Munster SFC quarter-final
His Clare side had been good in rare patches and pedestrian for most of the afternoon but the manner in which they almost let slip this Munster football quarter-final inside four mad minutes of injury-time yesterday afternoon was close to criminal.
The second half had been appalling but the Banner were five up on 70 minutes before absorbing a one-two sucker punch from Limerick substitute Josh Ryan who followed up what had appeared to be a consolation point with a goal straight from the resultant kick-out.
Suddenly, 2,968 people had something to shout about.
It could have ended level. Should have. But Seamus McSweeney, another sub for the visitors, sent a shot well wide from a testing distance but with no-one next to or near him and Clare navigated their way through the remaining turbulence.
It should never have come to that.
Clearly the better side, Clare were well below the standard they set in accounting for Laois, Sligo and Roscommon on the way to an All-Ireland quarter-final last summer and they wouldn’t have survived in Division 2 playing like this either.
There were glimpses of their potential in a first-half in which the accurate long passing of Jamie Malone and the foraging and sniping of Eoin Cleary and Keelan Sexton gave their neighbours problems. They were solid defensively for long periods too.
None of that was sustained.
Limerick scored one goal and could have had a couple more and Clare’s own finishing was too often wayward. Three good goal chances were spurned and at least 14 point attempts fell wide or short.
None of that is any cause for comfort ahead of their next assignment, a provincial semi-final against Kerry.
Limerick looked like a good starter for ten, too.
The Shannonsiders haven’t won a Munster Championship game since 2012. They brought a younger, wider-eyed side down the road here. Only six of Billy Lee’s panel had ever won a game in the province before and the youth and inexperience was obvious even in the physical disparities.
Time and again in the first-half Limerick tried working the ball methodically up the field on the back of short kick-outs and if they didn’t lose possession on the opposition’s half-back line then they coughed it up further back, leading directly to at least three Clare scores.
The visitors actually dominated the possession in an entertaining enough half but Clare were comfortable enough with corner-back Martin McMahon playing at sweeper and they were able to bypass Limerick’s libero Garrett Noonan with greater ease.
It took just ten minutes for Cleary to bag the goal, a gem of a finish following Malone’s sweeping long pass from midfield and a flick on from Sexton, and the same scorer was inches away from adding another minutes later.
Sexton and Malone would let other potential three-pointers pass them by on the half-hour and after 43 minutes but David Ward and Seamus O’Carroll could have raised the green flag for Limerick before the interval too.
“Yeah, we had our chances but it’s fair to say that Clare had a few goal chances too,” said Lee.
“Donal (O’Sullivan) pulled off a great save when their man should have put it away. We had chances and they had chances. The one that probably killed us was the last chance.
“To get a free shot in a game like that ... it was the decision about the execution that was probably the issue there for me but the big thing is that we were creating those chances and we had some big performances from fellas out there. We had 22-year olds taking the game to an experienced Division 2 side and that says it all.”
Limerick lost forward Danny Neville to a second yellow card on the brink of full-time and actually went 24 minutes through the second and third quarters without a single score, a statistic that makes Clare’s stumble over the line against a Division 4 side a concerning.
E Cleary (1-4, 2f); D Tubridy (0-4, 2f); K Sexton (0-3, 1f); P Lillis and S Collins (both 0-1).
J Ryan (1-1); S O’Carroll (0-3); D Neville (0-2); G Collins (0-2, 1f); S O’Dea, D Tracey, I Corbett and J Naughton (all 0-1).
Joe Hayes; G Kelly, K Harnett, M McMahon; P Lillis, D Ryan, John Hayes; G Brennan, S Brennan; C O’Connor, S Collins, J Malone; E Cleary, D Tubridy, K Sexton. Subs: L Markham for O’Connor (60); G O’Brien for Collins (65); S Malone for Tubridy (70); D Nagle for Harnett (71).
D O’Sullivan, D Daly, J McCarthy, S O’Dea; P White, B Fanning, G Noonan; D Ward, D Tracey; P Nash, J Naughton, I Corbett; G Collins, D Neville, S O’Carroll. Subs: J Ryan for Ward (47); S McSweeney for Nash (52); J Lee for Naughton (58); T McCarthy for Daly (60); P Scanlon for Collins (63); P Quinn for O’Carroll (68).
C Reilly (Meath).
To get the latest episode automatically, you can SUBSCRIBE ON iTUNES