor cancelled those out. The teams were level in the seventh minute but Clare scored the next three points, Meehan doubled his tally before some great scores from Cian Galvin (free) and Diarmaid Cahill.
But O'Neill, who featured prominently in Limerick's Munster final defeat to Tipperary last year, scored four points in a row. Limerick led for the first time after his fifth point in the 25th minute but Killian O'Connor and Cormac Murphy scored either side of Patrick O'Donovan's strike.
Adam English put Limerick ahead just before the break and there was still time for O'Neill to land a huge free before half-time.
Limerick scored the first couple of points of the second half, to open up a 0-11 to 0-7 advantage. But Clare were still in the game and their goal arrived in the 46th minute.
Meehan burst in along the end line and drove his shot through a hole in the net. Briefly there was only the minimum that separated the sides.
But the ball went straight down the other end and O'Donovan finished the crucial goal. O'Neill brought his tally to 0-9 and Limerick were victorious. "I hope people in Limerick give Cathal the opportunity to develop as a player. He is only in Ardscoil Rís in transition year," said Mullins. "There is no rush to bring him through but he is a fantastic player."
Scorers - Limerick: C O'Neill 0-9 (6f); P O'Donovan 1-1; A O'Connor 0-3; A English, P Reale 0-2 each. Clare: S Meehan 1-2 (1f); C Galvin 0-2 (2f); C Hegarty 0-2; C Murphy, K O'Connor, D Cahill, T Butler, K Smyth 0-1 each.
Limerick - J Franklin; A Murrihy, R Lyons, F O'Connor; J Quilty, E Hurley, C Coughlan; P Kirby, P Reale; A English, C O'Neill, E Stokes; A O'Connor, P O'Donovan, L Lynch. Subs: D Hegarty for Lynch (58), M Cremin for O'Donovan (60), C Casey for Strokes (62), C Hanley Clarke for English (64).
Clare - A Shanahan; J Collins, A Hogan, S Devanney; O O'Donnell, C Galvin, T Butler; C O'Meara, C Murphy; D Downes, O Clune, K O'Connor; C Hegarty, D Cahill, S Meehan. Subs: S Ronan for Cahill (43), K Smyth for Murphy (48).
Ref - N Wall (Cork)