That Limerick will enter the Munster final without having been in anyway tested is no one’s fault but their own.
Having put 1-4 past Tipperary in the opening nine minutes of their Munster quarter-final at this very venue, the opening stages of yesterday evening’s semi-final bout had an air of déjà vu about them.
Pat Donnelly’s young charges, his forward six in particular, brought that same ruthless authority to proceedings, with Peter Casey’s second-minute goal chance the first of eight they would engineer. The net result was that an inevitable feel hung over this game from as early as the 10th minute.
Clare’s decision to deploy half-forward Ben O’Gorman as a sweeper told you how wary they were of falling foul of the early onslaught which had ended Tipperary’s quarter-final challenge before it ever left the runway.
Neither O’Gorman nor the Clare defence looked comfortable with this formation and that they had been breached for six scores inside the opening six minutes spoke volumes of its ineffectiveness.
Mind you, the visitors probably could have thrown an extra body or two more into the mix and it still wouldn’t have stopped the rampaging Aaron Gillane, Tom Morrissey, Barry Nash, and Cian Lynch.
Add in Peter Casey and all but one — Barry Murphy — of Limerick’s starting six forwards have played senior championship for their county this summer.
There’s not another U21 team in the land who can boast such an impressive set of forwards and where much was made last year of Waterford’s U21 attack, featuring as it did the Bennett brothers, Patrick Curran, and Tom Devine, this Treaty offence is shaping up to be every bit as dominant in 2017.
Casey, put through by Lynch, following a superb Dan Joy catch back the field, should have goaled after two minutes.
It was a warning, though, of what was to follow. And, as it turned out, the Na Piarsaigh corner-forward didn’t have to wait too long to atone for this miss, blasting the sliotar beyond Killian Nugent six minutes in after again having been fed by Lynch.
The green flag moved the hosts 1-5 to 0-2 clear. Tom Morrissey and Barry Murphy added points in the subsequent passages. At 1-7 to 0-2, it was already looking ominous for John Carmody and his Clare team.
Colin Ryan and Robbie Hanley, assisted by a deep-sitting Cian Lynch, were mopping up at midfield, ensuring a constant supply of ball to those operating further forward.
Clare senior pair David Fitzgerald and Jason McCarthy were instrumental in putting through Billy Connors for an 11th-minute goal. It provided a much-needed intake of oxygen. They needed to build on this score. They couldn’t — weren’t — allowed.
Four in a row from the stick of man of the match Aaron Gillane stretched Pat Donnelly’s side into a 1-11 to 1-2 lead. The visitors simply had no answer to the pace and movement of Limerick’s play.
The winners’ sole concern will have been the number of goal chances squandered, with Gillane hitting the crossbar and later in the half firing over when there was a goal for the taking. Tom Morrissey, too, was twice guilty of not raising a green flag when the opportunity presented itself.
This trend continued into the second period as Morrissey fired the wrong side of the crossbar within 36 seconds of the restart.
Clare’s most productive period arrived thereafter, with Ian Galvin (two frees), Brian Cahill, Michael O’Malley, and Aaron Shanagher landing five without reply to make it 1-15 to 1-10. That was as close, though, as the visitors would come — they’d finish with 14 following a second yellow to corner-back Conor O’Halloran.
Cian Lynch’s point from open play on 58 minutes meant all starting six forward had etched their names onto the scoresheet. Both midfielders, Colin Ryan and Robbie Hanley, along with wing-back pair Thomas Grimes and Ronan Lynch also contributed to Limerick’s 1-28 total, one better than the 2-24 they notched during Tipperary’s visit.
A Gillane (0-14, 0-4 frees, 0-2 ‘65s); P Casey (1-0); C Ryan (0-3); R Hanley, T Morrissey, B Nash (0-2 each); T Grimes, R Lynch (free), C Lynch, P Ahern, B Murphy (0-1 each).
I Galvin (0-5, 0-4 frees); B Connors (1-0); D Fitzgerald, C Corbett (0-2 each); M O’Malley, B Cahill, A Shanagher, M Moloney, M O’Shea, P O’Loughlin (0-1 each).
E McNamara (Doon); S Finn (Bruff), D Fanning (Pallasgreen), D Joy (Kilmallock); R Lynch (Na Piarsaigh), K Hayes (Kildimo/Pallaskenry), T Grimes (Na Piarsaigh); R Hanley (Kilmallock), C Ryan (Pallasgreen); A Gillane (Patrickswell), B Murphy (Doon), C Lynch (Patrickswell); P Casey (Na Piarsaigh), T Morrissey (Ahane), B Nash (South Liberties).
Subs: C Boylan (Na Piarsaigh) for Murphy (40 mins); A La Touche Cosgrave (Monaleen) for Grimes (40); C McSweeney (South Liberties) for Finn (51); P Ahern (Killeedy) for Morrissey (53); O O’Reilly (Kilmallock) for Casey (56);
K Nugent (O’Callaghan Mills); C Cooney (O’Callaghan Mills), D Walsh (Éire Óg), C O’Halloran (Éire Óg); C Smyth (Feakle), D Fitzgerald (Inagh-Kilnamona), R Hayes (Wolfe Tones); J McCarthy (Inagh-Kilnamona), M O’Malley (Kilmaley); B O’Gorman (Wolfe Tones), I Galvin (Clonlara), B Cahill (Kilmaley); C Corbett (Tulla), A Shanagher (Wolfe Tones Na Sionna), B Connors (Cratloe).
M Moloney (Éire Óg) for Smyth (18 mins); M O’Shea (Smith O’Briens) for Corbett (39); P O’Loughlin (Clonlara) for Hayes (43); C Noonan (Killanena) for Cahill (57); J Cunningham (Wolfe Tones) for O’Gorman.
C McAllister (Cork).