Clare emerge as athletic and well-organised rival to Limerick

Limerick fielded slightly understrength side and were forced to play without Hegarty

Clare are still unbeaten. On a heavenly day in Ennis – the narrow streets of the old town crowded, the stout taps flowing, the ground all sold out – Clare and Limerick tore into one another and emerged 70 minutes later on equal terms and agreed on a date to do it all again in the Munster final. Lucky us.

No surprise that Limerick shrugged off their league-time funk and are surging again but in a summer when Cork and Waterford confound their supporters, Clare are emerging as a hugely athletic and well-organised rival to Limerick, revolving around the uncanny genius of Tony Kelly. The Ballyea man finished with 0-16 of Clare's total even though his scoring spree came to a halt with half an hour left to play. And there were moments in the first half when he seemed to be moving in a different realm of thought and freedom to those around him.

"We see it every single training session, he is just a top guy in every area that you look at," said Brian Lohan afterwards. "Regardless of what you look at, he is just a top guy and he has been like that for a long number of years."

He's been a gift to Clare, for sure, but the occasion felt like a throwback to Lohan's own unbreakable generation with the atmosphere around the ground. It was a perfect May test for Limerick, fielding a slightly understrength side and then forced to play without Gearoid Hegarty, who displayed his disbelief after he was sent off with a second yellow after clashing with Aaron Fitzgerald – who had just arrived on the field as a blood substitute. John Kiely was adamant afterwards that his player had done nothing and confirmed that Limerick would protest the decision.


“Listen, we’ve watched it back there on the tape and it’s quite clear that there was no contact,” said Kiely. “The player basically just grabbed his stomach and jumped straight down on the ground, but there was no contact. It’s very disappointing, it was much ado about nothing at the end of the day. It’s a card we’ll expect to be rescinded completely.

‘Lot of physicality’

“There’s a narrative there at the moment that Gearóid is playing on the edge or doing x, y or z and it’s feeding into people’s decision-making right now. It needs to stop, because it’s going to have a big impact and it’s just really disappointing to see a player do that. It was a great game, there was a lot of physicality and it was a tremendous contest but it was just really disappointing that there was nothing there. We’ve seen the video footage, it’s there for everybody to see and at the end of the day it shouldn’t take from the overall game which was a cracking game of hurling.”

Cork's 2-22 to 1-19 reversal of form against Waterford in Walsh Park leaves the other Munster hurling strongholds facing anxious times. This defeat accentuates Waterford's inconsistency after a league winning season which promised so much and a Cork win over Tipperary would see them exit the championship with a whisper.

The football championship has a retro look about it. In Ulster, Rory Gallagher's deft guidance of Derry returns the Oak Leaf county to a Ulster final for the first time in 11 years, where they will meet border rivals Donegal. In Leinster, Dublin have made the expected metamorphosis and look like Dublin again, crushing Meath 1-27 to 1-14. Not for the first time, Andy McEntee found himself reflecting on the dubious privilege of coming up against Dublin in threshing-machine mode.

Desire vs doing

“They were pretty ruthless, just too much time on the ball and we weren’t applying pressure, there wasn’t the physical edge to our game. There wasn’t anything about the first half you’d be happy with. It’s disappointing, thing is we didn’t apply appetite in the first half. Guys have a decision to make now, how much they want this. We have a big challenge to get the guys back.

“They obviously have the desire but having the desire and doing it on the day are two different things. It is an unforgiving place out there, it is very public. Things start going wrong against you or don’t start right, the game can go away from you very quickly especially against a team of that quality.”

Kildare shrugged off the concession of an early goal to beat Westmeath by 1-21 to 1-15 but are facing a Dublin team who are gladdening to the task of proving the world wrong and purging themselves for their league-time ordinariness.

"I know it is cliched but we literally do have to take it game by game for ourselves and not get ahead of ourselves," said Dessie Farrell. "We know what the bad looks like and it is fairly recent in our memories as well, it is just driving on from this point onward."

Just what the others need to hear.

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a features writer with The Irish Times