Just across the border from Limerick city, Meelick boasts one of the finest club hurling pitches in the country, the extreme weather conditions of the past few weeks causing little adverse effect.
Clare started with a very strong selection, the bulk of last year’s championship team still in place, but O’Loughlin also used the occasion to have a look at some new talent, so we had the likes of Alan Brigdale and Domhnall O’Donovan in defence, Pat Donnellan getting a run in midfield, with Aonghus O’Brien and Martin Ogie Murphy joining the attack.
All those youngsters impressed, with O’Brien (2) and Murphy (1) both scoring in a lively first half, at the end of which Clare led by a point, 0-7 to 0-6, John Conlon (1), Fergal Lynch (1) and freetaker Colin Ryan (2) with the other points.
For the college, Tipperarymen Timmy Hammersley and Ray Moloughney caught the eye with two points apiece in that half, team captain Fintan O’Leary and midfielder Kieran Grehan completing the WIT total.
The third quarter was dominated by Clare, three points from Colin Ryan (two frees), one each from Conlan and the raiding Gerry Quinn, against just one from WIT, a Hammersley free, had them five points ahead at the three-quarter stage, 0-12 to 0-7.
Then came a flurry from the students, and with Shane Fives and Enda Barrett (whose brother David came on as a sub for Clare) driving them on from the half-back line, in three minutes of high-scoring action WIT tied it up, 0-12 to 1-9.
The points were notched by O’Leary and Hammersley, the goal was scored by Moloughney, the Tipp men on the end of a move that involved Hammersley and Kieran Grehan, firing home from close range.
However, back came Clare. Matt O’Flaherty, David Barrett, John Cusack and the experienced Alan Markham were all introduced as the second half progressed; now all contributed, but none more so than O’Flaherty, whose deadly accuracy from placed balls (three from three, including a 65) saw Clare home.
A happy O’Loughlin said: “The whole idea of today was to just get back on the hurling field and we’ve done that. There was great commitment there – the hurling standard probably left a bit to be desired at times, but I wasn’t expecting anything different.”
Next up for Clare are Tipperary in the semi-final. “Yes, they’re looking to play that midweek, but those matches are great. We have five or six sessions done on the physical side of it, and the lads were able to hold out.”
Scorers for Clare: C Ryan 0-5 (3f); M O’Flaherty 0-3 (2f, 0-1 65); J Conlon 0-2; A O’Brien 0-2; M Murphy, F Lynch, G Quinn, 0-1 each.
WIT: R Moloughney 1-2 (1f); T Hammersley 0-4 (0-2f); F O’Leary 0-2; K Grehan 0-1.
CLARE: P Brennan; P Vaughan, C Dillon, A Brigdale; D O’Donovan, B O’Connell (capt), G Quinn; P Donnellan, D McMahon; J Conlon, G O’Grady, A O’Brien; M Óg Murphy, F Lynch, C Ryan.
Subs: M O’Flaherty (McMahon 39); D Barrett (Donnellan 47); J Cusack (Ryan 49); A Markham (O’Grady 57).
WIT: A Power; B Kenny, W Hutchinson, N Connors; S Fives, E Barrett, PJ Rowe; K Grehan, M Molloy; J Gahan, F O’Leary (capt), R Good; R Moloughney, T Hammersley (Tipperary), S Power (Waterford).
Subs: B Johnston (Cork, S Power 30); W O’Dwyer (Tipperary, Grehan 56).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).