Yes, Limerick, minus key forward Peter Casey, came through this quarter-final assignment with 14 points to spare, but scratch beneath the surface and this Treaty display wasn’t as impressive as the scoreline suggests.
The reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions should have been home and hosed by the call for half-time, but a far too casual attitude in attack, which included five goal opportunities passing without a single green flag being risen, meant they led only by two, 0-10 to 0-8, at the break.
The scoreline made a mockery of their dominance when you consider they were 0-6 to 0-1 clear inside 14 minutes.
Yes, they pulled up their socks in the second period, but Donnelly knows there is work to be done ahead of next month’s semi away to Tipperary.
The problem now is that the majority of said work will take place without the mainstays of this team being present as the seven members of this group who are also part of John Kiely’s senior panel will spend the next five weeks with the latter camp.
“We have six weeks to get as much right as we can. It will be a difficult six weeks because of the Munster senior championship,” said Donnelly.
“Nobody has been in this territory before. Seven of these lads are involved with the seniors and they have four championship matches, so we’ll just get them at the end of that. Hopefully, they’ll come back fit, at least.”
Casting an eye over the first game of their title defence, played out in front of a 3,135-strong crowd, Donnelly said:
The scoreline flattered us in the finish. The sending off had a big bearing on the game. We were going well for 23 or 24 minutes of the first half and then we let them back into it. We dropped our work-rate, allowed them get four unanswered points before the break. Our first goal was key. Had we got one in the first half, it would have made things a lot easier.
Having failed to put away two goal opportunities early upon the change of ends — the second of these drew a fine save from Clare goalkeeper Killian Nugent — Seamus Flanagan finally rattled the Clare net on the three-quarter hour mark after being put through by Barry Murphy.
The game’s opening major propelled the visitors into a 1-14 to 0-11 lead, killing off a fading Clare challenge.
The hosts were operating with 14 men by this juncture, corner-back Conor O’Halloran receiving a straight red card for a wild pull on Darren O’Connell two minutes into the second half. O’Halloran also saw red when these counties met in the Munster semi 12 months ago.
The Banner answered Flanagan’s strike with points from Aidan McCarthy, younger brother of centre-back Jason, and Sean O’Loughlin, but they’d not score again.
Conor Boylan, put through by Oisin O’Reilly, delivered Limerick’s second goal and with his first involvement, sub Mark O’Dwyer supplied their third. Their closing burst yielded 2-4 without reply.
The Limerick team contained just two players — centre-back Kyle Hayes and half-back Thomas Grimes — who started last year’s All-Ireland U21 final win over Kilkenny, with Conor Boylan and Oisin O’Reilly sprung from the bench last September. Boylan looked dangerous in patches but it was his half-forward colleague Brian Ryan who exerted greatest influence.
Clare had no player who offered a similar threat and were overly reliant on McCarthy’s dead-ball accuracy to keep them in touch. Two points was as close as they got.
B Ryan (0-6); B Murphy (0-5, 0-4 frees); C Boylan, S Flanagan (1-2 each); M O’Dwyer (1-1); P O’Loughlin, D O’Connell (0-1 each).
A McCarthy (0-6, 0-6 frees); G Cooney, P O’Loughlin (0-2 each); S O’Loughlin, S Conway, M Corry (0-1 each).
J Power (Monaleen); B McPartland (Doon), J Adams (Ballybrown), J Flynn (Patrickswell); D Minehan (Ahane), K Hayes (Kildimo Pallaskenry), T Grimes (Na Piarsaigh); P O’Loughlin (Kilmallock), M Mackey (Adare); B Ryan (South Liberties), B Murphy (Doon), S Flanagan (Feohanagh); D O’Connell (Kildimo Pallaskenry), C Boylan (Na Piarsaigh), O O’Reilly (Kilmallock).
P Ahern (Killeedy) for O’Connell (44 mins); W O’Meara (Askeaton) for Minehan (49); M O’Dwyer (Monaleen) for O’Reilly (54); M Houlihan (Kilmallock) for Ryan (56); B Timmins (Murroe Boher) for McPartland (58).
K Nugent (O’Callaghan Mills); B Higgins (Kilmaley), R Hayes (Crusheen), C O’Halloran (Éire Óg, Ennis); D Ryan (Cratloe), J McCarthy (Inagh Kilnamona); P McNamara (Kilmaley); M Corry (Clooney/Quin), K Galvin (Clonlara); S Conway (Feakle), G Cooney (O’Callaghan Mills), A McCarthy (Inagh Kilnamona); J Carmody (Kilmaley), C Guilfoyle (Newmarket-on-Fergus), B Connors (Cratloe).
P O’Loughlin (Clonlara) for Carmody (21 mins); S O’Loughlin (Kilmaley) for Conway (29); L O’Connor (Newmarket-on-Fergus) for Corry (HT); C Darcy (Kilmaley) for Galvin (39); M O’Shea (Smith O’Briens) for Connors (52).
P Kelly (Tipperary).