The turnstiles were clicking merrily at the Gaelic Grounds last night for this Munster hurling U21 opening round match, so much so that throw-in was delayed 15 minutes, to 7.45pm, as 6,000 fans made their way in .
Understandable also — lovely summer’s evening, two counties on a high, Clare the reigning All-Ireland champions at both U21 and senior, Limerick reigning Munster senior champions and victors over Tipperary last Sunday.
One of the heroes of that Limerick win was sharp-shooter Shane Dowling and as captain of this team he was back in action again last night and back on song. Six points Shane scored in the opening half, all from distance into a stiff breeze as Limerick looked set fair for a surprise win, only trailing 0-10 to 0-8.
Just past the three-quarter mark Dowling again featured, a quickly taken free from just inside the 45m line against a Clare defence that had momentarily lost concentration, ended up in the back of the net. Fortunately for Clare referee Johnny Ryan disallowed the goal on the grounds a Limerick substitution had just taken place. Shane did point that free, eventually, leaving Limerick trailing by four (0-17 to 0-14). !That was that really for the home side, their last chance.
Clare started with six of last year’s All-Ireland winning senior panel, half a dozen more on the fringe of this year’s extended panel and that power and class eventually told.
One of those Clare heroes from last year Tony Kelly, like Dowling, also lined out last night, also as team captain and he too was on song. Four points Tony scored, two in each half, sparkled from start to finish as did Seadna Morey, Conor Clancy and Jamie Shanahan in defence, Colm Galvin in midfield, Peter Duggan, Shane Glennon and Aaron Cunningham up front.
On this night though another fledgling Clare star really made his mark, teenager Bobby Duggan, coming off three years as a starter with the minor team.
Six points he notched in the first-half, two from play; two more he added in the second but also set up Cunningham for Clare’s opening goal, 50th minute; perfect pass, perfect finish, Aaron lobbing the advancing Darragh Stapleton. That score put Clare out of sight, nine points in front (1-19 to 0-13), just ten minutes to go.
It was about to get worse for Limerick, centre-back Diarmuid Byrnes then sent off for a second yellow-card offence, leaving them with an impossible job.
The icing on the cake for Clare came in the 56th minute, the giant Peter Duggan controlling a fine Jamie Shanahan centre !, then giving Stapleton no chance from point-blank range.
It came at a cost, however, the unfortunate Aaron Cunningham crumbling under the same high ball and subsequently stretchered off with a suspected cruciate injury.
A pity for Limerick it ended as it did; they had put up a worthy stand, had their own stars in full-back Damien English and Dan Morrissey on the wing, but they needed everything to go right on the night. It didn’t. Didn’t help their own cause with a few missed opportunities, that sending off, weren’t helped either on the night by some questionable refereeing. Overall however they were simply beaten by a better team, a much better team. On this evidence, Clare are again the team to beat at this level. Perhaps at any level.
Scorers for Clare: B Duggan 0-8 (5f); T Kelly 0-4; A Cunningham 1-1; P Duggan 1-1; S Gleeson 0-2; J Shanahan 0-2; C Galvin, S Morey, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Limerick: S Dowling 0-8 (8f); K O’Brien 1-0; M Carmody, D Morrissey, C Lynch, M Fitzgibbon, P Ryan, D O’Donovan, 0-1 each.
CLARE: K Hogan; J Colleran, J Browne, S Morey; G O’Connell, C Cleary, J Shanahan; C Galvin, E Enright; P Duggan, T Kelly (c), S Gleeson; A Cunningham, D Reidy, B Duggan.
Subs: S McGrath for Gleeson (54); S Taylor for Cunningham (inj. 58); S O’Brien for Colleran (58); N O’Connor for O’Connell (60); S Ward for Kelly (61).
LIMERICK: D Stapleton; M Callaghan, R English, S Irwin; M Carmody, D Byrnes, D Morrissey; W O’Donoghue, C Lynch; S Dowling (c), D Dempsey, M Fitzgibbon; L O’Sullivan, K O’Brien, P Ryan.
Subs: D O’Donovan for O’Donoghue (37); D Coleman for O’Sullivan (42); B Griffin for Fitzgibbon (47).
Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary).
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