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Nicky English: Clare drive down redemption road, as Cork again leave themselves short

Limerick go up the gears to outdistance struggling Tipperary

Munster’s matches were a mixed bag as contests. Ultimately Limerick were never threatened by Tipperary but we saw an outstanding championship match in SuperValu Páirc Uí Chaoimh. It swung back and forth with Cork chasing hard at the end but compromised by having a man sent off for the second week running.

It was a very good display by Clare and it puts them right back on track. Put it together with the first three quarters of the match against Limerick and it adds up to some useful hurling.

I felt in Ennis that even though they had the big lead, they hadn’t reproduced the form of the league final. They were under a lot of pressure here and produced a performance that reclaimed a lot of that lost ground.

Their leadership group of John Conlon, Diarmuid Ryan, David Fitzgerald and Shane O’Donnell all stood up and backboned a brave performance that required them to retrieve a seven-point deficit in the second half with a huge crowd baying to bring Cork home.


You’d also have to mention goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan, who made some exceptional saves. It is to Brian Lohan’s credit that he resisted any inclination to make a change in goal, which would have been on a lot of minds after the uncertainties of last week and the three-goal meltdown that undid them.

Quilligan was under a lot of pressure and vindicated himself.

Clare’s forwards had great performances from the outstanding Shane O’Donnell, Aidan McCarthy, Mark Rodgers and Peter Duggan.

Cork also played well up front, but indiscipline returned to haunt them. Seán O’Donoghue, after executing a great hook, put in a third-man body check on Shane O’Donnell when the danger had been cleared. Then they were down – again – to 14 and in the six minutes that followed Clare made them pay with two goals.

I wouldn’t have any issues with the sending-off and neither should O’Donoghue. Referee James Owens was correct.

Limerick went through the gears in the TUS Gaelic Grounds. They started low-key, overdoing the passing and complicating what they were doing. Tipperary were feisty and had a good breeze to come in the second half so although the match had gone incrementally against then by half-time, you wouldn’t have ruled them out.

Like the previous week, Limerick’s touch was unsure but you could see how comfortable they were as if they knew they’d improve as the match went on. Again, Diarmuid Byrnes missed a couple of straightforward frees – to add to his tally from the previous week – but then hit one from downtown and it was carried over the bar.

Tipperary were putting it up to them but Jason Forde wasn’t unerring on his frees either and there was no pattern to their play. They didn’t shove up on Limerick to prevent them playing out from the back. Seán Hayes had a goal chance but didn’t convert even though they realistically needed to make everything count.

I think what impression they made in the early stages was more the result of the champions making a slow start and there were ominous signs in how often Tipp forwards, Jake Morris especially, got blocked down.

The most important metric is that Limerick got back on the 30-points standard. They motored out of sight of Tipp in the second half, as has constantly been the pattern when the teams meet.

Aaron Gillane goaled for Limerick around the 45th minute, more or less to put the match to bed. From there on, John Kiely took off Kyle Hayes, who was so impressive in the first half, Gearóid Hegarty and Cian Lynch. That’s how comfortable they were.

One negative was the shocking injury to Peter Casey. He is going to be a huge loss for them, as his season is now over. He has had a hard couple of years with injury and this is terrible for him.

Before the match, I was concerned that Tipperary could leave behind the form of the league semi-final beating by Clare. They struck me as being low on confidence, the legacy of the league, and this won’t have done anything to ease that sense of vulnerability.

They played without pattern, running up blind alleys, and are as unsettled as ever and maybe more so.

I didn’t see the match in Salthill but the result confirms that Kilkenny are at least as good as last year and well up to the standard of the challengers in Munster. Another All-Ireland final appearance could well be on the cards.