Selection headaches aplenty for the Clare management ahead of their Munster semi-final date with Cork on June 14, and you certainly won’t hear coach Ephie Fitzgerald complaining.
First-team regulars Shane McGrath and David Tubridy were sidelined through injury for Saturday’s clash and the Clare bench was further tested when Shane Hickey, Shane Brennan and Eoin Cleary cried off at various junctures during this tense Cusack Park struggle.
Rory Donnelly and Cathal McInerney stepped into the fray for Brennan and Cleary respectively, the former pair kicking Clare’s final four scores to see the home outfit breast the tape ahead of a fast-finishing Limerick.
“I never saw a game where we had so many injuries, the black card to Jamie Malone was a factor as well,” said Fitzgerald, the Clare selector donning the bainisteoir’s bib given the sideline ban being served by Colm Collins.
“We were trying to mix and match in light of the injuries. We have a good panel, but when you lose three or four guys, on top of the lads that were missing like David Tubridy and Shane McGrath, you are stretched to the limit. I thought the lads that came in did exceptionally well.” Cathal McInerney slotted a pressure free on 66 minutes to re-establish Clare’s two-point advantage and Fitzgerald described the Cratloe forward as “one of the coolest” players he’s ever encountered.
“What you see is what you get with Cathal. He doesn’t say a whole pile, but he is a beautiful footballer off the left and right. Rory [Donnelly] kicked a couple of points as well, that just shows the strength of the panel. Cathal is just back. We’ve had an amount of injuries.
“Eoin Cleary, who ran himself into the ground, is just back from injury. I think if we can get everyone fit for the next day we will have a very big panel to pick from.” Fitzgerald believes the black card shown to centre-forward Jamie Malone upset Clare’s rhythm and he was fulsome in his praise of the Banner players for refusing to allow Limerick draw level in the closing stages.
“Limerick came back into it in the 10 minutes after Jamie’s black card and kicked a few good scores. But I thought the reaction of our lads in the last quarter of an hour was absolutely fantastic. We were able to tag on a few scores at vital times. They got back to one, but we always got the next one. If they got level, possibly we could have been in a bit more trouble. The lads showed great character.” Fitzgerald was impressed also by Clare’s defending in the first period, limiting Limerick as they did to just one score from play.
“We kicked seven wides and had a couple of goal chances we didn’t take in the first-half, but I thought we were playing lovely football. Maybe we over-elaborated in terms of getting the ball close in to goal, but, in general, I thought we were well on top.
“You can never guarantee anything but effort and I thought we had that in abundance. What I was most pleased about was our tackling. Our defending was exemplary.
“We put them under pressure all over the pitch. We possibly tired a small bit in the second-half given we lost so many players and having to put in that bit extra of a shift.”
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