The counties hit an appalling total of 29 wides (Clare 19, Limerick 10) on an afternoon when the 8,847 attendance were left in no doubt that Division 1B is a form of purgatory for this pair. Barry Nash was the one man sent off but he could have been joined by another two or three as the free count reached embarrassing level in a tie that featured more bark than bite.
Limerick remain mired much to the chagrin of the county board who were counting on the jump to Division 1A to aid their financial situation. It would also have been a boon for TJ Ryan having had to make do without his Na Piarsaigh players this last while. Both officials and Ryan made it clear promotion was a priority.
That it wasn’t fulfilled will activate a host of repercussions.
Clare’s league intentions were slightly more obscure but a quick return to Division 1A would have been part of the plan if not as urgent as it was by their neighbours.
Yet the same failings Clare have exhibited in the past couple of seasons showed their heads here where only a glut of frees converted by Declan Hannon kept Limerick within touching distance in the first half.
Up 1-10 to 0-9 at half-time, 12 second-half wides meant Clare were never able to truly shake off Limerick even though the difference between the sides never fell below four points. Still, Davy Fitzgerald wasn’t expecting brilliance, not at this time of the season anyway. “I don’t think we’re near the top three or four, I’m fairly certain of that. We’ve two of three months to work on that — the championship is what counts. That’s what we all have to get ready for.”
Clare were set on their way after 36 seconds when John Conlon collected Colm Galvin’s long delivery and muscled his way towards goal before finding the net. Although he looked to be fouled in the process, he also took an inordinate amount of steps, which was made all the more confusing by the blowing of referee Fergal Horgan’s whistle. The score was allowed to stand and by the seventh minute Clare were 1-3 to 0-1 ahead. Their constant switching in the forward line had bamboozled Limerick — Shane O’Donnell was marked by three different defenders in the opening quarter. Clare were also making full use of their puck-outs.
However, their old, bad habit of indiscipline allowed Limerick into the game and the excellent Paul Browne made it a one-point game on the half-hour mark. But just as Limerick steadied themselves, they lost Nash to a second successive yellow card foul on Galvin. Clare added a couple of frees in the wake of his dismissal and Limerick’s initiative was lost.
Afterwards, Ryan claimed the decision affected Limerick’s chances. Not so, said Fitzgerald. “We were well in control before that. Referees are being told to watch the high tackle. I think Barry Nash is a lovely hurler but Fergal was probably left with no option. The guidelines are there. I thought before that we were well in control.” Limerick’s day was full of fumbles and flummoxing, Nickie Quaid and the otherwise strong Diarmuid Byrnes guilty of fluffing their lines in the second half. Their day was summed up by two torrid moments after the break, the first coming in the 45th minute when Richie English was robbed by Shane O’Donnell and Conlon slotted over a point; the second when Hannon put a relatively easy free wide in the 62nd minute.
Limerick, compensating for Nash’s loss, had hoped Hannon could succeed in digging a lonesome furrow up front but against a stacked Clare defence it was an almost futile exercise. “If we played with four fellas in there, there was going to be carnage,” insisted Ryan. “I thought we played reasonably well tactically. We played Declan up top and he won some great ball. We tried to work the ball through the middle. I thought we did that well in the second half.” Not well enough to spark a revival. Not well enough to lift Limerick from another spring in limbo.
B Duggan (0-6, frees); C McGrath (0-5); J Conlon (1-1); C Galvin, C O’Connell (frees) (0-2 each); D Reidy, D McInerney, C Dillon (0-1 each).
D Hannon (0-9, 8 frees); P Browne (0-4); G Mulcahy, D Byrnes (free), J Ryan, D O’Donovan, D Reidy (0-1 each).
P Kelly; D McInerney, P O’Connor, P Flanagan; O O’Brien, C Dillon, B Bugler; D Reidy, C Ryan; A Cunningham, B Duggan, C Galvin; C McGrath, S O’Donnell, J Conlon.
D Honan for A Cunningham (52); C O’Connell for B Duggan (61); P Collins for C McGrath, C Cleary for P Flanagan (both 70).
N Quaid; T Condon, R McCarthy, R English; D Morrissey, D Byrnes, S Hickey; C Lynch, P Browne; G O’Mahony, G Mulcahy, J Fitzgibbon; B Nash, D Hannon, T Morrissey.
P O’Brien for D Morrissey, J Ryan for G O’Mahony (both h-t); D Reidy for T Morrissey (46); D O’Donovan for J Ryan (inj 56).
B Nash (32, second yellow).
F Horgan (Tipperary)