Welcome to the big league, TJ - Davy Fitz lashes out at Limerick boss
Clare 1-14 Limerick 0-11
It was feisty on and off the pitch in Sixmilebridge on an occasion when many of the Banner's back-up boys delivered convincing 'count me in' messages to Davy Fitzgerald, as he looks to form his panel for season ahead.
Six players were booked in a frothy contest, which required careful handling by referee David Copps to prevent it over-heating.
January jousts are quickly forgotten by the hurling public, but they can be very important for players who are trying to force their way onto a panel -- hence the intense exchanges on a heavy surface.
There was an interesting development afterwards too when Limerick joint manager TJ Ryan questioned the legality of Clare's tackling technique.
"I was dubious enough about some of this new Clare tackling system. I don't know how it's seen from a refereeing point of view. When a guy loses the ball he gets wrapped up, then the third man in picks up the ball. I don't know if that's a Waterford Crystal rule or a league (NHL) rule. Another guy comes in and he's wrapped up, then a third man comes in and takes away the ball -- is that legal? We'll have to look at it.
"There's a lot of it happening so, if you can't beat them, join them, isn't that what they say," said Ryan.
Davy Fitzgerald wasn't impressed by Ryan's comments, dismissing them with trademark candour.
"I think TJ is off the charts. That's ridiculous stuff. Welcome to the big league, TJ," he said.
Most of the positives from a game watched by 1,456 spectators rested with Clare, for whom Pat O'Connor was the only initial representative from last year's starting All-Ireland final team.
Essentially, it was very much a second-string team -- but they still beat Limerick all the way.
Limerick had around half of their regular frontliners on duty, but they weren't able to bring their greater experience to bear against an energetic Clare outfit.
Limerick's problems started early when a crash in the tunnel delayed their arrival.
The start of the game was put back by 10 minutes, but the wait clearly didn't unsettle Clare, who were into their stride early and remained there for most of the 70 minutes.
They were helped by an early breakthrough when a long-range effort from Cathal O'Connell ended up in the Limerick net after taking a deflection.
That goal settled Clare into a steady rhythm, which kept them in front all the way.
O'Connell was one of several Clare players who did their cause for inclusion on the NHL squad considerable good. Cillian Duggan, Killian Ryan, Liam Markham and Shane Golden also had some good spells, but the star of the show was right corner-forward Bobby Duggan.
He was a minor last year, but looked very much at home in senior company in a memorable debut that yielded 12 points, nine of which came from frees.
Indeed, he was so accurate from frees in the first three quarters that a surprised groan rose from the Clare supporters when he missed the target from long range in the 57th minute.
He missed another shortly afterwards, but had already contributed almost three-quarters of Clare's scores. If Duggan's accuracy was crucial in keeping Clare a safe distance ahead, John Fitzgibbon's inaccuracy cost Limerick dearly.
He pointed five frees, but missed five others, while also striking two wides from open play. Listed at left corner-forward, he played way out the field, drawing marker Killian Ryan with him, and the Clare No 2 thrived in the open ground and even helped himself to an excellent point in the first half.
Clare led by 1-9 to 0-6 at half-time, leaving Limerick, who didn't score from open play until the 22nd minute, with a massive challenge for which they were not properly equipped.
The second half was even -- 0-5 each -- after Clare led by eight points approaching the hour mark. Limerick raised the tempo on the run-in, but needed a goal to worry Clare, whose defence held solid.
It was a very encouraging performance by Clare, not least because their style was so reminiscent of the usual first team. Clearly, Fitzgerald has inculcated a pattern which applies to all personnel, frontline or otherwise.
He was pleased by the manner in which his side went about their business, but has longer-term concerns about Clare's prospects in the early rounds of the league.
"My honest opinion is that we are going to be under pressure in the first few rounds of the league. I don't think we'll have enough done," he said.
"I'm looking at other counties -- the likes of Kilkenny and Dublin -- they have weeks and weeks of work done.
"That's a worry for us going into the league. We'll find it hard to pick up points until well into March. We're miles behind the likes of Kilkenny and Dublin."
He is likely to slot in more of his top stars in the Waterford Crystal semi-final next weekend as the hard work intensifies in the run-up to the start of the league on February 16.
"It will be interesting to see how the lads who didn't play today have wintered. I'm delighted for the lads who did so well today, but the real stuff is around the corner. Limerick were missing a lot of their top guys as well so we won't be reading much into it," he said.
TJ Ryan said that Clare's better return from frees proved crucial on a day when their attack suffered a serious malfunction.
"We'd be happy with a few of the performances but we missed a lot of chances in front of goals, and also missed a lot of frees We had a few opportunities to get back into the game but conceded a few soft frees which they scored -- that was the difference," he said.
Scorers -- Clare: B Duggan 0-12 (9fs), C O'Connell 1-1, K Ryan 0-1. Limerick: J Fitzgibbon 0-5fs, W Hickey 0-2, D O'Donovan, P O'Brien, S Tobin, T Quaid 0-1 each.
Clare -- D Touhy; K Ryan, C Duggan, S Morey; C Cleary, P Kelly, P O'Connor; L Markham, S Golden; N O'Connell, C O'Connell, A O'Neill; B Duggan, C Cooney, D Reidy. Subs: S Collins for O'Neill (h-t), D O'Halloran for Cooney (59), D O'Donovan for Kelly (59), C Ryan for Markham (64), S Gleeson for Reidy (65).
Limerick -- B Hennessey; S Walsh, P O'Loughlin, R English; W McNamara, G O'Mahony, C McNamara; P Browne, P O'Brien; D O'Donovan, D O'Grady, W Hickey; G Mulcahy, M Ryan, J Fitzgibbon. Subs: S Tobin for O'Donovan (53), T Quaid for Ryan (59), B Lynch for Walsh (65), R McCarthy for English (67).
Ref -- D Copps (Cork)