Moran tells Limerick fans it's time to back us
Limerick 3-18 Clare 1-20
THE time has come for Limerick supporters to cut Niall Moran some slack. For too long he's been on the receiving end of the vicious whispers, their fall guy when things go wrong.
It even got to a stage where Limerick fans cheered when he was substituted in matches.
Presumably some of the boo-boys streamed onto the Semple Stadium sod last Saturday evening to slap Moran on the back and tell him how good he is. That's the nature of it. It can be a fickle game.
The experienced Ahane star is in a rich vein of form. He scored 3-1 against Laois and added a goal against Antrim in Limerick's previous qualifiers. But they were facile wins and Moran produced his best display of the season on Saturday, clipping over five majestic points to send Clare crashing out of the championship in Thurles.
He reflected: "Everyone has their critics but in some counties certain fellas are fall guys. You never set out to hurl a bad game, but sometimes things just don't run for you.
"I'd be the first to acknowledge when things go bad and I acknowledge when they go right. Today is just one day and the next will be different again.
"I love hurling for Limerick. I love hurling for my club. I give my life to it. Sometimes people don't acknowledge that, but that's them, not me."
On a night when Limerick needed leaders, Moran obliged. Shane Dowling played his part too, banging over eight nerveless frees.
And Limerick finally got one over on Clare in 2012. In four previous meetings between the two sides this year, Clare were unbeaten and had claimed the silverware on offer when the teams met in the Division 1B final.
But this was a bridge too far for the Banner County -- just a week after an energy-sapping Cusack Park brawl with Dublin.
"When you have an extra week, it makes an awful difference," Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald said.
"I think they've got to look at that. You spend weeks there doing nothing and then you have to come out one week after another.
"If they could space it out -- even every two weeks, you'd be better off. That can be accommodated.
"But let's not make excuses about that today. They beat us and we were playing catch-up for the second half. And in that second half, they deserved their win."
Limerick looked fresher after half-time, having had a fortnight to recover from their Antrim 'exertions'.
The hurling was raw for the most part, rarely pretty in the first half but exhilarating in the second period.
The game ebbed and flowed, Clare hitting seven points in a row following a melee that saw Moran and Cian Dillon booked.
Referee Brian Gavin, that most liberal of whistlers, could have administered at least one red card as mini-skirmishes broke out at the Town End of Semple Stadium, but he maintained the status quo.
Clare, fired up, had their purple patch after that before Limerick, crucially, responded with a run of 1-3.
Their first goal, in the fourth minute, was a majestic Wayne McNamara strike. The second, touched home by Seanie Tobin in a thicket of flying hurls, helped them to lead 2-9 to 0-14 at half-time.
It was amazing that the first half didn't produce more goals as rival goalkeepers Nickie Quaid and Tony Kelly produced heroics. Quaid was the scourge of Tony Kelly, Clare's goal hero from the Dublin game. Three times Kelly went for goal from 20m frees, but only once did he succeed, two minutes from time. Limerick led by seven on three occasions in the second half before Kelly's goal cut the gap to three.
But Limerick, this time, had the wherewithal to respond and close the game out.
"When the final whistle goes on All-Ireland final day and you're on the line as the manager, that's as good as it gets and that was the biggest day I've had as a manager, but I don't think I've ever been as animated on the line as I was this evening," said Limerick boss John Allen, who led Cork to the title in 2005.
He made the right call too before half-time, hauling off centre-forward Brian Geary and replacing him with Declan Hannon.
And it was Hannon who banged home the crucial 40th-minute goal for Limerick, a score that knocked the stuffing out of Clare and provided the platform for victory.
Scorers -- Limerick: S Dowling 0-8f, N Moran 0-5, S Tobin 1-1, W McNamara, D Hannon 1-0 each, G Mulcahy 0-2, G O'Mahony (f), K Downes 0-1 each. Clare: C McGrath 0-6 (4f), T Kelly 1-2 (1-1f), N O'Connell 0-4 (3f, 1 '65') C Galvin 0-3, J Conlon 0-2, B Bugler, P Donnellan, A Cunningham 0-1 each.
LIMERICK -- N Quaid 8; S Walsh 7, R McCarthy 7, T Condon 7; W McNamara 7, D O'Grady 7, G O'Mahony 7; P O'Brien 8, J Ryan 7; S Dowling 7, B Geary 5, D Breen 6; G Mulcahy 7, N Moran 8, S Tobin 7. Subs: D Hannon 7 for Geary (29), K Downes 7 for Tobin (59), S O'Neill 6 for Condon (inj, 60), S Hickey 6 for J Ryan (62), T Ryan for Mulcahy (70).
CLARE -- P Kelly 8; D O'Donovan 7, C Dillon 6, S Morey 6; B Bugler 8, P Donnellan 7, N O'Connell 7; C Galvin 8, S Collins 5; F Lynch 6, J Conlon 6, T Kelly 6; A Cunningham 6, D Honan 6, C McGrath 7. Subs: L Markham 6 for Collins (50), C Ryan for Cunningham (64), J Clancy for Honan (64).
REF -- B Gavin (Offaly)