Clare's real target revealed by Limerick's late spark


National Hurling League Division One Group One: Limerick 2-11 Clare 1-12 Just as preparations were under way to castigate Limerick for a below-par performance yesterday, they went and produced an exhilarating comeback. Two goals and a point in injury-time deserves to be applauded. But 12 wides - to Clare's five - needs to be addressed as the championship looms.

Clare manager Anthony Daly confirmed that his focus is on the championship opener, against Waterford on May 9th, by fielding an under-strength side (not a Lohan in sight) but they still should have won this contest with something to spare.

Points from James O'Connor and Gerry Quinn in the final minute looked to have put them on course for a place in the National League final. But as the game moved into added-time a James Butler point was followed up by Pat Tobin's excellent shot into the top corner of the net.

With the momentum now firmly behind the home side they stormed forward once more and Butler was fouled by Colm Forde.

Whether he meant to or not, Niall Moran's 20-yard free ended up in the net after glancing off fullback Ronan O'Looney's hurley.

A great finish but the Limerick management was by no means satisfied: "We've a lot of work to do," warned selector Damien Quigley "If we play like that against anybody else we'll be destroyed."

The initial stages of the game were played at a breakneck speed. However, it soon stuttered to a snail's pace, as, inevitably, did the crowd's enthusiasm.

Limerick's full-forward line impressed early on, with Eoin O'Neill grabbing two points to push his side clear. Two frees from O'Connor reduced arrears but the hosts wasted several early chances to regain control.

They were punished for their wayward shooting on the stroke of half-time when an Alan Markham free was deflected into the net by Albert Shanahan.

Limerick had a chance to take the lead in first-half injury-time when Seán O'Connor's shot at the back post, which should have been hit first time, was saved by Ger O'Connell. Niall Moran scored the resultant 65 to leave just the minimum between the sides, 1-4 to 0-6, at the interval.

Limerick's poor shooting continued after the break and a disastrous penalty miss from Mark Foley on 42 minutes, after O'Connell manhandled Donie Ryan on the edge of the square, left them with little reward despite dominating possession.

James O'Connor made them pay for their errors soon after with two points but James O'Brien then reduced Limerick's deficit to two with a solid strike.

Thereafter, Clare looked to have done enough, until the final salvo from Limerick, which obviously wiped the smile from Daly's face. "It just goes to show that you can't take your eye off the ball. It was silly but hopefully there will be a good lesson learned from it," he said.

Regarding the decision to rest several key players, Daly explained the focus was on the higher target of the Munster championship.

"We have a panel of 35, and players who are bursting for games," he added. "A lot of them did very well, I'm delighted with some of the performances. It gives us food for thought in the build-up for today four weeks.

"We'll go down to Cork and try and win next week. If we end up in the league final, we'll go to win the league final. We said we'd experiment all the way through (the league) and that's the way we've been, but we're very disappointed to lose a five-point lead in injury-time, I can tell you. We lost concentration and we were punished for it."

LIMERICK: A Shanahan; M Cahill, TJ Ryan, B Carroll; O Moran, B Geary, M Foley; N Moran (1-3, one pointed free, one one pointed 65), C Smith; S O'Connor (0-1), J O'Brien (0-1), JP Sheahan; D Ryan (0-1), E O'Neill (0-3, two frees), M McKenna (0-1). Subs: P Tobin (1-0) for O'Neill (52 mins), P Russell for Ryan (61 mins), J Butler (0-1) for McKenna (61 mins).

CLARE: G O'Connell; B Quinn, R O'Looney, C Forde; D Hoey, S McMahon 0-3 (two frees, one 65), C Plunkett; P Vaughan, J Reddan; A Markham (1-1, goal free), B Culbert, J O'Connor (0-6, 6 frees); B Murphy, S Malone, D O'Connell (0-1). Subs: B McPhillips for Reddan (23-25 mins), B O'Connor for Markham (40 mins), A O'Brien for Maloney (45 mins), McPhillips for Hoey (52 mins), G Quinn (0-1) for Murphy (61 mins), B Lynch for Vaughan (67 mins).

Referee: S Roche (Tipperary).