Limerick 1-16 Clare 0-21
Clare gained promotion to Division 1A of the Allianz National Hurling League thanks to a sensational comeback against Limerick in tonight’s 1B final at the Gaelic Grounds.
Davy Fitzgerald’s battlers came from eight points down to stun the hosts – and set up a Division 1 semi-final showdown with Kilkenny on April 22.
Nicky O’Connell put Clare in front in stoppage time from a 65 before Conor McGrath, who bagged 12 points, popped over the insurance score.
The stakes were high and sparks flew in the first half as rival bosses Fitzgerald and John Allen squared up to each other.
Shortly after, Limerick midfielder James Ryan barrelled into Fitzgerald and was lucky to escape with just a booking.
Afterwards, Fitzgerald indicated to reporters that he felt Clare gained from the touchline skirmish, insisting that Ryan’s focus was taken off his hurling.
Up to that point, Limerick were dominating and particularly at midfield, where Ryan and Paul Browne were calling the tune.
Limerick were six points up twice in the first half and should have had more than a 0-11 to 0-8 lead at half-time.
Tommy Quaid missed a couple of goal chances, hitting his first effort tamely at Nickie Quaid before the Limerick shotstopper with the famous surname produced a remarkable diving save to keep out the corner forward.
Before the break, Sean Collins had a goal chance for Clare at the other end after captain Patrick Donnellan and McGrath, selling a couple of beautiful dummies, created the opening.
Ten minutes after half-time, however, Limerick had turned a three-point half-time advantage into an eight-point lead.
Shane Dowling buried an unstoppable 43rd minute penalty before Graeme Mulcahy and sub Seanie O’Brien added points.
But Clare came roaring back with a run of seven unanswered points to cut the gap back to just one as 9,897 spectators watched enthralled.
Limerick stopped the rot through Ryan in the 57th minute before Treaty shotstopper Quaid denied Clare ace John Conlon with a superb save ten minutes from time.
Nicky O’Connell pointed the 65 before Clare sub Aaron Cunningham tied the scores at 0-18 to 1-15 with less than ten minutes remaining.
In a remarkable finish, Clare hit the front for the first time since the third minute when the classy McGrath flashed over a superb 66th minute score.
Limerick sub Seanie O’Brien levelled matters again before Clare found the crucial scores at the death.
This was the fourth time that the near neighbours had met in competitive fare this year – following on from two clashes in the Waterford Crystal Cup and a one-sided Clare victory in the opening round of National League fixtures.
When Clare travelled to the Gaelic Grounds in late February, they inflicted a 14-point defeat on the hosts but John Allen’s charges had improved considerably since then.
It was also a repeat of last year’s Division 2 decider, won by Limerick in Ennis, and spectators arrived to the Gaelic Grounds anticipating a cracking game on an ideal evening for hurling.
They weren’t disappointed as Limerick held sway for long periods against a Clare side held to just two points from play in the first half.
But there was a late twist in the tale as Limerick were left to rue another painful home defeat and as things stand, they face another season in Division 1B.
LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; W McNamara, D O’Grady, G O’Mahoney; P Browne, J Ryan (0-1); S Dowling (1-7, 1-0 pen, 4f, 1 65), D Breen, C Allis; G Mulcahy (0-3), N Moran (0-1), T Quaid (0-1).
Subs: S O’Brien (0-2) for Breen (35+3), K Downes (0-1) for Moran (h.t.), S Tobin for T Quaid (41), M Ryan for Allis (61).
CLARE: P Kelly; D O’Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney; B Bugler, J McInerney, P O’Connor; N O’Connell (0-3, 2 65s, 1f), P Donnellan (0-1); C Morey, S Collins, E Barrett; C Ryan (0-3), C McGrath (0-12, 10f), J Conlon (0-1).
Subs: A Cunningham (0-1) for Morey (51).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).