Limerick 2-11 Clare 1-12
"WHAT a waste of a good crowd," was the concise and spot-on summary from one among the less-than-enthralled 13,600 attendance at the Gaelic Grounds yesterday, for this NHL Division 1 Group 1 game, the first of an eagerly-awaited televised double-header.
From start to totally unpredictable finish, it was a woeful exhibition of hurling. But for the fact that Limerick scored 2-1 in injury-time to steal a thoroughly undeserved victory, the whole affair would barely merit comment.
Even Limerick selector Damien Quigley was disgusted.
"2-1 in the second to fifth minutes of injury-time and the second goal was a mis-hit free? A draw or a win it makes no difference, the display was very poor, we're very disappointed with it. We need to discuss that now among ourselves, that kind of fare just isn't good enough."
It was 1-4 to 0-6 at half-time, in favour of Clare, but no one seemed to give much of a damn, on or off the field. With a host of front-line players marked absent, Clare had already flagged their attitude to the remaining fixtures in this League. There was no Brian Lohan, Ollie Baker, Colin Lynch, Frank Lohan, Tony Griffin or top-scorer Niall Gilligan.
"Three injured and three rested," manager Anthony Daly explained. Clearly, their focus is on bigger days ahead. And yet, even with only their B+ starting 15, Clare looked a class ahead of the home side.
They smothered a powder-puff Limerick attack and could afford the luxury of carrying four non-paying passengers of their own up front as they slowly ground out the scores. Clare even shrugged off the loss early in the second half of Alan Markham, along with Jamesie O'Connor and continued to look the better side.
At times, in fact, it looked like a game no one wanted to win.
"That's exactly what it looked like, to be perfectly honest with you," Quigley agreed. "I'm not sure what the Clare view is, but they didn't appear like they were going for a win either. Disappointing display, a lot of work to do. If we play like that against anybody else, we'll be destroyed."
The Clare view? Manager Daly was disappointed, obviously, at throwing away such a big lead.
"Lack of concentration," he put it down to. "That's exactly the point I was just making to the lads inside (in the dressing-room). At this level, you can't do that. We looked like we had the game sewn up, took our eye off the ball and it just goes to show what can happen."
As for this game, this League, well, Clare have bigger fish to fry, and Daly makes no bones about it. "We're playing every game as it comes. We want to win every game. We go down to Cork next week and will try and win that, and if we wind up in the League final, we'll try and win the League final.
"But the championship is the priority. We've said that from the word go, said we'd be experimenting all the way through. Still, we're very disappointed to lose a five-point lead in injury-time, there will be some harsh words said when we meet tomorrow night."
The words will be a lot stronger than 'harsh', in Limerick. Their defence was excellent with TJ Ryan and Ollie Moran outstanding and young Brian Carroll also catching the eye. Niall Moran also looks the part; his late, late mis-hit 25m free which could have cost Limerick, ended up winning the game for them, but his overall play was good, his effort never waned.
Up front, however, is where Limerick have most problems. Andrew O'Shaughnessy, their biggest threat, was a late absentee, away on Army Cadet training duty. In his absence, all three inside forwards were hauled ashore early. Their replacements did offer some succour to the growing legions of sceptical fans. James Butler hit the point that set off the comeback, while Pat Tobin hit a brilliant goal to bring it within two points.
Still though, there was no consolation; not to Padjoe Whelehan and his selectors, not to the panel, not to the perished thousands in that shower-drenched crowd.
Meanwhile, Clare can console themselves with the fact they could have and should have beaten Limerick, even without all those big guns.
It bodes well for the Banner, bodes ill for Limerick, bodes worst of all for this new League format.
Scorers: Limerick: N. Moran 1-3 (1-1 frees; 0-1 65); P. Tobin 1-0; E. O'Neill 0-3 (0-2 frees); M. McKenna, D. Ryan, J. O'Brien, S. O'Connor, J. Butler, 0-1 each. Clare: J. O'Connor 0-6 (all frees); A. Markham 1-1; S. McMahon 0-3 (0-2 frees, 0-1 65); B. O'Connor, G. Quinn, 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: A. Shanahan; M. Cahill, TJ Ryan, B. Carroll; O. Moran, B. Geary, M. Foley; N. Moran, C. Smith; S. O'Connor, J. O'Brien, JP Sheehan; D. Ryan, E. O'Neill, M. McMahon. Subs: P. Tobin (O'Neill 52); P. Russell (D. Ryan 61); J. Butler (McKenna 61).
CLARE: G. O'Connell; B. Quinn, R. O'Looney, C. Forde; D. Hoey, S. McMahon, C. Plunkett; P. Vaughan, J. Reddan; A. Markham, B. Culbert, J. O'Connor; B. Murphy, S. Moloney, D. O'Connell. Subs: B. O'Connor (Markham, inj. 40); A. O'Brien (Moloney 52); B. McPhillips (Hoey 52); G. Quinn (Murphy 62); B. Lynch (Vaughan 68).
Referee: S. Hogan (Tipperary). Solid job.