Lively Limerick now a real force

IT probably doesn’t seem either fair or fitting to mention the other All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park yesterday in the opening paragraph of this report, but given that Limerick will be meeting the eventual winners of the Waterford/Cork encounter and given that people will already have started their comparisons, here goes.

For excitement, for hurling, for atmosphere (second half especially), this wasn’t a patch on what followed. So, does that mean that Limerick have now gone as far as they can go in this year’s All-Ireland series, that they have no chance against Waterford/Cork in that semi-final? Absolutely not.

Understand what Limerick achieved in Croke Park yesterday. On the back of three big games against Tipperary in the Munster semi-final, on the evidence of a battling display against Waterford in the Munster final, a game that got away from them only in the final five minutes, they came into this quarter-final as favourites, never an easy mantle to wear. Additionally, they were up against a Clare team with much to prove, a team that was maturing nicely under the guidance of manager Tony Considine.

It was a potential minefield, yet Limerick negotiated it all in some considerable style. Manager Richie Bennis was banished to the stands for a transgression in an earlier round and selector Gary Kirby took over the Bainisteoir’s bib. Limerick never missed a beat and not for the first time this year, some very shrewd moves on the sideline made a difference. Be warned Limerick this year are a force, a real force.

From very early on, it was evident that there was a gap in class between these two teams. 0-4 to 0-1 the favourites led after 8 minutes (man-of-the-match Andrew O’Shaughnessy with three of those points), 0-10 to 0-3 it was by the 31st as Limerick played the power game.

In the final five minutes of the half Clare finally began to make an impression, outscored Limerick four points to one to trail 0-11 to 0-7 at the break.

Really though they were in trouble with midfielders Colin Lynch and Brian O’Connell keeping them in the game. Up front they were in big trouble, the full-forward line of Niall Gilligan, Barry Nugent and Bernard Gaffney making absolutely no impression on an airtight Limerick trio of Damien Reale, Stephen Lucey and Seamus Hickey.

Second half, the difference in class finally told. Clare got the first score, a fine O’Rourke point, but then Donie Ryan made his presence felt. Introduced late in the first-half for the off-form Niall Moran, Donie was on the end of a lucky sequence of events for Limerick, ball in his hand, finished to the net with aplomb from close range. A couple of minutes later he was at it again with a superb point from the left sideline, and suddenly Limerick were clear, 1-12 to 0-8. Clare didn’t give in, not by any means.

They stayed in the fight, showed determination and character to bring it back to three points again by the 56th minute, 1-17 to 1-14, their goal a strong solo effort from McMahon. That was as close as they were to come, however. Another substitute, James O’Brien, steadied Limerick nerves with a super catch and point from distance, the outstanding O’Shaughnessy came through again with a trio of late points, and yet another substitute, Barry Foley, put the icing on things with yet another superb strike from the left wing.

Credit then, where it’s due. Limerick did what they had to do yesterday; Clare turned up, they gave it their best, but as Tony Considine admitted afterwards, they simply met a better team.

Brian Murray is making a name for himself between the posts, that defence is as good as any around, midfielders Donal O’Grady and Mike O’Brien aren’t fancy but they’re better than functional, do a good job of linking, of defending when needed, of giving the attack impetus when required.

Up front, even on a day when Niall Moran was subdued, when Ollie was only in and out of the game, they got big performances from Michael Fitzgerald (0-4), from Kevin Tobin (0-2), from the three forward substitutes. And there’s Brian Begley. The big man didn’t figure on the scoreboard, but boy was he a thorn in Clare’s side!

“I don’t think Frank Lohan got any ball,” reckoned Shaughs, “Everything was contested, everything broke, and that’s what Brian is there for, to cause a bit of havoc and break the ball.

“Lucky enough we had enough people running into the right position.” No-one gains more than O’Shaughnessy himself, however. For years he’s been spoken of as potentially one of the great modern-day forwards, up there with the best; yesterday, on the big stage, he was.

