When the guns fell silent yesterday in Thurles, TJ Ryan hit the fourth estate with the perfect exit line: “I’d say ye’ll be writing deep into the night, lads.”
Another good call from the Limerick manager, who had just seen his side push Clare out of the Munster hurling championship by the narrowest of margins.
The 21,493 spectators were treated to a game featuring three goals, two of them live contenders for goal of the season and a half-time brawl before the sides reached their dressing-rooms in Semple Stadium. We also saw two separate red cards and a dazzling debut from a raw teenager. And a nail-biting conclusion.
Yet people are likely to hold the game in the memory for the confusion at the end, when sideline officials flashed a ‘4’on their electronic board, suggesting four extra minutes of play, only for referee Colm Lyons to blow up a minute and a half past the seventy. This was explained to the Clare management in some detail in the tunnel under the Kinnane Stand after the game, as you can read elsewhere in today’s coverage.
Limerick’s victory was deserved — the men in green were more consistent over the seventy. Clare never got their fluent running game into gear, or they weren’t allowed to, but they also lacked the expected return from frees. Limerick had the metronomic Shane Dowling to keep the scoreboard ticking over but Clare’s Colin Ryan, as accurate as his Limerick counterpart, didn’t have a scorable free to convert in the second-half.
The sheen of class from Cian Lynch, the 19-year-old Patrickswell lad at corner-forward, was another major factor. Lynch was nerveless, hitting three good points and generally treating the old ground like his back garden. Although Clare deployed a sweeper, Pat O’Connor, he was screening Dowling, and that left space for Lynch to exploit. The traditional challenge for a youngster stepping up to senior inter-county is to find room to play, and there was plenty of it for Lynch yesterday in Thurles. Before there were twenty minutes on the clock he had two points to his credit.
“It was a tight game,” said TJ Ryan. “The first half was probably a bit slow. It mightn’t have been a brilliant game but the second half turned into all action.
“I thought when we went six up that we were in a good position but they rattled back into it with two great goals.”
Aaron Cunningham’s two superb second-half goals were almost the saving of Clare, but they were under pressure from half-time on: before the sides went in, a melee developed on the sideline and Pat Donnellan got a red card for striking Donal O’Grady with his hurley. Limerick alternated Seamus Hickey and Tom Condon as the spare man after the break, but Davy Fitzgerald’s players looked more at home breaking onto Shane O’Donnell’s off-loads, and a draw looked pretty likely until sub John Fitzgibbon’s late winner.
At the final whistle we had a good deal of pointing at wristwatches, real and imaginary, but the matter looked an administrative mix-up rather than deep conspiracy.
Clare will take a good deal from yesterday once tempers subside. What team could win without a mini-constellation of All-Stars? Clare lined out without Conor McGrath, Brendan Bugler, Podge Collins and Colm Galvin, and three of those players are likely to feature in future Banner outings. Though the sight of Tony Kelly, prone on the sideline getting attention for a leg injury, will send a chill down the spines of Clare supporters, Davy Fitzgerald could pick out grounds for optimism.
“You could see it today,” said Fitzgerald. “We were not the second best team, without a shadow of a doubt. Not saying we’re the best, but we certainly didn’t deserve to lose that one.
“I thought it was a fantastic battle. Limerick could feel the same. If that had ended in a draw today, 100%, that was the right result.
“But I would have awful admiration for Limerick. I thought the way they blocked and tackled and hooked and did everything, fair play to them, they’re a top class outfit. They’re tough. They’re a very good championship team. But we know we’re there or thereabouts to them.” For Limerick there was a different dynamic: the side which pushed Kilkenny to the pin of their collar last August were expected to build on that promise, and they did so yesterday.
Grinding out a game you’re supposed to win can be tricky, and they’ll take comfort from Richie McCarthy’s generally profitable afternoon in Shane O’Donnell’s company as a good augury for their date with Tipperary next month. They also have an X-Factor in Cian Lynch. Everyone knew him as Ciaran Carey’s nephew until yesterday. Not any more.
Just one more point — that furore over the injury time is likely to overshadow the row at half-time, which featured plenty of what are traditionally described as unruly scenes, and less traditionally as striking with the hurley.
The issue for the GAA now, of course, is that several suspensions need to be meted out, if the example of Semplegate some years ago is to be followed.
On that occasion readers will recall, there were sustained appeals for the sensitivities of the children of Ireland to be respected: Something Had To Be Done, and something was done, when half a dozen players were tried and convicted on video evidence.
However, there was a deafening silence from those same guardians of the nation’s morals when Tyrone and Donegal disgraced themselves last Sunday week.
Will that silence continue this week or will we return to the clamour for punishment we saw in 2007?
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