Clare find their thrill again as TJ Ryan steps down

Limerick made a game of things at times but Banner class prevails in Thurles qualifier

Clare 0-19 Limerick 0-15

Another dark chapter in Limerick’s painful hurling history. TJ Ryan’s time as manager ended with this defeat to Davy Fitzgerald’s hungrier, superior Clare team who should have a significant role sculpting the 2016 championship.

Podge Collins saw to that, as did the masterful Tony Kelly and a rejuvenated Shane O'Donnell.

Hurling has waited three years for that sentence. The accuracy of these three little assassins ultimately proved the difference. Especially Podge.


“Without making anything formal, I’ve taken it as far as I could,” said Ryan, following his three year term. “Maybe they could do with a new voice.

“I’ll sleep on it but over the next day or two I will talk to the investors involved and make a formal decision.”

Wonder who those “investors” could be.

Ryan was severely hindered by the failure of several talented young hurlers to produce consistent excellence since Limerick captured the Munster title in 2013. Declan Hannon was hauled ashore at half-time here, Seamus Hickey only arrived for the late fight back.

Season upon season they have tumbled backwards. After losing to Cork in the 2014 provincial decider, before being overrun by Kilkenny, defeats followed against Tipperary, Dublin, Tipp again, and now Clare to leave them well below the elite tier.

“In life, looking back, most of the regrets people have are for the things they didn’t do,” Ryan could add. “I had a go. It just wasn’t good enough.”

Davy Fitz freaked out many listeners with his magnanimous, über positive post-match attitude. He loves his players, he was happy to be hurling into July. Maybe the dulcet Cork whispers of his war time consigliere calms the mind. Maybe he has changed.

"James Owens had an okay game in fairness to him," Davy beamed.

One can only guess his reaction to the Wexford official allowing five minutes of injury time, or no Clare free in the opening 27 minutes, if they had not escaped thanks to a late penalty when Limerick goalkeeper and captain Nickie Quaid needlessly dunted Aaron Shanagher under a dropping ball.

Kelly took the insurance point that proved enough despite another seven minutes of play.

But fear not, manic Davy is still in there somewhere, his dancing eyes promised as much, and this championship will unfurl him yet.

For now, he was thinking clearly amidst the white heat, particularly when addressing comments by his former Svengali labelling Galway as “gutless.”

“They will probably be baying for blood with what Ger Loughnane said. Just let this be very straight - we don’t agree with that. Galway have been in two All-Ireland finals in two years; won a Leinster and showed the calibre of the team they have.”

Clare did enough here without putting fear into the other five counties marching on Croke Park. What is apparent, and a huge fill-up for Fitzgerald and Donal Óg Cusask, was the sight of their untouchable small men catching fire.

Tony Kelly checked out with 0-9. Podge and O’Donnell evenly shared 0-6 from play.

Before that Limerick briefly threatened to dominate. Shane Dowling was unerring as all around him misfired (Clare had struck eight wides to five by Limerick at the break). Kevin Downes showed glimpses of his quality while Darragh O'Donovan landed a lovely score, all balance and strength with the sliotar not leaving his camán until he commanded.

But it was a mirage, a fugazi, call it what you will, as they were overrun not long after Dowling put them into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead after 17 minutes.

The fifth point was a Dowling 65 but really it should have been a Dowling goal. Brendan Bugler heroically batted the bouncing sliotar off the goal line.

That provoked the momentum shift which saw nine unanswered Clare points. Collins sprung to life. There was pure joy in his hurling following many injury-robbed months coupled with a loyalty to his father’s football panel.

Clare's scoring spree began after Collins latched onto ball in space wide right. After easing inside two tracking Limerick defenders he shot wide. Atonement followed seconds later with a beautiful shot. Next, David McInerney climbed from the deep to recover from a James Ryan hook to point.

Then Podge popped up on the left wing to raise a white flag from beneath a tepee of hurleys.

After a quiet year so far, a quiet few seasons actually, O’Donnell badly needed a performance. He posted a quick 0-2 in quality fashion all between an 85 metre effort from the magician himself, Tony Kelly.

This was the Clare that electrocuted hurling in 2013. They led 0-11 to 0-5 until TJ Ryan made a double switch after half-time. Gearóid Hegarty followed Tom Morrissey into the Limerick attack and wasted no time scoring. When Dowling clipped a sideline the evening, and Sky Sports viewers, had a badly needed contest.

But two more casually struck Kelly frees either side of O’Donnell’s third point made it seem like Limerick had been off the pace way too long to recover.

Kelly kept the scoreboard clicking but Limerick would not die quietly. A revival was mustered off three mighty efforts by wing back Diarmuid Byrnes - proof of the continued talent in the county - coupled with some Dowling frees to make it a four point game.

A huge strike from midfielder Paul Browne demanded Clare reveal their true identity. But a Downes wide, he snatched at it under pressure, felt costly. So did that second quarter slump.

“They are a fantastic bunch of boys, no matter what happens I love working with them every single night of the week,” Fitzgerald added. “They’d do anything for me and I’d do anything for them - it’s a great thing.”

It certainly could be.

CLARE: 1 Andrew Fahy; 4 Patrick O'Connor, 3 Cian Dillon (capt), 7 Jack Browne (0-1); 2 Oisín O'Brien, 6 David McInerney (0-1), 5 Brendan Bugler; 8 Conor Cleary, 9 David Ryany; 10 Colm Galvin, 11 Tony Kelly (0-9, five frees, one point penalty, one '65), 12 John Conlon (0-1); 13 Podge Collins (0-3), 14 Shane O'Donnell (0-3), 15 Aaron Shanagher (0-1).

Subs: 25 Aaron Cunningham for J Conlon (55 mins), 19 David Fitzgerald for B Bugler (65 mins).

LIMERICK: 1 Nickie Quaid (capt); 2 Tom Condon, 3 Richie McCarthy, 4 Richie English; 5 Diarmuid Byrnes (0-3), 6 Gavin O'Mahony, 7 Paudie O'Brien; 8 Paul Browne (0-1), 9 Darragh O'Donovan (0-1); 10 Declan Hannon, 11 James Ryan (0-2), 12 Cian Lynch; 13 Kevin Downes (0-1), 14 Shane Dowling (0-6, five frees, one '65), 15 Graeme Mulcahy.

Subs: 23 Tom Morrissey for D Hannon, 24 Gearóid Hegarty (0-1) for Darragh O’Donovan (both half-time), 18 Seamus Hickey for P O’Brien (42 mins), 25 Barry Nash for G Mulcahy (55 mins), 21 A Dempsey for R English (59 mins).

Referee: James Owens (Wexford).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent