Limerick on the right track

Limerick 1-14 Clare 0-13

It now sets up a tilt against high-flying Waterford IT in the final of the Waterford Crystal Cup.

Three big Munster scalps, and while it's not exactly championship fare, it's enough to be going on with, reckons manager Joe McKenna.

"Going well, three good games, we just want to get good competitive matches in, and Waterford, Tipp, Clare, we're happy with that. It was good for Clare, good for us. There's nothing between us any day we go out, let's hope we get to meet in the Munster final."

A little tongue-in-cheek that last remark. There is still a lot of Shannon to flow under Sarsfield Bridge before that can happen, but there's no doubt that Limerick have got 2006 off to a very good start.

Despite showing five personnel changes from the side that knocked out Tipperary last week, and several other switches in positions, Limerick were soon into their stride in this one, ahead by 1-4 to 0-1 after ten minutes, and 1-8 to 0-4 at the break.

The goal was soft, a centre from distance by midfielder Donal O'Grady that slipped through the fingers of late call-up Kieran Devitt in the Clare goal, but with corner-forward Mark Keane in deadly form from placed balls, Limerick were full value for that seven-point lead.

Like their hosts, Clare were only at about two-thirds of full championship strength, but they weren't near as sharp as the home side in that opening period. Two good reasons for this - they were facing a stiff breeze, and several players were lining out for the second time in 24 hours (they beat Galway in a challenge on Saturday).

In the second half, Limerick again took the initiative, and points from the impressive Donal O'Grady and wing-forward Mike O'Brien extended the lead to nine points.

Back came Clare, however, and inspired by a four-point barrage in as many minutes from centre-forward Tony Carmody, Tony Griffin also chipping in with a brace when shifted to wing-forward, they cut the gap to two (1-12 to 0-13) with just six minutes remaining.

A silly free conceded just 30m out, however, converted by Keane, a final point by O'Grady, after a poor Clare puck-out, and Limerick were home and hosed.

"Great second half, mighty scores taken," enthused Clare manager Anthony Daly. "If we hadn't made a couple of silly mistakes, their goal was very handy, we'd have been there or thereabouts."

Worthwhile exercise then, this Waterford Crystal Cup? "Brian White [referee] was certainly very enthusiastic about it anyway, he blew the whistle quite a bit," he grinned.

"It was a grand clean game, I don't know what all the blowing was about. It was way better than a challenge for us, competitive, get a bit of an edge up for the League. We needed to get some fellas a game - Colin Lynch, Brian Lohan, Gerry Quinn. We'll have to cut down the panel shortly, before the League anyway, after next weekend probably; these games are useful, better than any challenge games."

For Joe McKenna, meanwhile, that League opener - Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds on February 19 - looms ever closer.

Unlike former years, this time Limerick intends to be ready. "We're looking at every match seriously, we want to win every game we play, that's our policy this year. We've played three games, playing WIT now in the final of this tournament [next Sunday], that's the next game we have to look at. UL had a very good win over LIT, WIT beat UL today, so they must be good. We will be taking it seriously, we're in the final of this competition, we want to win it. After that, it's Cork in a challenge. We'll look at that one then, each game as it comes."

Scorers: Limerick: M. Keane 0-7 (0-6 frees); D. O'Grady 1-2; O. Moran (free), P. O'Grady (free), C. Fitzgerald, M. O'Brien, S. O'Connor, 0-1 each. Clare: T. Carmody 0-4 (0-2 frees); D. McMahon 0-4 (0-2 frees 0-1 65); T. Griffin 0-2; B. O'Connell, D. O'Connell, F. Lynch, 0-1 each.

LIMERICK: B. Murray; D. Reale, K. Breen, D. Moloney; O. Moran, S. Lucey, E. Benson; D. O'Grady, P. O'Grady; C. Fitzgerald, N. Collins, M. O'Brien; P. Kirby, S. O'Connor, M. Keane.

Subs: M. Fitzgerald (O'Connor 30); J. O'Brien (Collins 49); W. Walsh (Benson 51); A. O'Shaughnessy (Kirby 52); S. Hickey (Moran 57).

CLARE: K. Devitt; T. Holland, B. Lohan, C. Harrison; D. Hoey, C. Forde, G. Quinn; B. Lynch, C. Lynch; D. McMahon, T. Carmody, B. O'Connell; T. Griffin, F. Lynch, B. Nugent.

Subs: D. O'Connell (B. Lynch 40).

Referee: B. White (Tipperary). Frustrating.

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