Limerick too strong for Clare

Clare 1-16 Limerick 1-23

Clare 1-16 Limerick 1-23

Limerick gained revenge on Clare for last year’s 17-point defeat in the qualifiers as they booked their place in the All-Ireland SHC semi-finals this afternoon.

Andrew O’Shaughnessy was Limerick’s scoring hero with 0-11 as Richie Bennis’ side dominated long stretches of today’s Croke Park clash.

Clare were 0-11 to 0-7 behind at half-time and conceded a 38th-minute goal to Donie Ryan. A Diarmuid McMahon goal helped cut the gap to three points for the Banner but Limerick finished the better by scoring four of the game’s final five points.

Mystery shrouded the Clare team line-up until just before the throw-in when it was revealed that defender Gerry Quinn, who had been struggling with a medial knee ligament injury, would start and 2006 All-Star forward Tony Griffin would play no part.

Limerick, for their part, were forced to alter the team they selected during the week with Peter Lawlor falling victim to the ‘flu and Mark O’Riordan regaining his place at right half-back.

As expected, Damien Reale returned to captain Limerick from the rear and it was the Shannonsiders’ strength in defence, particularly at half-back, that laid the foundations for their early dominance.

The tactic of pinging diagonal balls into O’Shaughnessy in the right corner was Limerick’s favoured line of attack as the Kilmallock ace soon got the better of his marker Kevin Dilleen.

‘Shaughs’ got off the mark in the first-minute as a great pick-up paved the way for a close range score. He doubled Limerick’s lead when he snapped onto a breaking ball and pointed off his left.

Clare looked decidedly disjointed during the first half but their shooting did not let them down with six players on the score-sheet by the half-time whistle.

Declan O’Rourke landed the Banner’s first point, latching onto a Philip Brennan puck-out and firing over at the Canal end. Jonathan Clancy, who scored a peach from the right wing, and Diarmuid McMahon also raised white flags during the opening 18 minutes but Limerick were firing on all cylinders and soon burst into a 0-10 to 0-3 lead.

The only sector that was letting Limerick down was their puck-outs, yet they had enough ball to create scores for Mike Fitzgerald, O’Shaughnessy, Kevin Tobin and Ollie Moran.

Clare were playing second fiddle but it could so easily have been different. The unmarked McMahon should have done better with a 14th-minute goal chance but, after a precise catch and pass from Barry Nugent, the Kilmaley attacker’s shot went the wrong side of the far right post.

That was Clare’s fifth wide and Limerick’s subsequent run of six points without reply only served to emphasise what a crucial miss it was.

A 31st-minute effort from the nippy Fitzgerald shot Limerick seven points clear, however Clare did hit some form leading up to half-time as Colin Lynch, Clancy, Brendan Bugler, who was notching his first championship and Niall Gilligan (free) all found their range with O’Shaughnessy hitting a single point - his seventh of the half - in reply.

Clare brought in Daithi O’Connell for the largely anonymous Bernard Gaffney on the resumption and they reduce the arrears to 0-11 to 0-8 when Declan O’Rourke slotted over off his left.

But two minutes into the second half, Limerick grabbed their goal and it was an opportunistic strike from substitute Donie Ryan. Critically for Clare, their full-back Frank Lohan slipped as Ollie Moran hand passed the sliotar forward, Limerick seized their chance as Brian Begley dribbled forward before the ball fell invitingly for Ryan to lash a ground shot to Brennan’s net.

Ryan followed that with a lovely point as Limerick moved seven points clear again at 1-12 to 0-8. The beaten Munster finalists should have killed off the game from then on, but Clare tigerishly fought their way back into contention.

Lynch and Gilligan bagged a quick three points between them, replying to efforts from Tobin and Donal O’Grady, before Limerick almost snuck through for a second goal when Begley touched the ball onto the upright.

Bugler and Fitzgerald traded scores before there were goal chances at either end – Limerick goalkeeper Brian Murray produced a great save from a Daithi O’Connell shot and Brennan was just as heroic at the Canal end when he denied Ryan his second major.

Fitzgerald burst past Lohan to crack over another Limerick point but Clare had a purple patch over the next five minutes when they could have registered two goals.

Gilligan went for the net from a close-in free but his stinging shot was deflected over by Stephen Lucey. Ryan replied with a point before 52 minutes in, McMahon darted into space, leaving two Limerick players in his wake, to rocket a shot to the top left corner of the net and play his side back into the game.

Gilligan tagged on a free and suddenly Limerick were only 1-17 to 1-14 ahead. They also lost Fitzgerald, one of their best forwards on the day, to a hamstring injury but still held enough aces to see out the win.

Goalscorer Ryan was ferried back to operate as a third midfielder and with O’Shaughnessy coming back into the game, Clare’s challenge fizzled out.

Points from O’Rourke (64 minutes) and Clancy (70) were Clare’s only scores in the closing stages as Limerick resumed control. Their manager Bennis, who watched on the from the stands due to his touchline ban, could well afford a smile in injury-time as substitute Barry Foley sent over a towering point from out on the left flank.

O’Shaughnessy did the rest, planting four shots through the uprights over the closing nine minutes to take his tally into double figures, with substitute James O’Brien also raising a white flag. The green-shirted masses amongst the 72,426-strong attendance celebrated with gusto – they will have renewed belief now that a first All-Ireland title since 1973 could be theirs.

CLARE: P Brennan; G O’Grady, F Lohan (capt), K Dilleen; G Quinn, B Bugler (0-2), A Markham; B O’Connell, C Lynch (0-2); D O’Rourke (0-3), D McMahon (1-1), J Clancy (0-3); N Gilligan (0-5, 0-5f), B Nugent, B Gaffney.

Subs used: D O’Connell for Gaffney (half-time), F Lynch for Nugent (43)

LIMERICK: B Murray; D Reale (capt), S Lucey, S Hickey; M O’Riordan, B Geary, M Foley; D O’Grady (0-1), M O'Brien; M Fitzgerald (0-4), O Moran (0-1), N Moran; A O'Shaughnessy (0-11, 0-6f), B Begley, K Tobin (0-2).

Subs used: D Ryan (1-2) for N Moran (27 mins), G O’Mahony for O’Brien (35-35+1, blood sub), J O’Brien (0-1) for Tobin (49), B Foley (0-1) for Fitzgerald (56), P Lawlor for O’Brien (67)

Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford)

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