Defiant Clare showing their steel

Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald and his Limerick counterpart John Allen had a hot little ‘tete-a-tete’ on the sidelines of this Allianz Hurling League Division 1B final at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening.

Defiant Clare showing their steel

But it was nothing compared to the head to head between their two fired-up teams on the field of play.

This was a tremendous match, Limerick twice streaking into big leads (six points in the first half, eight 10 minutes into the second), only for Clare’s youth and fitness to win out.

“Ah it was a thing of nothing,” said Allen of his 25th minute ‘chat’ with Fitzgerald. “Just a few words exchanged — nothing worth talking about.” Fitzgerald was equally dismissive: “The skirmish didn’t do them (his team) any harm.”

And indeed that seemed to be the case. Limerick began like a team possessed, their outstanding play epitomised by the all-action James Ryan in midfield with probably his finest game in green. They led by four after 10 minutes (0-6 to 0-2), Shane Dowling and Graeme Mulcahy on fire before extending that lead to six by the 22nd minute (0-10 to 0-4). It should have been more as two gilt-edged goal chances were scorned. Corner-forward Tommy Quaid fluffed the first and Clare keeper Patrick Kelly denied him a few minutes later with a superb save.

Kelly would make another fine save from Dowling in the 67th minute while at the other end Nicky Quaid surely made the save of the game with a brilliant reflex stop of a John Conlon point-blank effort on the hour mark.

Then came the little sideline altercation which seemed to spur Clare to life. They finished strongly before the break with Conor McGrath continuing his exhibition from placed balls, to trail by just a score (0-11 to 0-8) as they headed for the dressing rooms.

The second half saw Limerick again take early control, and when Shane Dowling buried a penalty in the 42nd minute after a foul on Seanie Tobin, followed by points from Graeme Mulcahy and Seanie O’Brien, the gap had opened to eight points (1-14 to 0-9) and it looked Limerick’s to lose.

Lose they did though, and how. Seven points on the trot by Clare with McGrath (4) midfielder Nicky O’Connell, Colin Ryan and John Conlon on target cut the deficit to one by the 56th minute. James Ryan stemmed the bleeding for Limerick with a point but it didn’t hold and it was Clare who finished the stronger as points from Nicky O’Connell (65) and McGrath securing the title.

“It was a great game to win,” said McGrath. “I thought we were really in trouble after Shane Dowling scored the penalty. We beat them earlier in the league but they didn’t perform to the level they’re capable of that night. We were expecting a huge battle and that’s exactly what we got. Every score was earned, it could have gone either way so we are delighted.”

His manager was equally happy. Fitzgerald said: “We didn’t play out of our skins in the first half but that was down to Limerick and how they tackled and blocked. They were vicious but they had to be vicious after what happened to them in the first round of the league. We knew that but we still had a bit of character.”

A lot of character but a hell of a lot of fitness, much more so than Limerick, a point accepted by John Allen. “They just got on top of us and maintained their dominance. They finished very strongly but they’ve been doing that all year. We produced a massive effort in the first half and for the third quarter but probably ran out of steam.

“Given how poorly we performed in our first league game against them, certainly this was a much better performance and a much better game. We’re now heading into the championship (against Tipperary) in better shape.”

Scorers for Clare: C McGrath 0-12 (0-10f); C Ryan 0-3; N O’Connell 0-3 (1f, 0-2 65); J Conlon, P Donnellan, A Cunningham, 0-1 each.

Subs for Clare: A Cunningham (C Morey 51). Blood sub: S Morey (O’Connor 30).

Scorers for Limerick: S Dowling 1-7 (1-0p, 0-4f, 0-1 65); G Mulcahy 0-3; S O’Brien 0-2; J Ryan, N Moran, T Quaid, K Downes, 0-1 each.

Subs for Limerick: S O’Brien (Breen inj. 35+2); K Downes (Moran 35); S Tobin (T Quaid 41); M Ryan (Allis 61).

Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).

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