Scorers: Limerick: A. O’Shaughnessy 0-11 (0-6 frees); D. Ryan 1-2; M. Fitzgerald 0-4; K. Tobin 0-2; D. O’Grady, O. Moran, J. O’Brien, B. Foley, 0-1 each. Clare: N. Gilligan 0-5 (all frees); D. McMahon 1-1; D. O’Rourke 0-3; J. Clancy 0-3; B. Bugler 0-2; C. Lynch 0-2.

LIMERICK: B. Murray; D. Reale (c), S. Lucey, S. Hickey; M. O’Riordan, B. Geary, M. Foley; Mike O’Brien, D. O’Grady; M. Fitzgerald, O. Moran, N. Moran; A. O’Shaughnessy, B. Begley, K. Tobin. Subs: D. Ryan (N. Moran 27); J. O’Brien (Tobin inj. 49); B. Foley (Fitzgerald inj. 57); P. Lawlor (O’Brien inj. 67). Blood sub: G. O’Mahony (O’Brien 35/36).

CLARE: P. Brennan; G. O’Grady, F. Lohan (c), K. Dilleen; A. Markham, G. Quinn, B. Bugler; B. O’Connell, C. Lynch; D. O’Rourke, D. McMahon, J. Clancy; N. Gilligan, B. Nugent, B. Gaffney. Subs: D. O’Connell (Gaffney 35); F. Lynch (Nugent 43).

Referee: M. Wadding (Waterford).

Turning Point

THE Limerick goal. The victors had looked much the better team in the first-half but weren’t able to put Clare away. Less than two minutes into the second half, that changed when Ollie Moran got a touch which fell to the feet of Brian Begley who booted it forward. Again Limerick got the break — corner-forward Donie Ryan was in the right place and gave Phillip Brennan no chance. Limerick weren’t going to lose after that.

Talking Point

NO controversy in this one, everyone seemed to agree afterwards that while both gave their best, the better team had won. Speculation over whether Tony Considine would stay on as Clare manager, sprung up in the aftermath. Considine wouldn’t commit to any decision – too early to say, he reckons, but don’t be surprised if he does decide to walk.

They Said

ANDREW O’Shaughnessy (Limerick): “It was a big game from Limerick and it was long overdue. We’ve been criticised in the past but we’ve just taken it and said to ourselves, ‘next year, next year, next year’. Hopefully we’re maturing now. We seem to be and this was a badly-needed win. We weren’t happy with our first-half display; we were on top but we missed a lot of chances and gave them some easy scores. That’s something we’ll have to work on.”

They Said

TONY Considine (Clare): “Our lads gave it everything and you can’t fault any of them. I don’t. Colin Lynch has been a superb man for Clare, I think he’s been superb now for about 30 years! You can’t fault anyone, everyone goes out to do their best. I did my best for the team, the same as Pat O’Connor, Kieran O’Neill, Tim Crowe, but it wasn’t good enough today, simple as that. I am gutted, I am disappointed, but you have to be gracious in defeat and that’s the way we’ll be. That’s sport.”

Ref Watch

IS there a new edict from on high to hurling refs lately? What does a player have to do to get a free? Two frees was all Michael Wadding (Waterford) awarded to Clare in the first-half and he gave the same to Limerick in the second.

It didn’t affect the outcome, but it’s not refereeing, it’s abdication of responsibility.

Man-of-the-Match

ANDREW O’Shaughnessy (Limerick). On a day when another former St Colman’s star did the business for Cork (Neil Ronan finished with 2-2), it was his successor in that college who shone for Limerick in this one. 11 points from 12 shots on goal, the only miss a 65. This was a coming of age.

What’s Next

LIMERICK go on to meet the winners of Cork/Waterford in the second All-Ireland semi-final and anyone writing them off is making a mistake. Clare take this experience and build for next year with a lot of new players blooded for the future.

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