A third straight win was achieved with much less fuss than that epic against Tipperary seven days previous. Any fears that their endeavours there may have stretched them on this occasion were allayed in the closing stages as they ran clear of Limerick.
Co-manager Gerry O’Connor put that finish down to their fitness levels when it was their downfall in 2017. “Look, it’s a credit to our conditioning team that Kelvin Harold is leading that our guys finished as strongly as they did. That’s three games that we’ve finished incredibly strong in. They looked as if they could keep going for another half an hour. We’ve worked really, really hard on our recovery and on our fitness banks over the last six months and that clearly showed out there today.
“(Last season) we didn’t finish strong, mentally and physically, we didn’t finish as strongly as we could have, whereas from our perspective, it’s something we’ve really focused on, finishing the last eight minutes of the first half and the last eight minutes of the second half really strong.”
That focus was a factor but so too must have been the pep provided by beating Tipperary. Streaky or a momentum team, Clare have been considered both, but the consistency across their last three outings would indicate they are ready to be something more than just a team that relies on the Big Mo.
Coming into Ennis yesterday, Limerick were supposed to have more of that but they became the latest team — the ninth of ten, in fact — that failed to win after a third game in as many weeks. The flatness of their second half was defined by Clare’s vim, personified by an invigorated Tony Kelly who had an exceptionally quiet first half.
Clare, with the breeze, led at the break, 0-13 to 0-9, having staked big claims for themselves in the middle third where they were lacking at times in Semple Stadium the previous weekend. Substitute David Fitzgerald landed two major points as he exposed a Limerick left flank that was slack in its tracking.
The sendings off punctuated an otherwise forgettable opening half, Tom Condon seeing red first for a strike as Jamie Shanahan sent over a score. David Reidy joined him two minutes later after further consolation between James Owens and his umpires about what had gone on as the ball was sent over.
The fluidity that Limerick had displayed in bringing an unbeaten run of three outings to Cusack Park was not evident and they fell behind by six points in the 41st minute. A Kyle Hayes shot, after Shane Dowling had put him in the clear, was easily negotiated by Donal Tuohy. Gearóid Hegarty sent over a point from the same attack but Limerick couldn’t string consecutive points together.
“No, we needed something, we needed somebody to bring that bit of energy to it,” admitted John Kiely, “a bit of a spark and try as they might, we just couldn’t find that and that’s just the way it is and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“I’m sure the boys did everything they could to find that gap. We did lay siege to their goal for a couple of minutes towards the end but ultimately it was just a step too far. Listen, we’ll regroup, we’ll get over it. We’ve a week to take a bit of rest and we’ll come back and we’ll drive on.”
Although part of their time was spent trying in vain to find a goal, Limerick went without a score for the final 19 minutes of action, allowing Clare to go from five points up to 11. Kelly was born again and John Conlon was totemic at the spearhead of the home attack, where he was isolated after the sendings off created latitude, and he also drew the best out of Nicky Quaid to prevent a goal in the 70th minute.
“We left that channel free down there for John to run into and no better man to exploit that space,” reviewed O’Connor. “And now we could also be a little bit critical of him, there was a few runs that Tony Kelly had made where he could have possibly picked him out as well. But ultimately it was our composure to stick to the game-plan, play the ball through the lines, short snappy 30m-40m stick passes and that’s what actually got us over the line.
“But I have to mention the Clare support — since we started out here in our first home game, since that Shane O’Donnell shoulder (on Waterford’s Barry Coughlan to set O’Donnell up for a point), I think there was a reconnection with our supporters and they’ve been just magnificent.
“They were magnificent in Thurles but they were superb here today. They really drove on the team when it was needed.”
They mightn’t have been out in force in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last month but many of the 18,803 in attendance yesterday will follow into a second battle with Cork for they believe what they see.
P. Duggan (0-13, 10 frees, 1 65); T. Kelly (0-5, 1 65); J. Conlon (0-4); D. Fitzgerald (0-2); C. Galvin, J. Shanahan (0-1 each).
S. Dowling (0-4, frees); T. Morrissey (0-3); K. Hayes, D. O’Donovan (sideline), C. Lynch, D. Byrnes, S. Flanagan, G. Hegarty, D. Morrissey, A. Gillane (0-1 each).
D. Tuohy; D. McInerney, P. O’Connor (c), J. Browne; S. Morey, C. Cleary, J. Shanahan; C. Galvin, C. Malone; P. Duggan, D. Reidy, T. Kelly; P. Collins, J. Conlon, S. O’Donnell.
D. Fitzgerald for S. Morey (inj 15); J. McCarthy for C. Malone (54); I. Galvin for D. Fitzgerald (62); C. McGrath for S. O’Donnell (65); M. O’Neill for P. Collins (70+1); D. Corry for P. Duggan (blood, 70+1 to 70+4).
D. Reidy (straight, 34).
N. Quaid; S. Finn, M. Casey, R. English; D. Byrnes, D. Hannon (c), D. Morrissey; D. O’Donovan, C. Lynch; G. Hegarty, K. Hayes, T. Morrissey; G. Mulcahy, S. Dowling, S. Flanagan.
T. Condon for S. Finn (inj 13); R. McCarthy for G Mulcahy (h-t); A. Gillane for S. Flanagan (49); D. Dempsey for G. Hegarty (56); B. Nash for R. English (inj 65).
T. Condon (straight, 32).
J. Owens (Wexford).