Brian Lohan, disgusted by referee James McGrath’s decision, consoled his devastated corner-back. The crowd purred with excitement.
Game on at Moylish.
Favourites UL, buoyed by the return to fitness of Clare’s David McInerney and Tony Kelly, had opened up a six-point advantage -1-13 to 1-6 — early in the second-half to move within touching distance of a first Fitzgibbon Cup final appearance since 2011.
Ahead 0-10 to 1-6 at the break, Jason Forde’s goal on 33 minutes, put through by a Tommy Heffernan flick, tapered the fuse on a most productive spell for the visitors. Dan Morrissey, John McGrath and full-back David McInerney tacked on further points in the ensuing passages of play to leave LIT trailing in their slipstream.
On 39 minutes did the pendulum swing in LIT’s direction — Paul Killeen’s march towards the UL goal halted by a reckless pull from Browne. McGrath reached into his back pocket and flashed the red card.
David Reidy converted the resulting free to re-ignite the home challenge.
The one-way-traffic nature of the second period would continue apace, now moving in the opposite direction though.
Paul Flaherty etched his name onto the scoresheet and LIT were desperately unlucky not to register a second goal, Killeen’s drive deflected over by UL ‘keeper Paul Maher.
Reidy’s fifth free of the afternoon pared the margin back to four – 1-14 to 1-10 — and while David McInerney’s monstrous effort at the other end provided momentary respite, Fitzgerald’s charges were relentless in the chase. Sean O’Brien, Reidy (free) and Killeen swelled their tally – the deficit now standing at two.
With seven minutes remaining, the next score was crucial.
Were LIT to come within a solitary point of their opponents, it is unlikely UL would hang on. Jason Forde ensured such a scenario never came to pass.
Reidy and Forde, again on target, traded white flags down the home stretch, UL’s passage to the decider was wrapped up on 58 minutes. Stephen Bennett gathered Dan Morrissey’s delivery and as his shot sailed into the top corner of Aaron Murphy’s goal, Niall O’Connor’s hurley was lazily flung at the UL substitute. Straight red for the LIT full-back. Game over at Moylish.
“I saw the two guys tangling. It was pretty much 50/50 between the two of them. I can’t understand it,” said UL manager Brian Lohan of Browne’s dismissal.
“Jack is very upset about it. He’s looking at me, shrugging his shoulders and thinking ‘what the hell, what has the game gone to’.
“It was always going to be very difficult coming out here. I thought we started well, then let them back into it. We did well in the second-half until the sending-off and that made it very difficult.”
Lohan was effusive in his praise of goalkeeper Paul Maher who produced anumber of telling saves in the second-half.
“Paul has been excellent all year. As a second year, he came in this year into a tough dressing room with a lot of good lads in there and he has dominated his patch. He is very vocal and we are very happy with him.”
On the contribution of Kelly and McInerney, he added: “They hadn’t hurled competitively in a couple of weeks so that was the worry. They hurled manfully as they always do and we are delighted with them.”
UL opened in confident fashion, but their early work was undone by a Willie Ryan goal on 10 minutes.
Two Reidy minors ensued to edge the underdogs in front.
Scoreboard advantage rested in their corner until shortly before the interval, a string of minors from Cathal McInerney, Kevin O’Brien, John McGrath and Heffernan eking out a lead UL would not relinquish thereafter.
Scorers for UL: J Forde (1-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 sc); J McGrath (0-4, 0-4 frees); D McInerney, C McInerney (0-3 each); S Bennett (1-0); K O’Brien (0-2); T Heffernan, C Martin, D Morrissey (0-1 each).
Scorers for LIT: D Reidy (0-8, 0-7 frees); W Ryan (1-0); P Killeen, M Fitzgerald (0-2 each); P Flaherty, S O’Brien (0-1 each).
UL: P Maher (Tipperary); J Browne (Clare), D McInerney (Clare), G Ryan (Clare); D Quinn (Tipperary), B Troy (Kilkenny), B Stapleton (Tipperary); D Morrissey (Limerick), T Kelly (Clare); J McGrath (Tipperary), C Martin (Kilkenny), J Forde (Tipperary); K O’Brien (Limerick), C McInerney (Clare), T Heffernan (Tipperary).
Subs: S Bennett (Waterford) for Heffernan (48 mins).
LIT: A Murphy (Limerick); M Kiely (Limerick), N O’Connor (Limerick), S Gleeson (Clare); W Ryan (Tipperary), B O’Connell (Limerick), K Bennett (Waterford); S O’Halloran (Clare), S O’Brien (Limerick); J Campion (Laois), M Fitzgerald (Kildare), P Flaherty (Galway); D Reidy (Clare), P Killeen (Clare), D Dempsey (Limerick).
Subs: P Fitzgerald (Clare) for Campion (52).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).