All the ingredients were present before throw-in with a large crowd gathered in the brilliant sunshine. And all expectations were met by 80 plus minutes of sparkling and absorbing fare. The quality of scoretaking, with 27 points from play, was a defining feature and the see-saw nature of the scoreboard action consumed interest levels from the off.
Being protagonists in a game that will have so much praise showered upon it will provide Limerick IT with scant consolation. They have history in this regard of course. Two years ago they went toe-to-toe with Waterford IT in a classic final but, just like yesterday, they were on the end of a defeat again.
They did have a dramatic chance to save themselves late on yesterday. Talisman Joe Canning sized up a 20 yard free in the 80th minute with his team trailing by two points and was mindful of what was required to rescue LIT. The Portumna wizard unleashed a thunderbolt but his shot whizzed over Donal Tuohy’s crossbar.
With time called after the puckout, that free proved LIT’s last chance.
But this was no fortuitous win by NUIG. They thrived in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of hosts from the start and their efforts at limiting Canning’s effectiveness encapsulated their prowess on the day. Galway senior John Lee was shunted back to the edge of the square before the start and as Canning shuttled between the half and full-forward lines during the game, Lee was a constant presence by his side.
The Liam Mellowes man did an outstanding job curtailing Canning’s input and it was not until the 75th minute that Canning registered a point from open play.
To be fair, Canning is being appraised on the staggeringly high standards he has set throughout this competition. He still managed to weigh in with 13 points over the hour, the centrepiece of which was two beautiful sideline cuts, but he missed a couple of big frees in normal time.
The problem for LIT was that they had no one else to pick up the slack. Willie Hyland was on fire at the start from wing-forward, showing great fielding to gather puckouts and laser accuracy when despatching points.
But as the game progressed Pat Kelly stifled Hyland’s threat and with Seamus Callanan hampered by illness, it was left to Canning’s frees to keep LIT in the hunt.
In contrast, NUIG had 11 different scorers and that ability to share the burden was crucial. Cormac O’Donovan and John Conlon shook off recent injury concerns to play starring roles, David Barrett and Barry Daly also impressed greatly while Caimin Morey sparkled when introduced in the second-half. There were other big contributions made to NUIG cause by Declan Connolly and Seamus Hennessy in defence, and the terrific Domhnall O’Donovan at midfield.
The tone was set in a frantic first ten minutes, which stood 1-2 to 0-5 at the close. NUIG registered the goal in the 3rd minute when Cormac O’Donovan stole through to whip a fierce shot to the net. LIT recovered from that blow with Hyland and Canning helping them to a 0-10 to 1-4 advantage by the 21st minute, yet NUIG had drawn level 1-8 to 0-11 by the interval thanks to sublime points by Conlon and Daly.
The consistent trading of points continued in the second-half but a scoring spree instigated by Gerry Kelly, Daly and Conlon pushed NUIG ahead 1-15 to 0-15 after 52 minutes. LIT’s challenge was listing but then they were boosted when sub Timmy Dalton rattled the net two minutes later. The stakes were raised nearing the finale and Sean Collins seemed to have notched the matchwinner for LIT with a fine point, only for Seamus Hennessy to loft over an outstanding equaliser from the sideline in the 60th. There was still time for more drama with NUIG’s David Barrett being sent-off after a wild pull, but Canning drove the subsequent free wide.
In extra-time matters remained tight but the presence of Morey enhanced NUIG’s cause and his points nudged them 1-21 to 1-20 ahead by the 70th minute. Canning tied it up in the second period of extra-time but a flurry of points from Finian Coone, Shane Quinlan and Pat Kelly pushed NUIG into an unassailable advantage.
Scorers for NUIG: F Coone, J Conlon 0-5 (0-3f) each, C O’Donovan 1-1, D Barrett, G Kelly, B Daly, S Hennessy (0-1f), C Morey 0-2 each, D O’Donovan, S Quinlan, P Kelly 0-1 each.
Scorers for LIT: J Canning 0-13 (0-9f, 0-2 sideline, 0-1 ‘65), T Dalton 1-0, W Hyland 0-3, N Quinn, S Collins 0-2 each, B Gaffney, P O’Brien, N O’Connell (0-1f) 0-1 each.
NUIG: D Tuohy (Clare); D Nash (Clare), J Lee (Galway), D Connolly (Galway); P Gordon (Galway), S Hennessy (Tipperary), P Kelly (Clare); B Daly (Galway), D O’Donovan (Clare); D Barrett (Clare), K Keehan (Galway), C O’Donovan (Clare); G Kelly (Galway), J Conlon (Clare), F Coone (Galway). Subs: C Morey (Clare) for Keehan (38), S Quinlan (Tipperary) for C O’Donovan (inj) (47), JP O’Connell (Galway) for G Kelly (55).
LIT: M Ryan (Tipperary); J Gunning (Clare), C Cooney (Clare), C Chaplin (Clare); N O’Connell (Clare), J McInerney (Clare), R Sherlock (Tipperary); S Collins (Clare), P O’Brien (Limerick); N Quinn (Galway), S Callanan (Tipperary), W Hyland (Laois); S Tobin (Limerick), J Canning (Galway), B Gaffney (Cavan). Subs: J O’Keeffe (Tipperary) for Sherlock (27), T Dalton (Tipperary) for O’Brien (36), P Browne (Limerick) for Tobin (50).
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).