Clare’s All-Ireland quarter-final opponents were confirmed yesterday following the Munster final in Limerick, with a last-six match-up with Galway up next for Davy Fitzgerald.
Cleverly, Fitzgerald aimed to defuse any potential rancour with Galway following the war of words between Ger Loughnane and Ollie Canning.
“We won’t talk about winning the All-Ireland, I’m going to be straight with you,” Fitzgerald said.
“We’ll look at the quarter-final the next day and we know if we’re playing Galway, that they’ll be baying for blood after what Ger Loughnane said to them. Let this be very straight — we don’t agree with that.
“Galway have been in two All-Ireland finals in four years, won a Leinster. It shows the calibre of the team they have so if it’s them, we know we’re in for a battle, and we respect them. It is the same for their manager, he’s won an All-Ireland club and I’d have massive respect for him too.
“Great guy, Micheál Donoghue. If it’s them, it’s a battle.
“But it’s great to be there and hurling away. I’m very proud of those guys, no matter what happens. To have gone 16 or 17 games and only one defeat in a year, it’s fantastic. We’re getting back to where we need to but we still have work to do.”
Clearing the qualifiers will do for starters. In 2014 and 2015, Clare’s legs were blown off in the back-door minefield but they’re in the mix again and just three potential steps away from repeating that All-Ireland success of three years ago.
The positives outweighed the negatives from a hard-fought four-point victory over Limerick. Before throw-in, the Shannonsiders had won two of the last three championship clashes between the pair, including a Munster quarter-final in 2015.
When the dust settled, the same margin of victory from a promotion shoot-out earlier this year existed, Limerick finishing with their full complement on this occasion.
It wasn’t the greatest of spectacles and goal chances were very much at a premium.
During Limerick’s best spell in the first half, Shane Dowling forced Brendan Bugler into an heroic goal-line clearance but the middle third was its usual congested area and this was where Clare laid the foundation for victory.
In a 17-minute spell leading up to half-time, they hit nine points without reply, transforming a 0-2 to 0-5 deficit into a 0-11 to 0-5 interval lead.
After Darragh O’Donovan slotted over a 7th-minute point, Limerick didn’t score from play again until the first minute of the second half.
They did cut the lead down to three points on three occasions late on but Clare had the composure required to get the job done, man-of-the-match Tony Kelly opting for a four-point buffer from a 69th- minute penalty.
Fitzgerald appealed for some perspective from Clare fans expecting a golden era from a talented group of players laced with senior and All-Ireland U21 medallists.
He pointed to the three-in-a-row Limerick U21 vintage of 2000-2002 as evidence that senior success doesn’t necessarily follow.
Galway and their underage tradition got a mention too, as did Loughnane.
“I remember when Ger was over the team he stopped the U21s playing and wouldn’t let them win a Munster (in 1995). When you pull six guys out of a team, it is tough going. We haven’t.
“We’ve facilitated that the whole time and we are proud of what we’re doing.
“The most important thing in Clare, and it happened towards the end of the 90s, we have to stay and just give the boys a chance. Just keep with them, we are not as traditional as the rest of them but by God we’ll fight as hard as we possibly can from here on in, that’s all we can do.”
T Kelly 0-9 (5f, 1 65, 0-1 pen), P Collins & S O’Donnell 0-3 each, D McInerney, J Browne, J Conlon & A Shanagher 0-1 each.
S Dowling 0-6 (5f, 1 65), D Byrnes 0-3, J Ryan 0-2, D O’Donovan, P Browne, K Downes & G Hegarty 0-1 each.
A Fahy; P O’Connor, C Dillon, J Browne; O O’Brien, D McInerney, B Bugler; C Galvin, D Reidy; C Cleary, J Conlon, P Collins; S O’Donnell, T Kelly, A Shanagher.
A Cunningham for Conlon (47), D Fitzgerald for Bugler (66).
N Quaid; T Condon, R McCarthy, R English; D Byrnes, G O’Mahony, P O’Brien; P Browne, D O’Donovan; D Hannon, J Ryan, C Lynch; K Downes, S Dowling, G Mulcahy.
T Morrissey for O’Donovan (h.t.), G Hegarty for Hannon (h.t.), S Hickey for O’Brien (42), B Nash for Mulcahy (56), A Dempsey for English (60).
J Owens (Wexford).