Joe Canning: Clare’s poor free-taking and lack of ruthlessness led to their defeat against Limerick

Brian Lohan’s half-back line were virtually non-existent while Limerick’s were influential in the Munster final

Clare’s Mark Rodgers during last weekend's defeat to Limerick. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Clare won’t be able to move on until they process last Sunday. That doesn’t mean they should look at it in the same way as everybody else. The general feeling is that they suffered a six-point hammering. They can’t run away from the mistakes they made on the pitch and on the sideline but they can’t just give in to the general narrative either. There is nothing for them in that.

Before the ball was thrown in, Clare were widely regarded as one of the three best teams in the country. Has that changed? Have they fallen behind Cork, who they’ve already beaten in the championship? Have they fallen behind Kilkenny, who they beat in the league final?

Cork and Kilkenny have had at least one ropey performance in this year’s championship too. Just not last weekend. Clare must convince themselves that they are still the same team who lined up in the Munster final believing they could beat Limerick. That team still has a chance.

The biggest thing against Limerick is efficiency. On Sunday, Clare’s free-taking fell down and they weren’t ruthless enough with the four goalscoring chances they created; they took one when they needed to take three, at least.


Every game is worked out from the bottom line and by the end of last Sunday it didn’t feel like there could have been any other outcome. I don’t necessarily think it was as straightforward as that. The teams were level after 16 minutes when Nickie Quaid made a great save from Aidan McCarthy. Clare were playing with the wind and they had played well in the opening quarter of an hour, but they needed something to show for it on the scoreboard.

Instead, Clare were denied the momentum of a goal and Limerick got four of the next five scores. At that stage, the game was still taking shape. Clare couldn’t afford to leave that goal behind them.

Tactical breakdown: Limerick control the zones, while Mullen runs the show for KilkennyOpens in new window ]

When Mark Rodgers missed his goal chance there were 12 minutes of normal time remaining. Limerick had dominated the second and third quarters but Clare had stopped the bleeding and a goal then would have left just two points between them.

Would the final outcome had been any different? It might still have been a six-point hammering, but the goals that Clare missed would at least have asked a question.

Clearly, they have issues to address. Their half-back line were virtually non-existent while the Limerick half-backs were three of the most influential players on the field. Apart from being dominant under the dropping ball, they scored six points from play between them. Kyle Hayes had assists for a further 1-5.

Diarmuid Ryan had very few possessions, David McInerney has missed a lot of the season with injury and he didn’t look sharp, and John Conlon couldn’t hold down the middle. The thing about Conlon that really surprised me was that, when he was on the ball, he seemed to be looking for contact. You don’t see the Limerick players doing that. They’re all able to break a tackle but they’re looking to take the ball into space.

Clare goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan struggled to get the ball as far as the Limerick 65. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

What really killed Clare in the second half were their puck-outs. The breeze definitely got stronger and Eibhear Quilligan was struggling to get the ball as far as the Limerick 65. But what was the sense in even trying? Any of his puck-outs that travelled that far were hanging in the air, inviting the Limerick half-backs to attack them.

Limerick pushed up on Clare’s puck-outs and that must have made it feel like going long was the best option when clearly it wasn’t. Trying to move the ball through the Limerick forwards always carries a risk but there is no safe way of beating Limerick; to have a chance you must take a risk.

If Clare were determined to keep going long with their restarts they needed to bring Shane O’Donnell out to the half-forward line much sooner than they did. When the game was going away from them in the second half the Clare management didn’t react quickly enough or decisively enough. They didn’t seem to have any answers.

Nicky English: Remarkable Limerick win sadly unremarkable contest to close in on All-IrelandOpens in new window ]

Failing to get O’Donnell into the play for a long period in the middle of the match was critical. In the first 15 minutes he set up three of Clare’s points and got another himself. O’Donnell has a great ability to turn a bad ball into a good ball, but he wasn’t even given that chance.

When the supply to him dried up Tony Kelly suffered. For Clare, the first ball into the attack is usually directed at O’Donnell or Peter Duggan and then Kelly plays off them. In the middle of the game, that dynamic disappeared.

Clare will have to address the structural stuff that hurt them. If there is any fault in a team’s structure Limerick will expose it. Limerick put their opponents under so much pressure that mistakes and poor decisions are more likely. They make it so uncomfortable for their opponents that they start harming themselves. That is what happened to Clare.

Limerick's Cian Lynch was taken off after 52 minutes in the Munster final. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Since they started winning All-Irelands in 2018, Limerick have leaned heavily on the same 18 or 20 players. But in that time they have always trusted their bench and that has often made a difference. After 52 minutes last Sunday they replaced Cian Lynch and nobody batted an eyelid.

Lynch has been hurler of the year twice, one of the best players in the country over the last decade and one of the leaders in this group from the start. But last Sunday it wasn’t happening for him and Limerick didn’t hang around.

It would be like Kilkenny taking off TJ Reid or Eoin Cody or Adrian Mullen – or Clare taking off Tony Kelly or Shane O’Donnell. They wouldn’t do it. No matter how quiet those players were on a given day they would be left on the field in the hope they would eventually do something.

Limerick don’t operate like that. Nobody else operates like Limerick.