Clare 1-13 Limerick1-12
By Brendan O’Brien in Cusack Park, Ennis.
Clare have limped into a Munster football semi-final against league champions Kerry next month on the back of an utterly unconvincing and, in the end, fortuitous victory against Limerick on Sunday afternoon.
All-Ireland quarter-finalists last year, the Banner did their best to throw it away in second-half injury time, conceding 1-1 to a Limerick side that had just lost forward Danny Neville to a second yellow card.
The home side led by 1-8 to 0-6 at half-time but there should have been more additions to the scoreboard on both sides by then.
Eoin Cleary claimed the one goal, a thumping finish high to the net on ten minutes after Keelan Sexton had flicked on a superb long ball from the impressive Jamie Malone. Cleary sent another effort whizzing by a post minutes later and Sexton had a low effort destined for the net until it ricocheted back off goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan’s legs.
Limerick had their own such chances.
David Ward skidded one effort wide after being put in behind the cover by Peter Nash and Seamus O’Carroll had a chance denied by the lower body of Clare keeper Joe Hayes in the last action of the half.
Limerick, despite spending the spring at a league level two tiers below their hosts, were being more than competitive but they gifted Clare at least three of their first-half points with careless play despite dominating possession for long spells.
Clare were far from perfect themselves. Eight attempts on goal went awry in the opening period - and another six after the break - and their defence opened like the Red Sea once or twice but they were, by and large, more structured at the back and more direct in attack.
The second-half though was appalling.
The third quarter delivered six wides, half as many points and a terrible finish by Malone when through on the Limerick goal as both sides struggled to inject any manner of momentum or intensity into a game played in front of just 2,968 paying spectators.
On it limped with Clare’s lead maxing out at six and shrinking to four at one point in the last ten minutes after Sexton squandered the chance to end any doubt as to the result when smacking a shot against the Limerick keeper’s shins.
They almost paid for it too.
Still leading by five as the clock ticked past 70 and Limerick down to 14, Clare coughed up a careless 1-1 to Limerick sub Josh Ryan, the goal coming direct from their own kick-out, but the hosts survived to book a date with Kerry that looks to be a tall, tall order after this.
Scorers for Clare: E Cleary (1-4, 2f); D Tubridy (0-4, 2f); K Sexton (0-3, 1f); P Lillis and S Collins (both 0-1).
Scorers for Limerick: J Ryan (1-1); S O’Carroll (0-3); D Neville (0-2); G Collins (0-2, 1f); S O’Dea, D Tracey, I Corbett and J Naughton (all 0-1).
Clare: Joe Hayes; G Kelly, K Harnett, M McMahon; P Lillis, D Ryan, John Hayes; G Brennan, S Brennan; C O’Connor, S Collins, J Malone; E Cleary, D Tubridy, K Sexton. Subs: L Markham for O’Connor (60); G O’Brien for Collins (65); S Malone for Tubridy (70); D Nagle for Harnett (71).
Limerick: D Daly, J McCarthy, S O’Dea; P White, B Fanning, G Noonan; D Ward, D Tracey; P Nash, J Naughton, I Corbett; G Collins, D Neville, S O’Carroll. Subs: J Ryan for Ward (47); S McSweeney for Nash (52); J Lee for Naughton (58); T McCarthy for Daly (60); P Scanlon for Collins (63); P Quinn for O’Carroll (68);
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).