I was commentating with Limerick’s Ollie Moran, who was nearly beside himself with delight. I couldn’t believe it. When I saw the number ‘4’ go up a few seconds later, I thought that reflected the amount of injury time still to play. So did everyone from Clare.
The Clare management were incandescent afterwards and I can understand that anger. The ‘4’ was apparently for Seamus Hickey’s substitution, but Hickey was gone at least three minutes by that stage. How does it make any sense anyway to put up a number ‘4’ after a ‘1’ has already gone up? I don’t remember a goalkeeper being substituted.
Apart from that confusion, I still find it hard to believe that referee Colm Lyons could only find 60 seconds to cover a second-half that was riddled with stoppages. Combined with Shane Dowling’s second-half free, which at first I thought was wide, the match was pock-marked with shoddy officialdom.
Limerick deserved their win but the referee never fully stamped his authority on the match. There were some stonewall frees not given because the Cork official seemed to be playing this new advantage rule a lot, where the player in possession had as much of a chance of getting away from the chasing pack as a baby calf had of outrunning a pack of wolves. Both sides suffered from that refereeing policy.
I think the lawmakers are going to have to look at that rule because I can see it causing wreck as the championship develops. The Limerick minors played Westmeath in a challenge game recently and James McGrath applied the rule very intelligently. I appreciate that a minor challenge is a world away from the Munster championship but referees appear to feel pressurised into utilising a rule — which is now official — which impacts on the net result of its application.
I can see the point of it in football, but in hurling, most players and managers would prefer to be given the free, especially when it’s far out the field. A footballer isn’t going to score a free from 70 yards but with the quality of freetakers like Dowling and Colin Ryan around, a hurling free from 100 yards is convertible.
Limerick’s first-half dominance was an accurate reflection of the control they had on the match for long periods but they never translated it onto the scoreboard. Dowling did miss a few scoreable frees but his accuracy from dead-balls was still the difference. Some of the monster frees he landed were always going to be huge in such a tight game.
Clare will be extremely disappointed, but they showed huge spirit to claw their back into the match when they looked gone over the cliff-top at six points down. Aaron Cunningham’s two goals were super scores. It’s hard to believe that Shane O’Donnell only ended the match with one point from play but his ability to win primary possession is something else and if Clare can get Cunningham functioning as the main support runner off him, they could do serious damage with that combination.
John Conlon showed huge leadership and many of the young players displayed the class which has marked them out as underage players. With Conor McGrath and Brendan Bugler to return, nobody will want to meet Clare in the qualifiers. They will be even more dangerous if they can talk Colm Galvin into returning home from Boston but the problems in the full-back line that were so evident during the league still haven’t been sorted.
Cian Lynch went to town early on and after David McInerney was switched to try and put a lasso around Lynch, Graham Mulcahy thundered into the game in the other corner. Yet Clare waited 54 minutes before making a change in that sector when introducing Seadna Morey.
Neither Pat Donnellan or Seánie Tobin could argue with their sending-offs because you have no case when you raise, jab or strike with the hurley anymore. The sending-offs also contributed to the tactical texture of the game but it was a tactical maze anyway, given how both teams set up.
The first half was frustrating stuff to watch for Munster championship hurling, because both teams were afraid to come and attack the match. It was nearly like Kerry’s attitude in last year’s All-Ireland final against Donegal — we’ll stick it out and not break first. After being caught out so badly in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, TJ Ryan and his players certainly had no hang-ups about digging the trenches and toughing it out.
Limerick were still caught a little in no-man’s land in the opening half. Playing Paul Browne so deep allowed him, Paudie O’Brien and Jim Bob Ryan to control the middle third but it left Limerick short of bodies up front and their long-ball tactic was becoming more redundant as the half progressed and Pat O’Connor settled into the sweeper role.
The comparison between the respective benches was also going to be decisive, with Clare missing four All-Stars. John Fitzgibbon’s impact was crucial at the end but it is still really is dependent on fate and luck at that stage of the game when everybody is scrambling to survive and stay alive on such a frenetic battlefield.
Clare have time now to reorganise and work on the areas they need to sort out. Limerick know that performance won’t beat Tipp but it will be a totally different game and Limerick will bring momentum and the surge of their home support to the Gaelic Grounds on June 21. The heat of the summer is only beginning to shimmer.