Clare 1-19 Limerick 0-18
Division One B of the Allianz Hurling League has been like Russian roulette this season, with Limerick and Clare clicking the chambers until the last weekend. At Cusack Park in Ennis on Sunday before a decent crowd of 8,847 it was Clare who survived and won promotion back to the top flight after just a year out.
They were deserving winners and if anything the four-point margin under-stated their superiority, as they also managed a wides count of 19. Limerick battled hard but were unable to recover from the concession of an early goal, which was criticised by losing manager TJ Ryan as “a disgrace” because of the number of steps taken by the scorer John Conlon, variously estimated between 10 and 15 bujt certainly more than four.
The loss of Barry Nash to a second yellow card just before half-time added to their difficulties and they never threatened to pull the match out of the fire in the second half, as Clare maintained the pressure and added nearly a point for every wide they shot, which in the end proved adequate to their needs.
Clare manager David Fitzgerald was satisfied with the outcome.
“We did what we had to do. I was happy with the tackling, the blocking - they tried to do the right things all the time. I’m not sure of our wides count… We still have a few things to work on.
“The one thing I’ve said over the last two years: our enthusiasm - I don’t think it’s been the same. We need to block and tackle and go again.. That’s one thing I’d like to see us getting back. I don’t think we’re near the top three or four, I’m fairly certain of that.
“We’ve two of three months to work on that - the championship is what counts. That’s what we all have to get ready for.”
His Limerick counterpart TJ Ryan was still fuming about John Conlon’s goal after 35 seconds.
“The goal was a disgrace of a decision. He took 15 steps lads, ye know that. No point asking me. What’s the point?
“It was frustrating at times. I don’t want to sound bitter - on the day, Clare were marginally better. They started better. We were chasing it the whole time. Couple of times we tried to get back into it we made mistakes. It’s disappointing. Still stuck in Division One B.”
It was a scrappy match played in a whirlwind of activity with two sweeper defences and the now familiar Tokyo underground middle third. Clare's energetic start had them 1-3 to 0-1 ahead after just seven minutes and although Limerick eventually hit their stride with Declan Hannon proving accurate from frees and Paul Browne in excellent shooting form.
On the half-hour Browne battled tremendously to work a ball clear of a defensive pack and shoot the point that cut the margin to one, 0-9 to 1-7 but that was the high water mark of their challenge and shortly afterwards Nash got his second yellow for a wild pull that hit Colm Galvin, who was busy and effective throughout, on the head (his first early in the match was for a challenge on goalkeeper Patrick Kelly).
Clare responded as they did throughout the match with a pattern of score taking. David McInerney, the TG4 Man of the Match, took a break from defensive duties to drive up field and shoot a point whereas Bobby Duggan added two of his six frees so by half-time the margin had expanded again to four.
It got worse after the break, as Cian Dillon broke from the back for a point, which was added to in the space of a minute by further scores from Conor McGrath - excellent as usual with five from play - and Galvin.
Limerick fought hard but without convincing anyone in the ground that they were actually going to win the match with 14 men.
That short-handedness meant that Declan Hannon played a lone role in the full forwards and although he was spirited -pulling down a Cian Lynch pass and shooting a point in the 40th minute - it was never likely that the visitors could successfully chase the target of an average deficit of five points throughout the second half with a reduced strike force.
Cathal O’Connell came on as a replacement for Clare to take over the free taking from Duggan and there was a big cheer for a second brief appearance on his comeback from long-term injury.
Limerick will face Dublin the quarter-finals and Clare must take on Tipperary.
“Yeah,” said Fitzgerald. “Tipp wouldn’t be afraid of us; they gave us a good beating last year but whatever it is, it is. Listen I’m going to kind of enjoy today if you don’t mind. I had enough of that last year. If I could enjoy today it would be nice, you know.”
CLARE: P Kelly; O O'Brien, C Dillon (capt) (0-1), P Flanagan; B Bugler, D McInerney (0-1), P O'Connor; D Reidy (0-1), C Ryan; J Conlon (1-1), B Duggan (0-6, frees), C Galvin (0-2); A Cunningham, S O'Donnell, C McGrath (0-5).
Subs: D Honan for Cunningham (52 mins), C O'Connell (0-2, frees) for Duggan (61 mins), P Collins for McGrath (70 mins), C Cleary for Flanagan (71 mins),
LIMERICK: N Quaid (capt); T Condon, R McCarthy, R English; D Morrissey, D Byrnes (0-1, free), S Hickey; J Fitzgibbon, P Browne (0-4); B Nash, G O'Mahony, C Lynch; G Mulcahy (0-1), D Hannon (0-9, eight frees), T Morrissey.
Subs: P O'Brien for D Morrissey (half-time), J Ryan (0-1) for O'Mahony (half-time), D Reidy (0-1) for T Morrissey (46 mins), D O'Donovan (0-1) for Ryan 58 mins), P Ryan for Fitzgibbon (68 mins),
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).