THE angry man in the queue for chips last Saturday night wasn’t sparing the blame.
Clearly unhappy with what he’d just seen from Clare in Cusack Park, he had plenty of guilt to assign.
“I mean, why they just couldn’t get the ball into Colm Honan I don’t know,” was the end of one aria, though not quite the final note: “A snack box with Coke, please.”
In a way it was understandable. Clare had been more than in the hunt against Limerick, who’d only pulled away in the Division 2 final when Kevin Downes careered along the end-line to bury the game-deciding goal for the Shannonsiders.
It was a bit unfair to criticise the father of Clare forward Darach Honan for his contribution, however. Presumably by the time the Queens nightclub wound down in the early hours of Sunday morning the angry man had moved onto the culpability of Darach’s great-grandfather.
The main event last Saturday night was billed as a significant night for Clare hurling, and the build-up bore that out. Though the Sunday afternoon throw-in is hard-wired into the GAA brain, if truth were told Saturday tea-time is a familiar station also, and Ennis had all the trademarks of a Saturday evening championship game.
The heat of late afternoon rising off the roads and footpaths; the crowd at the entrances to the ground; and the cars abandoned at every nook and cranny as you approached the epicentre, like the establishing scenes of a movie set after the apocalypse.
If any film director is currently considering locations for such an effort then he could do worse than consider the Clare county town on the day of a big game; as Gaeilge Ennis translates as ‘leave the wheels anywhere you like, boss’.
The crowd got what they came for. If the surroundings were championship standard, the game itself wasn’t quite at that white heat, but it still had more zing and pop than practically any other league game we saw this spring.
The obvious conclusion is that Clare were undone by the four goals that Limerick scored, and there was acertain inevitability about Downes’ fine strike, given the success he and his teammates had enjoyed up to then.
It was hard luck on the likes of John Conlon, who worked hard and helped himself to four points from play, and the electrifying Darach Honan, who buried the goal of the game and always looked threatening.
That duo make a fine axis for any attack, which makes an ironic counterpoint to the great Clare side of the 90’s. Their defensive spine of Lohan and McMahon anchored a team which would have warmly welcomed two attacking options like Conlon and Honan.
Ger O’Loughlin would be happy as a former forward with a tally of 2-13, but he’ll need to make his defence less accommodating. Unfortunately for him, another season in Division 2 isn’t conducive to cultivating good habits.
As for their opponents, well, you wouldn’t have needed forensic scientists to find Donal O’Grady’s fingerprints all over this team.
Facing the wind in the first-half, Limerick preferred to hold possession rather than essaying any shots from out the field. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but it showed the planning that has always illuminated O’Grady’s sides.
So did their basics: the game was still live when Clare came knocking on the door in the final five minutes, and Limerick’s ability to put in significant blocks suggested sessions devoted to the elementals as well as broad tactics.
The win restores Limerick to Division 1, and on Saturday night’s evidence they belong there. Though several Clare players have All-Ireland U21 medals of recent vintage, Limerick had men on display who lined out in a senior All-Ireland final just four years ago.
That’s not to say it was men against boys; it was just a matter of men with top senior experience against men with a good deal less. (A colleague points out that a current student at Ard Scoil Ris —Declan Hannon — was on the Limerick team, while his school trainer – Niall Moran – wasn’t, suggesting the schoolyard banter there tomorrow should be interesting.)
From now until Limerick meet Waterford in the Munster championship you can expect duelling negativities, of course. Davy Fitzgerald will be shaking his head sadly and wondering why he and his men will bother turning up, while Donal O’Grady will shrug his shoulders and point to where his side is coming from.
In reality both will fancy their chances, of course.
But the angry man in the chipper and other Banner supporters would do well to remember that they’ll have something to say to the winners of that particular game.
*It was good to hear Gavin O’Mahony’s warm tribute to Andrew O’Shaughnessy in his victory speech. It was even better to see disappointed Clare people join in the applause for same.
* Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx
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