“There was a crash in the Shannon tunnel which caught us up, the whole tunnel was closed. We were late for the warm-up in Meelick, late getting here. We had decided not to go by Thomond Park because of the match there (Munster v Edinburgh) but we still got caught.”
Limerick were also late in getting into this game: scoreless after eight ineffective minutes, and already 1-1 behind against a Clare side that was shorn 14 starters from last September’s All-Ireland triumph (late call-up Pat O’Connor the only exception). For this TJ had less of an excuse: “We’d have been happy with a few of the performances but we missed a lot of chances in front of goals, missed a lot of frees. We had a few chances to get back into the game but conceded a few soft frees which they scored — that was the difference.”
Let it be noted, however, late start notwithstanding, there were other extenuating circumstances yesterday, and for both sides — this was winter hurling. The Sixmilebridge pitch showed the effects the recent torrential rain and cut up badly. It made for a disappointing spectacle for the 1,456 souls who had braved the cold.
Clare led 1-9 to 0-6 at the break, their goal coming in the first minute when corner-forward David Reidy appeared to get a touch on a Cathal ‘Tots’ O’Connell centre, deceiving Barry Hennessy in the Limerick goal. The second half was even more low-scoring, just five points apiece as a dominant Clare defence comfortably coped with what an admittedly limited Limerick attack could throw at them.
A winning start to 2014 then for the All-Ireland champions, an emphatic start especially for two debutants in the forward line, the precocious Bobby Duggan (just out of minor he ended with a cool 12 points to his name) and the diminutive ‘Tots’ O’Connell, a thorn in the side of the Limerick defence from first ball to last.
Midfielder Shane Golden also caught the eye but best news of all for Davy Fitzgerald: the display of the defence, the inside trio of Killian Ryan, Cillian Duggan and flying Seadhna Morey especially impressive.
Bearing in mind that neither Paul Flanagan nor Jack Browne, corner-backs on the U21 All-Ireland-winning side of last year, were available, it just goes to show the depth of talent in Clare currently.
“It will be interesting to see how the lads who didn’t play today have wintered,” mused Davy: “The lads today were saying ‘We want to be on the panel, we want to be on the team’. We’ll have to cut the panel later and it won’t be easy. A lot of the lads out there today gave a fair performance. I’ve got to get my first team a bit of action although a good question now is — what is my first team? I’m going to have to start giving game-time to the other (first-team) lads.”
Good day for Clare then, bad day for Limerick, but neither manager was getting carried away.
“We played alright but Limerick had three goal chances in the first half which they didn’t take.” said Fitzgerald. “Limerick were missing a lot (of players) as well so we won’t be reading much into it. My honest opinion is that we are going to be under pressure in the first few rounds of the League. I don’t think we’ll have enough done.
“I’m looking at other counties – the likes of Kilkenny and Dublin – they have weeks and weeks of work done. That’s a worry for us going into the League.”
TJ Ryan was more circumspect: “You want to win the game, ultimately, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.
“Our first league game is on February 15 and we’ll aim for that, keep the training going.”
Scorers for Clare: B Duggan (0-12, 9fs); C O’Connell (1-1); K Ryan (0-1).
Scorers for Limerick: J Fitzgibbon (0-5 frees); W Hickey (0-2); D O’Donovan, P O’Brien, S Tobin, T Quaid (0-1)..
CLARE: D Touhy; K Ryan, C Duggan, S Morey; C Cleary, P Kelly, P O’Connor; L Markham, S Golden; N O’Connell, C O’Connell, A O’Neill; B Duggan, C Cooney, D Reidy.
Subs: S Collins for O’Neill (35); D O’Halloran for Cooney (59); D O’Donovan for Kelly (59); C Ryan for Markham (64); S Gleeson for Reidy (65).
LIMERICK: B Hennessey; S Walsh, P O’Loughlin, R English; W McNamara, G O’Mahony, C McNamara; P Browne, P O’Brien; D O’Donovan, D O’Grady (c), W Hickey; G Mulcahy, M Ryan, J Fitzgibbon.
Subs: S Tobin for O’Donovan (53); T Quaid for Ryan (59); B Lynch for Walsh (65); R McCarthy for English (67).
Referee: D Copps (Cork).