After the Clare-Limerick game yesterday evening, I turned the car for Cork so I could stay the night and be fully refreshed for this morning’s Irish Examiner podcast.
As soon as I switched on the radio, I had to turn it off again. As a Clareman, any analysis of the game was loaded with misery, and laced with pain. So to try and soothe the hurt, I turned on Lyric FM.
I don’t know what famous composer’s music I was listening to — it was either Bach or Beethoven — but I was hoping it might take my mind off what I’d just witnessed. It was a devastating day for Clare people to take that kind of a hiding from our neighbours and arch rivals, but you’re as low as a snake’s belly when you’re looking to Lyric FM to pick you up.
I was down after the Tipperary game eight days ago but my mood lifted as the week went on. I couldn’t go too near Doonbeg with Mr Trump around but I went back around Kilkee for a walk to clear my head.
Maybe the fresh breeze drifting in over the cliffs jolted me from my negative mental state but I was thinking to myself ‘What an opportunity we have, going into the Gaelic Grounds with the chance to put the All-Ireland champions out of the championship’.
By 6pm yesterday, any dreams of that scenario had faded to a nightmare as ghoulish as scenes from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This was nothing short of a massacre. Our body language was poor against Tipperary but it was worse yesterday. Gerry O’Connor was bullish in his pre-match interview. I understand that Gerry can’t come out and be negative. You have to be positive as a manager, but you have to be angry too.
After the hiding we got from Waterford in 2004, we had time before our next qualifier, but we were angry, mad, seriously pissed off with ourselves as a group, both the players and management. You have to show that anger but there were no signs of it yesterday.
I hate to say it, but this was shambolic from Clare. I’ve had my own personal horror shows as a Clare player and manager — that 2004 defeat to Waterford being top of the list — but this was nearly pre-1995 stuff, especially with successive hidings from Tipperary in Limerick.
In Clare, we thought those dog-days were long behind us.
Most of these Clare players have no recollection of those days, and the mental scars they left on so many generations of Clare people. That’s the most disappointing aspect with this group; they have All-Ireland U21 and senior medals; many of them were young boys when we won our All-Irelands in 1995 and 1997, so they have grown up in a different time, a different culture. They looked set to completely rewrite Clare’s hurling history after 2013 but they just haven’t kicked on and done so.
These guys will always be heroes in Clare. For me, their place in history will always be secured because we have only won four All-Irelands. But the most gut-wrenching part is that group just looked to be different to all the players who had gone before them. And, apart from 2013, they’re not.
Jack Browne, Colm Galvin, Cathal Malone, and Peter Duggan tried hard but we were beaten all over the pitch.
One score from play in the first half summed up the performance. We did have a couple of goal chances but Clare needed to take everything that was going. Aron Shanagher should have batted that ball instead of taking it in his hand, but that’s just an example of a young lad doubting himself. He was coming on last year as Clare’s saviour but Aron got minimal game-time during the league. I know Aron from my time with the UL freshers and I know that would have played on his mind. He’s a confidence player and, if he’d buried that chance, there’s every chance he could have stuck another in the net.
Clare just couldn’t get any traction. I felt sorry for Donal Tuohy with his puckouts in the first half. He hit one out over the sideline. Another short puckout to David McInerney ended back up over Tuts’ head after David was casual and was blocked down. But looking at the stats in that first half, Limerick won seven of Tuts’ 10 long puckouts. So what was the Clare keeper supposed to do?
Limerick weren’t exactly getting huge joy off their own puckouts in the first half. When John Kiely was interviewed afterwards, he wasn’t referring to an 18-point win against the old enemy; his main focus was on the struggles Limerick had on their own restarts. That just reaffirmed how focused Kiely and his Limerick management team are, and how grounded the players have to be in that environment. Clare’s spectacular collapse appears to be the real story but it shouldn’t be either, because Limerick were so impressive. We wondered last week if the story was more about Waterford than Limerick but an aggregate winning margin of 38 points within the space of seven days is the surest proof yet that the All-Ireland champions are back with a vengeance.
They’re effectively in the top three now but they’ll surely go all out against Tipperary next week to reach a Munster final. No matter what happens next Sunday, Limerick will only get better as the season progresses. When the pressure came on after the Cork defeat, Limerick responded by showing why they are All-Ireland champions.
The five subs introduced just proved once more why Limerick have the best squad in the country. Even Tipperary have nothing like the strength in depth Limerick now possess. If Sean Finn gets hurt, Tom Condon slots in. If Cian Lynch misses out, William O’Donoghue and Darragh O’Donovan can form a formidable midfield partnership. If anything, the team almost got stronger yesterday when they started emptying the bench.
Yesterday was a big statement from Limerick but Galway also used the opportunity in Nowlan Park to get out the megaphone and tell everyone they haven’t gone away. It was a brilliant game. We watched the match in the TV studio in Limerick but we were all jumping out of our seats with the excitement and drama.
After the anaemic display in Salthill against Wexford, Galway definitely rediscovered their mojo. Cathal Mannion was superb. He led the charge but you have to give it up to Kilkenny once more. They were down to 14 men and down by six points and they still nearly salvaged a draw at the death.
TJ Reid was phenomenal. Cathal Mannion won man-of-the-match but Reid showed again why he has moved into that elite bracket as one of the greatest forwards in hurling history. He nearly carried the day on his own but Galway were slicker, sharper, and, overall, better. Their tackling was ferocious. They hunted in packs. Jason Flynn did some fantastic stuff — he had a major hand in two of the goals — but Galway still need Joe Canning back to give them that assurance on placed balls that Flynn doesn’t provide.
Whatever happens, next weekend is going to produce some massive drama in Leinster. Kilkenny-Wexford is going to be epic stuff but Galway-Dublin could go any way too. Galway may have a lot of the hard work done but this could still come down to scoring difference if the four teams end up on five points, which is very possible.
On the other hand, Munster has been the complete opposite. As we all expected, Cork got the job done on Saturday evening against Waterford. Cork were impressive when hitting 2-30 but the game had the feel of a challenge game for long periods.
It’s been a difficult summer for Waterford but it looks like Paraic Fanning will be given time to try and turn it around next year. I don’t know if that is possible but there are still plenty of good players in that squad. Many of those experienced lads are crucial to Waterford going forward but, by going with such a young team on Saturday, I’m sure Paraic will be investing a lot of faith in those guys if he is to try and rebuild something from the rubble of this championship. It’s hard to believe that it has all unravelled so spectacularly for Waterford and Clare but at least Clare have some tiny level of hope to focus on. It will be extremely hard to lift their spirits for Cork in six days’ time but these players should have no issue in getting up for Cork after all the pain they have inflicted on this group in the last five years. The players will be on the floor today but if they could somehow squeeze into third position, they’d have five weeks to try and resurrect the season.
Waterford at least hurled with pride and honour on Saturday and Clare have to at least show the public, and especially the management which have been with them for three years, and which guided them to three All-Ireland U21s in a row, the same level of respect on Sunday.
The management, and the rest of us in Clare who are in the absolute horrors since yesterday, deserve that much at least.