With two to qualify from their three-team group and St Patrick’s expected to fall to both these Limerick powerhouses, a win wasn’t critical. And it showed.
Thankfully, however, the game was illuminated by several outstanding displays, most notably by high-scoring Conor McGrath, centre-back Brendan Bugler and keeper Thomas Lowry for UL, and by centre-back John O’Keeffe, full-back Richie McCarthy and full-forward Joe Canning for LIT.
If anyone has cause to bemoan the loss of a point it’s LIT. Aided slightly by the stinging breeze, they raced into an 0-6 to 0-1 lead after just 12 minutes, points coming from Clare youngsters Cathal McInerney and Sean Collins, Limerick’s Paul Browne and Eoin Ryan while Joe Canning had a brace. Wing-forward Bill Beckitt hit the home side’s lone point.
That lead should and would have been greater if Joe Canning — looking in tremendous shape — hadn’t missed from a few placed balls that normally would have been well within his range. Those misses allowed UL stay in touch, and four points before the break, all from McGrath, all from dead balls, in reply to two from LIT, left just three points between them at the break, LIT ahead 0-8 to 0-5.
The second half was a far more even and entertaining affair. The visitors again started stronger, Joe Canning and Sean Collins putting them five points up within five minutes of the resumption. Then, however, it was UL’s turn to be profligate, four wides from their first five shots, even Conor McGrath proving human, and when big Joe powered through for a trademark goal in the 44th minute to put LIT seven points ahead (1-11 to 0-7), it looked all over.
Not so. That goal seemed to finally lift UL from their slumber, and with sub Michael Heffernan of Nenagh making a difference, the scores began to come. McGrath was still doing most of the finishing, and still mostly from placed balls as the stretched LIT defence was forced into fouling. Gradually the seven-point lead was whittled down, until a Bill Beckitt point tied it up in the 57th minute, 1-12 to 0-15.
Joe Canning did regain the lead for LIT with his seventh point, but a fine point from UL wing-back Martin Walsh (brother of Kilkenny’s Tommy) cancelled that out, and thus it ended.
UL coach Brian Lohan was happy with the result — understandable, in the circumstances.
“We just didn’t play for long periods so it was good to get something out of the game. But we will need to improve — hopefully this game will bring us on.
“I thought Conor McGrath was superb. He was a marked man but still managed to get the scores when we really needed them.”
As for his LIT counterpart, another former Clare star, Davy Fitzgerald — not so happy. “We should have won it, we know that. But it was a good display and we can learn from it and push on.”
Scorers for UL: C McGrath 0-12 (0-8fs, 0-1 65), B Beckett 0-2, M Heffernan, M Walsh 0-1 each.
Scorers for LIT: J Canning 1-7 (0-4f, 0-1 65), S Collins 0-2, C O’Connell, C McInerney, E Ryan, P Browne, 0-1 each.
UL: T Lowry (Tipperary); P Stapleton (Tipperary), Michael Walsh (Kilkenny), K Fox (Tipperary); Martin Walsh (Kilkenny), B Bugler (Clare), P Maher (Tipperary); J Gallagher (Tipperary), S Golden (Clare); B Beckett (Kilkenny), C Donnellan (Galway), J Coen (Galway); J Regan (Galway), P Kelly (Tipperary), C McGrath (Clare).
Subs: M Heffernan (Tipperary, Regan 40), L Markham (Clare, Gallagher 43), L Ryan (Kilkenny, Golden 47), T O’Brien (Limerick, Donnellan 51).
LIT: A Fahy (Clare); E Glynn (Clare), R McCarthy (Limerick), B Glynn (Clare); J Hayes (Limerick), J O’Keeffe (Tipperary), P O’Brien (Limerick); S Lambert (Galway), P Browne (Limerick); S O’Brien (Limerick), S Collins (Clare), E Ryan (Limerick); C McInerney (Clare), J Canning (Galway), C O’Connell (Clare).
Subs: C Madden (Limerick, O’Connell 59).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).