The eternal tension arises between tradition and innovation. What we’ve always done, what we need to do now, and the trouble encountered in moving from one of those positions to the other.
There’s a reason experts in change management can charge so much, after all.
Was yesterday in Thurles that easily categorised? Clare were too polished for Limerick and made it to the Munster hurling final thanks largely to their efficient, free-scoring forwards.
That’s Clare of the multiple game plans, of the revolving sweepers, of the intricate stick-passing, celebrated for the sophistication and variety of their tactical approach.
They came to Semple Stadium yesterday, however, surrounded by an expectation of orthodoxy, of positional simplicity that would underwrite their All-Ireland credentials.
Certainly after Cork-Tipperary a couple of weeks ago, there was a strong sense that we would see fidelity to the old traditions in plain sight yesterday in Thurles (which may say more about misreading Cork-Tipperary than anything else, but that’s another day’s work).
Well, any representatives of the Spanish Inquisition in the 19,168 attendance saw little enough in the way of heresy.
Clare overstaffed their half-forward line early on, Shane O’Donnell coming out to supplement the men named in that part of the field, but on five minutes the same player was in where a corner-forward lives or dies.
A loose ball rolled free in front of the Limerick goal after John Conlon had posed the initial questions with a searching delivery, and O’Donnell did what every corner-forward is taught in Corner Forward 101: he pulled first-time for the game’s opening goal.
The view that new Banner co-managers Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney would free Clare from their tactical strait-jacket was, of course, a little insulting to Limerick, implying an approach to the game rooted in the days of point posts and pitch invasions.
Up front Limerick’s alignment was pretty traditional, and they leaked that early goal due to dithering on the wing, and losing possession, rather than a tactical breakdown.
O’Donnell’s second goal was another victory for tradition: the well-established tradition of a forward getting the ball in front of his man, turning the defender and going baldheaded for goal.
The UCC student has never been knowingly unnerved by the sight of the ‘keeper’s eyes, and he finished coolly.
With Clare well on top and Limerick hitting eerily similar wides - all dying just right of the Town End posts - there was a seven-point gap between the sides at the end of the first quarter.
Within eight minutes Limerick were on level terms, however. Cian Lynch began to shine with points but took the wrong option bearing down on goal, shooting from too far out; David Dempsey was on hand to smash home the rebound, however. Paul Browne’s point on 25 minutes meant parity.
Clare duly hit five points on the spin themselves to stretch to a 2-10 to 1-8 half-time lead. Pattern established.
The game dipped after the break, with Limerick the side pulling players outfield rather than Clare, but both sides were guilty of some wayward shooting and aimless deliveries.
On 50 minutes the game lurched Clare’s way significantly when Conor McGrath . . . well, ghosted is the wrong word, unless a ghost’s movements are visible to all and sundry.
McGrath didn’t feint or slip anywhere unnoticed: he simply jogged in after a Colm Galvin delivery and in the words of the great Don Howe, showed you don’t need to break the net to score a goal - the ball merely needs to get over the line.
When Clare hammered over three more points without reply it gave them an eight-point gap - again - heading into the final quarter. Again Limerick took over, hitting three points without reply before Clare eased to another seven-point lead, then Limerick cut that to four thanks to a fine Kyle Hayes strike.
A sequence of four late wides for Clare made it a little more nervy for the Banner than it had to be, strictly speaking, but they never looked like being beaten to the tape. They roll on to the big show in July.
Limerick boss John Kiely was characteristically frank at the final whistle, acknowledging Clare had been slightly better: “Had we been a little bit more efficient with our ball we could have put more of a squeeze on in that last quarter. It could have been a little bit closer, and it would have been interesting to see how that went then.
“They (Limerick newcomers) did well - really well, they’re up against top class forwards. It was tough out there because there was a lot of space, forwards were getting a lot of space on both sides, so it was really tough.
“It wasn’t maybe as much of a battle as I might have anticipated, too. There was plenty of space there, plenty of running - it was all about the breaking ball, all about the runners coming off the shoulder, both teams had that in abundance and it wasn’t as much of a physical encounter as I thought it might have been.”
Kiely’s view of the space is interesting, particularly in light of the room created in Semple Stadium in the Cork-Tipp game. Is space without sweepers the new target for teams?
For Clare, Donal Moloney expressed his concerns about the way Limerick kept coming back at his side: “We were all worried before half-time, we were worried after it too. Limerick just kept coming back into the game. We started poorly, our puck-outs weren’t great. We got two good goals, two maybe opportunistic goals. That gave us daylight.
“I don’t think an eight-point lead reflected where we were in the first half, in terms of general play. Limerick wiped it out in four or five minutes. We pushed on before half-time. That was the piece of the game that we were most pleased it, that seven or eight minutes before half-time.
"Guys that weren’t in the game kind of got a grip on things. We pushed out to five clear. That was, ultimately, the winning of the game for us.”
For Limerick there was much to be positive about, though they won’t be too happy with the way they conceded those two O’Donnell goals. They also need the likes of Diarmaid Byrnes fit as soon as possible: every side needs a full deck at this time of year.
Clare will be happy with a Munster championship win, though their management are likely to fret about letting Limerick hit 1-5 without reply in the first half.
David Reidy’s free-taking deteriorated in the second half, while Tony Kelly’s penalty miss epitomised a game in which he was peripheral.
Donal Moloney paid tribute to Seamus Hickey’s performance on Kelly, but Clare will be concerned that a long club campaign may be still in Kelly’s legs.
Any county would still be content to build their attack around the Ballyea clubman, of course. Would playing as a traditional centre-forward - i.e. in the opposition half - be more beneficial than Kelly’s roving commission?
Maybe. But as we know, the tension between what we’ve always done and what we need to do now can be difficult to manage.
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