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Limerick rally earns return to top table

This is one of those rivalries that always promises something and for the most part delivers on that promise.

This latest instalment, after a slow start, did some justice to that tradition, providing a frenetic finale and devastating late twist before a full house in Ennis. The conditions, dry and balmy, the pristine surface and an attendance pregnant with expectation all bore the exciting connotations of the impending championship. Eventually the play fell into line too.

Limerick won it with a late burst, coming from two points down to win by a slightly flattering margin of five. Inspired by a magnificent goal from Darach Honan and outstanding post-interval display by John Conlon, Clare looked poised to reverse their first- round defeat at the same venue. His side trailing by four points at half-time and facing the wind, Conlon struck four second-half points and was immense. He even had a hand in a goal for Conor McGrath that put Clare three points up in the 50th minute. Honan added a point and they were buzzing, but they couldn't shake off Limerick.

One of the Treaty men's salient virtues is a refusal to quit and they stayed snapping at Clare's heels through their most turbulent phases. The youngster Declan Hannon, a Leaving Cert student, scored a goal soon after McGrath's green flag, having missed enough chances earlier to be relieved of the free-taking duties. The killer blow was struck by fellow teenager, Kevin Downes, who shook off the attentions of Conor Cooney four minutes from the end of normal time and drove a powerful diagonal shot past Donal Tuohy. The goal put Limerick's noses in front and they were unstoppable from there.

Clare will look back and wonder how they let it go. Conlon had his and Clare's last point in the 55th minute to put them two up but they failed to register thereafter. Limerick wheeled off David Breen, who had struggled badly on Conlon, and put on David Moloney, who put in a fine last quarter. They had drawn level when Downes struck for his goal and Hannon and Niall Moran closed the scoring to secure an instant promotion back to Division 1.

Limerick face Waterford on June 12 knowing they are not the finished article by any means. But they have achieved all they can for now and Clare face the dreaded prospect of a third season in Division 2.

The formlines had pointed towards another Limerick win but they knew coming here that all that counted for nothing. Their league form had been more impressive than Clare's and they won the first round meeting by nine points. But Clare, having earned home advantage on the toss of a coin, were up for it and felt they had every chance.

Playing with the stiff breeze in the first half, they opened well, scoring two early points, but their attack didn't thrive and there was little in the way of creative play.

After 18 minutes Honan was sent on as a direct replacement for Diarmuid McMahon, who had been out-hurled by Gavin O'Mahoney. Honan missed an early chance and didn't blossom until after the break when Clare looked in bother.

With the home team dominating puckouts on a ratio pushing two-to-one they created chances but hit eight wides in the first half to Limerick's two. They also contributed to their own downfall by conceding two goals they'll find it hard to forgive themselves for.

The first came in the sixth minute and caught the Clare back-line sleeping. Cian Dillon lost sight of Richie McCarthy who ran through the middle and laid the ball off to Sean Tobin. The corner-forward, well policed by Domhnall O'Donovan for most of the half, batted to the net with Clare over-stretched.

Graeme Mulcahy had the ball in the Clare net in the first half but the referee called play back for a free, which McCarthy pointed. Limerick stayed in touch, never letting Clare more than two points out of their sights and in the last five minutes of the half Clare lost their composure.

An attack broke down, Seamus Hickey broke forward before mishitting a ball that looked meat and drink to Tuohy. He fumbled, recovered just in time, then seemed to panic again and the ball ended up in his own net for a bizarre own goal.

Encouraged, Limerick raised a gear. Downes broke free of Cooney and scored a fine point, then made another. The last 1-3 of the half was theirs. At 2-6 to 0-8 to the good and the wind to come they looked the healthier bet. And they were.

Scorers -- Limerick: K Downes 1-2, S Tobin 1-1, D Hannon 1-1, D Tuohy 1-0 (o-g), R McCarthy 0-4 (0-3f), P Browne 0-2, D O'Grady, N Moran 0-1 each. Clare: D Honan 1-1, N O'Connell 0-3 (0-2 '65s'), C McGrath 1-0, J Conlon 0-4, F Lynch 0-2, C Ryan 0-2f, L Markham 0-1

Limerick: N Quaid; D Reale, G O'Mahoney, T Condon; W McNamara, S Hickey, D Breen; D O'Grady, P Browne; D Hannon, R McCarthy, J Ryan; S Tobin, K Downes, G Mulcahy. Subs: N Moran for Tobin (46), P Tobin for McCarthy (55), D Moloney for Breen (55).

Clare: D Tuohy; P Vaughan, C Cooney, D O'Donovan; P Donnellan, C Dillon, P O'Connor; N O'Connell, L Markham; J Conlon, F Lynch, J Clancy; C Ryan, D McMahon, C McGrath. Subs: D Honan for McMahon (18); C Morey for Ryan (58).

Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).

Sunday Indo Sport