Banner flying high as Limerick hit rock bottom

IS this as bad as it gets for Limerick hurling? After yesterday’s debacle in Ennis in the first round of the All-Ireland qualifying series, their rapidly diminishing band of fans will certainly hope so.

Having enjoyed a successful start to the season, qualified for the National League final, performed well against Kilkenny, a lot was expected from Limerick in the championship this year, both inside and outside the county. Oh, how they’ve disappointed.

It started five weeks ago in Munster. It wasn’t just the four-point loss to Tipperary, it was the poor performance all round.

Yesterday was their chance of redemption, and, according to retiring manager Joe McKenna, everything looked good in the build-up.

"Things couldn’t have been better in the camp ... The first two weeks after the match against Tipperary they were down, but we went away last weekend and it was very successful, they were really flying. We expected to beat Clare, but it just didn’t happen."

Many will point the finger of blame at McKenna and his management team. They had made four changes in personnel from the starting 15 for the Tipperary game, which wouldn’t have merited too much adverse comment in itself; a late fifth change was enforced, with the loss through injury of captain and full-back TJ Ryan. It’s what happened just before throw-in that really bemused people; from nowhere a newcomer, Kieran Breen of Na Piarsaigh, was called up to replace TJ at full-back, and, in the most baffling of ten positional switches from the announced line-up, stalwart centre-back Brian Geary was shifted to centre-forward in a direct swap with Stephen Lucey.

Lucey did well, but that was about it. The revamped full-back line, especially, was all at sea. Limerick conceded 2-7 in the first-half despite the fact that their half-back line of Seamus Hickey, Lucey and Mark Foley was hurling well — as Ollie Moran held his own against the impressive Clare duo of Colin Lynch and Jonathon Clancy.

The full-back line, however, was affording no cover to keeper Brian Murray. So, who was taken off at half-time? Brian Murray!

Meanwhile, the Limerick attack managed only three points in the first half and all from placed balls. And yet, only one change was made during that period with Mark Keane coming on for, yes, Brian Geary.

Most of the blame for this display, however, has to go to the players and not the selectors. Maybe it wasn’t the best 15 Limerick could muster, and maybe those chosen weren’t in their best positions. Still, they should still have done better.

The Clare goals, softly conceded but well taken by Declan O’Rourke and Alan Markham, were blows but, with 25 minutes to play, Limerick were just eight points behind (2-8 to 0-6).

They overcame the same deficit in their league semi-final win, less than two months ago, over the same opposition, and in less time, so their long-suffering fans could at least expect Limerick to put up a fight.

Instead, they threw in the towel. Eleven unanswered points by Clare followed in just 14 minutes, and this game was long gone. At 2-19 to 0-6 in the 63rd minutes, all those six Limerick points coming from placed balls; this was an embarrassment. Blood-sub Willie Walsh finally managed a Limerick point from play, after 66th minutes, but this one ended in a whimper.

Even Clare manager Anthony Daly was subdued, not reading too much into a win no-one could really celebrate. "We didn’t take a lot of notice of the team they announced, we heard they would make changes. We were tempted to make a lot of switches ourselves but we didn’t.

"We didn’t think we were as bad as we looked against Cork, but we also know we’re certainly not as good as we looked out there.

"We have to go to Parnell Park in two weeks to play Dublin, and that’s as far as I’m looking now. There’s a bit of competition for places, that’s healthy, that’s good, but we’d still be a mile off Cork, off Kilkenny."

Scorers: Clare: T. Griffin 1-5; D. O’Rourke 1-3; N. Gilligan 0-4 (0-1 free); J. Clancy 0-3; B. Nugent 0-2; F. Lynch, D. Quinn (free), B. O’Connell, A. Markham, 0-1 each. Limerick: M. Keane 0-4 (0-4 frees); B. Foley 0-2 (0-2 frees); M. O’Brien, M. Foley (65), N. Moran, W. Walsh, 0-1 each.

CLARE: D. Fitzgerald; G. O’Grady, B. Lohan, F. Lohan; B. O’Connell, S. McMahon, G. Quinn; J. Clancy, C. Lynch; D. O’Rourke, T. Carmody, D. McMahon; N. Gilligan, A. Markham, T. Griffin. Subs: F. Lynch (Carmody 45); D. Quinn (Gilligan inj. 47); B. Nugent (D. McMahon 54); D. O’Connell (Markham 60); D. Hoey (G. Quinn 63).

LIMERICK: B. Murray; M. O’Riordan, K. Breen, D. Reale; S. Hickey, S. Lucey, M. Foley; O. Moran, C. Fitzgerald; M. O’Brien, B. Geary, D. Ryan (c); A. O’Shaughnessy, B. Begley, B. Foley. Subs: M. Keane (Geary 25); T. Houlihan (Murray 35); N. Moran (B. Foley 35); P. O’Grady (Fitzgerald 48); D. O’Grady (O’Shaughnessy 54).

Referee: Seamus Roche (Tipperary).