IT WAS a stormy affair in Semple Stadium yesterday, but unfortunately we’re not talking about the hurling, we’re talking about the weather.
Thurles avoided the kind of rain that saturated much of the rest of the nation but didn’t escape the high winds, and the 100kph gale which blew in from the Golden Vale and straight downfield towards the town goal did have an adverse affect on the hurling.
Ultimately though, that is no excuse for the average fare offered up to a disappointing attendance of 28,603. Clare advanced to a provincial final joust with Tipperary not because they reached any great heights — they were well short of the levels displayed in their first-round win over Waterford — but because Limerick were poor, very poor at times. Four goals Clare scored, two in each half, and each was critical to this win; in terms of defence, however, none will make for very palatable viewing or reviewing for the Limerick defence.
Normally an affable character, Richie Bennis made no attempt to disguise his annoyance with referee Eamonn Morris afterwards, and several key decisions did go against Limerick, but he will know, as surely as Mike McNamara, his Clare counterpart knows, that this was a game Limerick could very easily have won.
Limerick lost the toss, opted to play into the gale, and for much of the first half it looked like they had made the right call. After 13 minutes, courtesy of three Andrew O’Shaughnessy points (two drilled frees across the wind) and a superb effort from on-fire Niall Moran, the men in green led by 0-4 to 0-2, looked to be in control in almost every area of the pitch. The Clare full-forward line of Tony Griffin, Niall Gilligan and Mark Flaherty, so potent against Waterford, were making absolutely no impression against Mark O’Riordan, Stephen Lucey and Damien Reale (the latter absolutely outstanding all game), and Limerick were looking good.
Then came the first body-blow. Just seconds after making a brilliant reflex save from Gilligan, Brian Murray was caught by a long speculative ball from Clare corner-back Pat Vaughan, bounced between his legs. True, Mark Flaherty did come across the ball at the vital moment, looked like he might make contact, but it should have been a save. That goal brought Clare into the game, lifted the team and the fans; still, though, Limerick fought back, held the line for the next eight minutes or so, no score conceded. Even when Flaherty popped over a couple of pointed frees for Clare to put them 1-4 to 0-4 ahead by the 22nd minute, it was still looking good for Bennis and his men. Despite the enormous wind-assisted pressure being brought to bear, the defence was holding up well, supporting each other very well.
How ironic then that when the second Clare goal came it was because a couple of those defenders got in each other’s way; as the ball dropped from a well-struck Clare sideline cut from the left side, Lucey and team captain Mark Foley were well positioned to defend and clear. They didn’t, and big Declan O’Rourke (introduced as a 22nd minute sub for hamstring victim Tony Griffin) went to full extension and got a flick forward, Jonathan Clancy showed great persistence to follow up, and his ground shot beat Murray.
Now at 2-4 to 0-4, Clare picked up their game, added a couple of points from hard-working Tony Carmody and Flaherty (another free, but got a lesson yesterday from Reale), went in at the break in decent shape, 2-7 to 0-6 ahead.
Still, Limerick had good reason to hope, and when Ollie Moran got on the end of a massive Murray puckout less than four minutes after the restart, they were set fair, just a goal behind. Ten minutes later things were looking even better, points from midfielder Mike O’Brien, O’Shaughnessy (free) and Ollie Moran, in reply to a point from Niall Gilligan, bringing them even closer, 2-9 to 1-10, with over 20 minutes left to play.
In three minutes from the 54th, however, this game was decided. From the outset, and though they knew themselves they weren’t at their best, Clare were fighting like demons for every ball. Their defence in that second half was heroic, Vaughan, Frank Lohan and Gerry O’Grady superb at the back, Brennan with some superb deliveries into the wind, captain Brian O’Connell leading by example. Now, their backs to the wall, they struck. High centre, again two Limerick defenders collide, Tony Carmody collects, draws Murray, coolly handpasses across the square to the inrushing Barry Nugent.
Before they can recover from that, another high hanging centre, from Colin Lynch, and this time it’s Diarmuid McMahon in the right spot; holds off Paudie O’Dwyer on the edge of the square, makes the catch, turns, buries the ball, buries Limerick.
Donie Ryan came on for Limerick, and looked good, Niall Moran did his utmost, but Clare were now in control, were not going to be caught. Not a hugely impressive performance from them, but good enough on this day against a Limerick side that never reached the heights of last year.
As for Clare, there’s a lot more in this team, as there was against Waterford; they’ll need that against Tipperary in three weeks’ time.
Scorers for Clare: J. Clancy 1-2; B. Nugent 1-1; M. Flaherty 0-3 (frees); N. Gilligan 0-3 (0-2 frees); D. McMahon 1-0; P. Vaughan 1-0; T. Carmody 0-2; C. Lynch 0-1.
Limerick: A. O’Shaughnessy 0-6 (0-5 frees); N. Moran 0-5; O. Moran 1-1; M. O’Brien, D. O’Grady, D. Ryan, D. Reale, 0-1 each.
CLARE: P. Brennan; P. Vaughan, F. Lohan, G. O’Grady; B. Bugler, C. Plunkett, P. Donnellan; B. O’Connell (capt.), C. Lynch; T. Carmody, D. McMahon, J. Clancy; T. Griffin, N. Gilligan, M. Flaherty.
Subs: D. O’Rourke (Griffin inj. 22); B. Nugent (Flaherty 48); G. Quinn (Plunkett 67); F. Lynch (McMahon 70+2). Blood sub: G. Quinn (O’Connell 55/59).
LIMERICK: B. Murray; D. Reale, S. Lucey, M. O’Riordan; S. Hickey, P. O’Dwyer, M. Foley (capt.); M. O’Brien, D. O’Grady; M. Fitzgerald, O. Moran, N. Moran; A. O’Shaughnessy, S. O’Connor, D. Sheehan.
Subs: D. Ryan (Sheehan 40); B. Foley (Fitzgerald 54); P. Tobin (O’Connor 59).
Referee: E. Morris (Dublin). Poor game.
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