Limerick put down a marker

Limerick 2-14

"We came here to win, not by a few points, but to put down a marker. Everyone was saying when we had beaten Cork that we wouldn't do it again. We had seen other flops, and we didn't want to do that," he said.

And how. True, they struggled for much of the first-half of this Munster SFC semi-final at Cusack Park, Ennis before breaking free of Clare's game, but limited, challenge. Thus unshackled, they unfurled a dazzling display of intelligent positional play, well-used brawn, and outstanding athleticism.

Limerick football is gazing unto horizons not contemplated within the county since Gaelic football was played by men in breeches. Supporters of the green and white have taken to this team wholly, and they drove the attendance up close to 18,000 yesterday.

Limerick will play Kerry in only their fifth-ever Munster final appearance and their momentum over the past two seasons has led them inexorably to this point.

They shatter to pieces the stereotype of newcomers triumphing primarily through the force of their will. These are big men, playing with real flair.

None surpasses Muiris Gavin, a centre-forward in whose ownership the game's essential beauty comes to life. He kicked four points from play yesterday three with his left, one with his right.

He showered full-forwards Conor Fitzgerald, Michael Reidy and Johnny Murphy with precise and exquisite passes throughout the game. Denying him possession will be a central plank in Kerry's final strategy.

For 22 minutes yesterday, Clare asked big questions. Midfielders Brian Considine and Ger Quinlan had Limerick's marquee pairing of Johns Galvin and Quane in serious bother.

Their driving runs punched holes in the Limerick rearguard and it stood at Limerick 1-3, Clare 0-5, when the game took an ironic and decisive twist.

Limerick corner-back Mark O'Riordan received his second yellow card for a heavy tackle on Brian Considine. His dismissal jolted his colleagues out of their lethargy.

Of the next nine scores, eight came from Limerick. All eight were points, four from Gavin, and one each from Micheal Reidy and Stephen Kelly and two from Conor Fitzgerald. It was during this phase either side of half-time that they shook off Clare and bounded into a Munster final with confidence soaring.

There was much to admire in Limerick's display from there to the end. Full-back Diarmuid Sheehy's dismantling of some promising Clare attacks was complemented by the alertness of his corner man Tommy Stack. Wing-backs Conor Mullane and Damien Reidy possess the sort of all-round class and speed that haunts wing-forwards.

At midfield Galvin improved dramatically and his giant steps took him through the Clare defence on a number of occasions. However, he tried to reap too much from some runs and consequently lost possession. Quane never got into the game and this must be a worry for Limerick ahead of the final.

The dizzying angles of running generated by the forwards were facilitated by Gavin's wise commandeering of the region. Michael Reidy benefited from the extra space generated by O'Riordan's removal, while Conor Fitzgerald, Johnny Murphy, Stephen Lavin and Kelly all showed prominently.

Clare could not compete with this sort of power. They made a good fist of it in the early stages, but by game's end they were a sorry lot.

Manager John Kennedy put a brave face on it afterwards, but they don't like the sort of team destined to make an impact on a qualifier group which is now home to some of the game's leading counties.

Their goalkeeper Dermot O'Brien made two brilliant early saves from the marauding Galvin, but few of their players stayed afloat when the Limerick push came David Russell and Conor Whelan deserve commendation.

They never got a minute's dividend from the extra man. Philip Smith took on the role first, followed by substitute Denis O'Driscoll, but neither could resist the temptation to try to follow the ball everywhere. The result was the extra man never formed a key part of Clare's attacking surges and the Limerick forwards revelled in the creation of space.

Limerick have long since cast off what benefits come with being unknown and unheralded, but with their growing status in the game has come a rising self-belief and they must go down as serious contenders for a

historic provincial triumph.

LIMERICK: S O'Donnell; M O'Riordan, D Sheehy, T Stack; C Mullane, S Lucey, D Reidy; J Quane, J Galvin; S Kelly 0-2, M Gavin 0-7 (3f), S Lavin 0-1; C Fitzgerald 1-2, M Reidy 0-2, J Murphy 1-0.

Subs: J Stokes for J Quane, 49; B Begley for J Murphy, 58; P Ahern for S Kelly, 65; P Browne for D Reidy, 68; C Hickey for M Reidy, 69.

CLARE: D O'Brien; P Gallagher, D O'Sullivan, D Blake; P Smith, A Malone, C Whelan 0-1; G Quinlan 0-1, B Considine; M O'Dwyer 0-3 (3f), M O'Connell, D Russell 0-2; O O'Dwyer 0-2 (2f), P McMahon 0-1, R Donnelly 0-1 (f). Subs: D O'Driscoll 0-1 for D Blake, 30; M Hoey for A Malone, half-time; A Clohessy for M O'Dywer, 43; D Hedigan for O'Dwyer, 61; N Griffin for G Quinlan, 69.

Referee: D Coldrick, Meath.

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