No dead rubber in Cusack Park as Limerick strike late for the draw

All-Ireland champions left needing late rescuing despite leading for much of the contest

Clare: 0-18 Limerick: 0-18

You who philosophise might find lasting reason in a game that has no immediate meaning in this life. In short nobody won and nobody lost, Clare and Limerick interest in this side of division one already over to begin with, both teams out of sight of the semi-finals.

What unfolded on the field of play was a different matter, all about the here and now, not the there and then, especially for All-Ireland champions Limerick, still seeking their first league win of the new season. Clare being Clare in Cusack wouldn’t be just tipping away either.

Just over 10,000 also showed up knowing well this would be no five-finger exercise, no mock exam either for the championship tests now just six weeks away. Played out on the classic of March days - the sun shining hot and the wind blowing cold, summer in the light and winter in the shade - it didn’t disappoint.


In truth the disappointment of the end result was duly shared too, Limerick now on a four-game winless streak, Clare feeling like they’d left the win behind.

Having kept Clare a point or two in arrears for the open three-quarters, it was Limerick who found the equaliser halfway thought the six minutes of injury time. They lost Aaron Gillane to a second yellow card in the 67th minute, then Clare were also reduced to 14 men, Jack Browne also sent off for a second bookable offence, Limerick replacement David Reid duly converting that free and equaliser.

That wasn't the last booking of the game. Clare manager Brian Lohan was also shown a yellow card by Carlow referee Patrick Murphy, five minutes into added time, for his audible concerns over some of the decisions being made in front of him. In that instance, Diarmaid Byrnes stood over the Limerick free and potential winner, only that drifted wide, his fifth of the second half.

The wind was teasingly unpredictable, Tony Kelly hitting 0-11 in all, including three from play, only he also hit seven wides. Given their momentum over that last quarter, and two clear goal chances - one disallowed in the first half (by Davy Fitzgerald), one brilliantly saved by Nickie Quaid (from Ryan Taylor) in the second - Clare will have the more regret, even if Lohan wasn’t making any big apologies.

“Yeah, a couple of wides there in the end we’d normally put over, but difficult enough conditions,” he said. “We’d good enough spirit, lads worked hard against really difficult opponents. The opportunity was there for the win, so a bit disappointed with that.

“And two disallowed goals, the first obviously a square ball, our lads at half-time were adamant it wasn’t, so obviously a key score like that, you’re very disappointed when it goes against you.”

For John Kiely any increasing need for a Limerick victory is still taking a backseat to performance, and the Limerick manager found more of that here. They'll need to neat Offaly in the last round on Sunday week to avoid any play-off, although with 12 All Stars on the field this was still far from vintage Limerick, Cian Lynch and Gearoid Hegarty still trying to get their mojo working.

“It’s a new test, absolutely, every season is different,” Kiely said of Limerick’s winless streak. “We had Covid, then a very condensed season, last season, this year for us, maybe it’s a different challenge, things maybe we might have found easy are more difficult.

“Every team in every sport goes through those phases, where the easy things don’t come so easy for them. But I know these players and this management will work through that, and the reflection of whether we’ve won four or lost four, that’s not the approach, we go from one Sunday to the next

“With 15 minutes to go I’d have taken the draw, the momentum seemed to have swung with Clare at that stage. To be fair we finished strong, didn’t quite convert on the scoreboard, but much, much improved performance, our attitude was way better, and any day you come away from Cusack Park it’s not a bad day’s work.”

Again, Limerick's creativity close to call was mostly blank, Tom Morrissey hitting the best of their points from play, Hegarty adding one in the first half. Declan Hannon retired early with a hamstring strain, John Conlon soaring for Clare in the second half, ensuring Lynch remained scoreless. Clare debutant Robin Mounsey scored a fine sideline, Ryan Taylor forced the big save from Nickie Quaid, the free-count understandably the main concern for Lohan.

“We’ve done a lot of work on our discipline, put a lot of time and effort on the frees, spent a lot of time talking about the hand-pass,” he said. “We conceded 19 frees there, they conceded 13, I thought he was hard on us, but then he has that difficult job to do.”

On his own booking Lohan said: “Yeah, that’s a first from the sideline. Look, I suppose I just got a little frustrated with some of our decisions, thought our lads were trying to make a point of not fouling, showing they were not fouling. Particularly that last free (given to Colin Coughlan), I thought our lads defended as best they could, were trying to show they weren’t fouling, so that’s frustrating.”

Limerick kept a score or two front for the first half, up 0-11 to 0-9 at the break, playing into the wind, still their inability to drive on is no great concern for Kiely.

“I wouldn’t say rustiness, just trying to find some flow, still making a number of errors, basic things. But that will come, that sharpness, that’s manageable, But much, much happier with the attitude.”

Nor is any apparent issue of indiscipline: “That was ridiculous,” he said of Gillane’s second yellow. “Had the referee run in and told the player to get up, that would have been more appropriate, I don’t think that was a serious misdemeanour at all.”

Still, Limerick can’t afford to take anything handy against Offaly: “I haven’t even thought about it like that, to be quite honest. We go out to win every game, it doesn’t make any difference to our approach. We look for more improvement against Offaly, then work towards the championship in a few weeks’ time.”

Clare: E Quilligan; R Hayes, C Cleary, P Flanagan; J Browne, J Conlon, D McInerney; S Golden, J McCarthy (0-1); C Malone (0-1), D Fitzgerald (0-2), R Taylor (0-1); S Meehan (0-1), T Kelly (0-11, eight frees), R Mounsey (0-1, a sideline).

Subs: P Crotty for Mounsey (52 mins), P Duggan for Golden (55 mins), G Cooney for Meehan (60 mins), P Donnellan for McCarthy (64 mins).

Limerick: N Quaid; R English, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes (0-5, three frees), D Hannon, C Coughlan; W O'Donoghue, D O'Donovan; G Hegarty (0-1), C Lynch, T Morrissey (0-2); A English (0-1), A Gillane (0-7, six frees), C O'Neill (0-1).

Subs: R Connolly for Hannon (30 mins ), B O'Grady for O'Donovan (53 mins), G Mulcahy for Hegarty (56 mins), P Ryan for English (6 1mins), D Reidy (0-1, a free) for T Morrissey (66 mins).

Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics