From here to eternity for Limerick

Limerick 4-21 Clare 0-33 (Limerick win 7-6 on frees AET)

Referee Alan Kelly threw in the sliotar at 4pm. It was 6.55pm when Limerick’s Colin Ryan sent his winning strike between the posts at the Ennis Road end. 

In between, we had approximately 115 minutes of action (including injury-time), two periods of extra-time, 58 scores and 14 frees during a dead-ball competition which was the first of its kind in a hurling league fixture.

Before we sink our teeth into what was a truly absorbing and seemingly never-ending quarter-final, the reader should know that a fair amount of what materialised inside the whitewash yesterday isn’t documented here.

We’d need a full supplement to recount every dramatic moment in a game that ebbed and flowed and then ebbed some more.

Probably best to start at the finish and so we go to the free-taking competition. Five free-takers from either side, the sliotar placed on the 65-metre line.

The designated Clare and Limerick players formed two groups in the middle of the field, joined by management personnel. On the sideline stood the remainder of the Clare and Limerick panels, arms linked in many cases.

Indeed, there wasn’t a single soul in the Mackey Stand who sat in their seat while this historic free-taking competition unfolded. Everyone was on their feet, the players out on theirs.

Clare’s Peter Duggan was first up. 

The white flag waved, not surprising given he landed 17 dead-ball efforts during a superb showing. First for Limerick was Aaron Gillane, a man who had converted 11 frees before stepping over this one. Again, the white flag waved.

There followed Niall Deasy, Colin Ryan, David Reidy (Clare), Diarmuid Byrne, Ian Galvin, David Reidy (Limerick), Jamie Shanahan and Tom Morrissey.

Every free was on target. Still, they couldn’t be separated. This ‘finish on the day’ protocol was nearly out of ideas. Maybe, they’d flip a coin. Didn’t someone try that a few years back?

Onto sudden-death. The same 10 free-takers, in the same order, until someone messed up.

It seemed somewhat cruel, yet no less engrossing.

Duggan and Gillane again held their nerve. Clare’s Niall Deasy was off target second time around.

Colin Ryan stepped forward once more. An All-Ireland U21 winner last year, the Pallasgreen man kept cool under the pressure, his successful free bringing the curtain down on a quarter-final that ran for two hours and 55 minutes and, in the process, booked the hosts a semi-final ticket.

We’ll stay with Ryan. He was introduced 16 minutes into the second-half. With his first touch, he registered a point. 

A minute later, he added a second. Limerick, at this juncture, trailed 1-13 to 0-17. That was the closest they had been since Alan Kelly got proceedings underway.

Clare, with the wind at their backs in the opening half, reeled off seven unanswered points between the eighth and 22nd minute to lead 0-11 to 0-2. 

Duggan accounted for four minors during this spell of dominance, the pick of the bunch being half-back David Fitzgerald’s on-the-run effort.

An Aaron Gillane goal on 23 minutes stemmed Clare’s momentum, with John Kiely’s troops outscoring the visitors by 0-6 to 0-3 from there to the break. It was 0-14 to 1-8 at the first change of ends.

David Reidy answered that aforementioned Ryan brace midway through the second-half. On 55 minutes, Limerick moved in front for the first time.

David McInerney’s poor clearance was taken by Tom Morrissey. The latter found Seamus Flanagan, he slipped it to Gillane and the corner-forward bagged his second major.

A third Limerick goal arrived on 63 minutes, sub Pat Ryan capitalising on a slip by Pat O’Connor. 3-15 to 0-21 read the scoreboard in favour of the hosts.

Just when we thought we had our winner, Duggan clipped four points (three frees, one play) to put Clare back in pole position. In second-half stoppages, Colin Ryan cut over a sideline and when a Duggan free lacked the distance, extra-time was required (3-16 to 0-25).

Limerick had 10 wides across the two 10-minute periods. Three more Duggan frees, as well as Tony Kelly’s sixth from play, had the visitors 0-30 to 3-18 in front.

Colin Ryan had a goal shot kept out on 91 minutes. The Treaty weren’t done, mind. In the second minute of stoppages at the end of extra-time, Diarmuid Byrnes drilled a 20-metre free to the net. 4-18 to 0-30.

Two five-minute periods of extra-time were called for. 

Though the entertainment never waned, these additional periods were as much use as the previous 90 minutes in finding a winner. In the 101st minute, Gillane’s 11th free tied proceedings for the 11th time.

We eventually got out of there, Limerick’s nerve and dead-ball accuracy greater.

We’ll never forget the Bank Holiday Monday spent at the Gaelic Grounds.

Scorers for Limerick: A Gillane (2-11, 0-11 frees); D Byrnes (1-1, 1-1 free), P Ryan (1-0 each); C Ryan (0-3, 0-1 sc); G Hegarty (0-2); P Browne, C Lynch, T Morrissey, S Flanagan (0-1 each).

Scorers for Clare: P Duggan (0-19, 0-15 frees, 0-2 ‘65s); T Kelly (0-6); D Reidy, J Conlon (0-2 each); C Galvin, C McGrath, D Fitzgerald, S O’Donnell (0-1 each).

LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Finn, R English, S Hickey; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; P Browne, C Lynch; G Hegarty, K Hayes, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, B Murphy.

Subs: C Ryan for Browne (51); P Ryan for Murphy (54); D Reidy for Hayes (63); R McCarthy for Hickey (79); B O’Connell for Hegarty (85); O O’Reilly for Flanagan (87).

CLARE: D Tuohy; P O’Connor, C Cleary, J Browne; S Morey, D McInerney, D Fitzgerald; T Kelly, C Galvin; D Reidy, J Conlon, C Malone; P Duggan, S O’Donnell, C McGrath.

Subs: Ian Galvin for C Galvin (52); C McInerney for McGrath (58); J Shanahan for Morey (62); J McCarthy for Reidy (64); P Collins for Mallone (68); M O’Neill for McInerney (70); R Taylor for I Galvin (90); M O’Malley for Kelly (95); N Deasy for Collins (98).

Referee: A Kelly (Galway).

IT MATTERED 

Diarmuid Byrnes’ 92nd minute free which whistled past a goalline full of Clare defenders to ensure two five-minute periods of extra-time. John Conlon had an opportunity minutes earlier to send Clare four in front. That would have sealed the verdict.

Instead, he opted for goal, a shot repelled by Limerick goalkeeper Nicky Quaid.

CAN’T IGNORE

It was the first time a league hurling game was decided by a free-taking competition. It also has to go down as one of the longest hurling matches in history. Both teams were at it for about 115 minutes and that’s excluding the free-taking competition.

GOOD DAY

Limerick. Sixth consecutive league win. A third consecutive league semi-final berth secured.

It cannot be overstated how important it is that they backed up their Pearse Stadium heroics.

BAD DAY 

Hard to see who came out of this negatively. Clare’s league might be over but this epic contest has to stand to them.

SIDELINE SMARTS 

Limerick’s first-half ploy of using Kyle Hayes as a third midfielder didn’t work. Time and again, the Limerick defenders sent aimless deliveries down on top of spare Clare defender David McInerney. Subs again made a difference, particularly Pat and Colin Ryan. Strange decision by Clare management not to have Tony Kelly among their five free-takers for the free-taking competition.

PHYSIO ROOM 

Seamus Hickey hobbled off in the first period of extra-time.

BEST ON SHOW 

Clare’s Peter Duggan was supreme from the place-ball.

From open play, Tony Kelly buzzed with intent. The former hurler of the year struck five points during the regulation 70 minutes. For Limerick, Gillane took both goal chances well.

Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey, as was the case in Galway, got through a fair amount of work in the middle of the field.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE 

Fierce inconsistent during the regulation 70 minutes. Limerick received seven yellow cards (Byrnes, Hannon, Lynch (one during the regulation 70 and one in extra-time), Hegarty, Hayes and Gillane), six to Clare (Cleary, Browne, McInerney, Kelly, Collins and Fitzgerald).

WHERE NEXT 

Limerick meet Tipperary or Dublin in the league semi-final.

That game is likely to be played the weekend after next.


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