Donal O'Grady: Limerick at their best are a well-oiled machine with 15 moving parts

Limerick had nine different scorers adding on 21 points after half time to Clare’s three who tallied 1-8
Donal O'Grady: Limerick at their best are a well-oiled machine with 15 moving parts

Clare's David McInerney in action against Cian Lynch, left, and Declan Hannon of Limerick at Semple Stadium. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

At half-time in Thurles, Clare and Limerick were level on 15 points apiece. The game looked delicately poised and Clare, the overwhelming underdogs, seemed to be in with a chance.

However, all was to change utterly from the throw-in of the second period. Limerick were far more like themselves on the restart and they set down a marker by knocking over five points in the first three minutes.

Whereas the middle-third was evenly contested in the first period, Limerick owned this sector after the interval.

Gearoid Hegarty, superb in the second half, Kyle Hayes, and replacement Seamus Flanagan regularly funnelled back into midfield and the defence to supplement the efforts of their midfielders and half-backs.

Cian Lynch had been quiet in the first period but he began to exert a growing influence on proceedings by picking up the breaks and linking the play from defence to attack intelligently.

The Treaty men had nine different scorers adding on 21 points after half time to Clare’s three who tallied 1-8.

Brian Lohan's men had a chance to interrupt Limerick’s scoring run just after half-time but Tony Kelly, so accurate with the aid of the breeze in the first half, struck two frees wide into the wind.

These were big psychological blows to the Banner who were badly in need of a score at this juncture to help maintain their challenge.

Limerick scored 36 points over the 70-plus minutes. This was a fantastic score. They created 47 chances and manager John Kiely will have been very pleased with their second-half display as they face into the Tipp game next weekend.

That first period never reached normal ‘Championship’ pace but the spectacle wasn't diminished hugely as the Banner’s Tony Kelly was serving up a masterclass from frees and five from play.

It was becoming a ‘Tony Kelly day’ when he was irresistible in attack. Clare may have caught out Limerick somewhat by playing him in the right corner of the attack. However, when he moved from the corner to strike frees he stayed in that free taking zone for some time by switching a lot with David Reidy, who was operating at centre-forward.

This movement caused Limerick some discomfort in defence. But crucially Clare were never able to supply Shane O'Donnell with any quality ball in ‘one-on-one’ situations close to goal.

This most dangerous of goal threats never influenced the game as Clare would have liked and they never fashioned any goal chances when they had the wind at their back while they relied too much on Kelly for scores.

Clare did score the only goal in the game through and it was an emphatic strike by Ryan Taylor who benefitted from a breaking ball. This effort brought them back into the game but only for a while. 

There is no doubt that the sequence of play leading up to the concession will be revisited many times in the Treaty video suite this week, as there are salutary lessons to be learned.

Barry Nash, unaccustomed to the corner-back position involved himself under a high ball while colleague Sean Finn was already under it. This is an elementary error that happens in other areas of the pitch but without the serious consequences of conceding a goal.

When Limerick are at their best they are comparable to a well-oiled machine with 15 moving parts. These parts are synchronised. Each part has a particular function and they click into gear with precision on and off the ball with excellent support play. 

Stopping this machine from delivering its planned conclusion takes planning of a very high standard with a fiercely aggressive, disciplined approach. They are both physically imposing and possess great pace. 

In the second half it looked as if Limerick had just continued from their impressive five-wins-out-of-five League form, such was their touch, score taking, defending, and the timing of their tackling.

Clare lived with the Treaty for some time but they found it impossible to match the men in green in these areas in the second period allied to the necessary disciplined aggression.

The victors were comfortable as they turned the final bend into the home straight and dominated completely after the second water break. 

Limerick’s system is very difficult to breakdown. They defend and attack as a unit. Once they got ahead yesterday they clogged up the middle by funnelling back attackers. Space was then left in the Clare defence as they had to chase the game. 

The winners availed of this tactic by transitioning quickly from defence with precise short passing counter-attacks that yielded scores. Clare just didn't have the resources to challenge the systematic play of the reigning Munster champions and this allowed the newly crowned League champions to play the game on their terms.

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