Also a day of terribly poor football in near-perfect conditions, especially for this time of year, a day when the side that was clearly inferior almost from first ball to last were only denied victory by a goalkeeping error from one of their few impressive players on the day.
That error was probably the most ironic event of all; all game a tame Limerick attack had been dropping powder-puff balls into the arms of Dermot O’Brien in the Clare goals.
With 13 minutes remaining, an utterly-dominant Limerick side still somehow trailing 1-4 to 0-3, midfielder and team captain Jason Stokes dropped another floating butterfly into O’Brien. Granted, corner-forward Eoin Keating was following up but really, there was no pressure, no danger.
However, O’Brien dropped the ball and watched it agonisingly roll over the line, not even reaching the back of the net.
“I turned to the lads when that goal went in and said, ‘that was the only way we were going to score’,” said a frustrated Limerick manager Liam Kearns afterwards. His side did go on to win the game, only after extra time, and after Muiris Gavin had failed with a good chance to sew it up from a 35m free in the last act of normal time.
This was a very poor display from both sets of forwards, but given Limerick are the side with serious pretensions, they have the greater cause for concern. Clare managed just one point from play in nearly 90 minutes of football, made a hero of impressive Limerick keeper Seamus O’Donnell with a succession of underhit balls of their own.
Limerick got five scores from play, but with midfield dominated by Stokes and Timmy Carroll, powered by a superb half-back line of Padraig Browne, Stephen Lucey and Damien Reidy, they seemed to have five times as much possession.
Given such supremacy they should have romped home; instead, they trailed at the break 1-3 to 0-2 (Clare’s points courtesy of three Denis Russell pointed frees, a lovely first-time curling goal shot from the same player), were tied 1-5 apiece at the end of normal time, despite having a plethora of game-winning opportunities.
The only time they showed any real top-class finishing pedigree was in the first period of extra-time when Gavin finally found his range, notched a hat-trick of points, and Mark Keane (introduced to the attack along with Mike O’Brien in a match-winning move in the 44th minute), added another. O’Brien also got on the scoresheet, and both looked well capable at this level.
“We were missing half our championship team, but that doesn’t explain it,” Kearns reasoned. “We dominated the game but kicked wide after wide, woeful on the day. Seven balls hit short, in the first half, five wides, what are they doing, I asked myself at half-time? Maybe it was the build-up, but if we play like that against Laois and the other big games to come, it won’t do. The only consolation, we won ugly, showed character, enough composure to kick four or five points after a lot of bad misses.”
No such consolation for Clare manager John Kennedy. His defence was solid, tenacious tight-marking full-back line of Padraig Gallagher, Conor Whelan and Christy Kirwin, O’Brien solid in goal despite that error, Ronan Slattery outstanding, but elsewhere? Problems in midfield, huge deficit in attack.
What Kennedy would do to have a real dual problem in Clare, to have the likes of Colin Lynch at his disposal.
Scorers for Limerick: M. Gavin 0-4 (frees); J. Stokes 1-0; S. Kelly 0-2; M. Horan, M. O’Brien, M. Keane, 0-1 each.
Clare: Denis Russell 1-3 (0-3 frees); A. Clohessy 0-2; K. Considine 0-1.
LIMERICK: S. O’Donnell; D. Burke, J. McCarthy, M. O’Riordan; P. Browne, S. Lucey, D. Reidy; J. Stokes, T. Carroll; S. Kelly, M. Gavin, C. Mullane; M. Horan, J. Murphy, E. Keating. Subs: D. Sheehy (Burke 14); M. O’Brien (Murphy 44); M. Keane (Horan 44); C. Hickey (Kelly 60+1); P. Ahern (e.t. 17).
CLARE: D. O’Brien; P. Gallagher, C. Whelan, C. Kirwin; N. Griffin, D. Kiely, R. Slattery; D. O’Sullivan, G. Quinlan; Denis Russell, A. Clohessy, B. Considine; J. Daly, M. O’Shea, K. Considine. Subs: J. Dowling (Daly 30); J. Moody (Kiely 47); E. Coughlan (Quinlan (62); B. Harte (Denis Russell 60); David Russell (Clarecastle, B. Considine e.t. 10).
Referee: A. Mangan (Kerry), good job.