Limerick fight back to stun Clare with final-quarter surge

All-Ireland champions scored 3-6 in closing stages to record three-point win having at one stage trailed by nine

Munster SHC: Limerick 3-15 Clare 1-18

The hurling championship announced its arrival with a bang in Ennis, Co Clare. Great weather for a change and a capacity crowd of 20,055 combined to create a showcase occasion for the Munster championship’s great recent rivalry.

It is small consolation for Clare, who were all but winners when they moved nine ahead of the provincial and All-Ireland champions entering the final quarter and yet somehow Limerick sparked into life and outscored the home side so prolifically that they won by three.

Brian Lohan, the Clare manager, expressed it succinctly. “Yeah, three shocking goals from our perspective. They happen sometimes and they happen to us, and we have to respond to it now,” he said of the team’s trip next week to Cork, who were also beaten on the first day.

“Losing the game that looked like we were in control – very disappointing. We did a lot of things that we hoped that we would do, performed well for long periods of the game, but didn’t see it out.”


Limerick manager John Kiely raised a defiant point when reflecting on his county’s miraculous recovery. Rejecting the suggestion that he had spent the match like a frantic Frankenstein trying to crackle electrical currents through his moribund team, he said he had detected vitality during the early stages of Sunday’s opening match in the Munster championship.

“I’d actually disagree. In the first three-quarters we were working very, very hard, which is one of the hallmarks of our team. We just didn’t execute our chances. We had 18 scoring chances to Clare’s 16 in the first half and we went in five points down. That doesn’t happen very often.

“We just didn’t execute our chances well enough. We maybe didn’t close the gap between ourselves and the goal and then take the shot. Just a small few bits and pieces. But a number of our players hadn’t a huge amount of game-time during the spring.”

Where do you start? Limerick came into the match slightly wounded by a poor defeat in the league semi-final and a couple of important players unavailable. Clare by contrast had won the league and were at home, where they had not lost a championship match to Limerick since 1990.

The first half gradually got away from Limerick after a good start when Aaron Gillane in particular looked in menacing form. But Clare got into the match and the defence tightened with Conor Cleary, missing from last year’s Munster final with injury, tussling successfully with the Hurler of the Year, and in front of him John Conlon patrolled the space superbly well.

Limerick helped with a litany of inaccuracies and poor discipline, punished by Aidan McCarthy, who was razor sharp on his frees, and when Shane O’Donnell snapped on to a long ball and released him in the 30th minute he proved equally lethal from play with a 30th-minute goal.

At half time it was 1-10 to 0-8 and Clare could have been farther ahead but for Nickie Quaid in the Limerick goal making a couple of excellent saves.

Although Limerick showed no signs of revival immediately after half time, Clare’s own momentum stalled a little, and after David Fitzgerald scored in the 39th minute they recorded a sequence of wides which would ultimately prove more significant than appeared at the time.

Gillane shaved a point off the deficit but Mark Rodgers, a free from McCarthy, Séadna Morey and Rodgers again spun the lead out to nine.

Even after a run of Limerick scores in response, McCarthy looked to have stopped the rot with an over-the-shoulder point, and Clare held a six-point lead.

Clare might have steadied at that. Tony Kelly was brought in for his first match of the season after injury – to rapturous acclaim – but the bald truth is if you are going to concede three goals in little over six minutes Limerick are not the ideal opposition.

Starting in the 60th minute, Limerick scored three goals to transform the fixture: a Diarmuid Byrnes free, slightly mis-hit, that went all the way to net although Aaron Gillane may have got touch; a slightly chaotic one-two between replacement Donncha Ó Dálaigh and Gearóid Hegarty left the championship debutant Ó Dálaigh in place for number two; and, finally, Hegarty fired in a shot that hit the post and bounced invitingly for Gillane to tap in the third.

There was a suspicion of square ball about the first and third goals as Gillane looked to be already inside for both but referee Colm Lyons didn’t challenge the first and decided after consultation with his umpires that there was no case to answer on the third.

By the end the champions were transformed, their defence in control and the slick, trademark playing through the lines movement at last in evidence.

It was a remarkable outcome for Limerick and Kiely. There was the concern of Mike Casey having to go off after just six minutes but Seán Finn furthered his rehab by playing nearly a full match.

“It was unfortunate,” said the manager, “because he was actually after getting off to a really great start. He’s had a brilliant month and he was in super form but we’ll get him back and get him going again in a few weeks’ time. Listen, Seán was always going to have to see action at some point and it was always our intention to get him on the pitch.”

Limerick: N Quaid; M Casey, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes (1-0, free), D Hannon (capt), K Hayes (0-1); W O’Donoghue, C Lynch (0-1); G Hegarty (0-3), D Reidy (0-2), T Morrissey; A Gillane (1-5, five frees), S Flanagan, C O’Neill (0-2). Subs: S Finn for Casey (6 mins), D Ó Dálaigh (1-1) for Flanagan (46 mins), C Boylan for T Morrissey (49 mins), C Coughlan for O’Donoghue (60 mins), A O’Connor for Gillane (68 mins).

Clare: E Quilligan; R Hayes, C Cleary (capt), A Hogan; D Ryan, J Conlon, D McInerney; C Malone, D Lohan; D Fitzgerald (0-2), D Reidy, P Duggan; A McCarthy (1-10, eight frees), S O’Donnell (0-1), M Rodgers (0-2). Subs: S Morey (0-1) for Lohan (half-time), T Kelly (0-2, one free) for Reidy (55 mins), P Flanagan for Hayes (60 mins), S Meehan for Rodgers (61 mins), A Shanagher for Fitzgerald (70 mins)

Referee: C Lyons (Cork).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times