Clare 1-22 Limerick 0-18: So Davy Fitzgerald continues to turn back the clock on Clare hurling, guiding them to the All-Ireland Final for the first time since 2002 – and with that a shot at their first title in 16 years, when Fitzgerald himself stood between the goalposts.
This time, Fitzgerald stood on the sidelines, as his young Clare team determinedly and quite brilliantly dismantled the challenge of Munster champions Limerick, who despite raising their game early in the second half were comprehensively out-played all over the field.
Cork thus await Clare in next month’s All-Ireland, having beaten Clare already this summer in the Munster semi-final. Yet here in Croke Park, in front of another bumper crowd of 62,962, the majority from Limerick, too, it turned out to be Clare’s day in every sense.
Central to it all was the terrific free-taking of Colin Ryan, who ended with 11 points (nine frees) plus some majestic points from youngsters Padraic "Podge" Collins and Colm Galvin and especially 19 year-old Tony Kelly from Ballyea, who finished with four, each one as good as the last.
Trailing 1-10 to 0-6 at half-time, Limerick had to do something different, and they did: indeed, manager John Allen and his selectors stayed on the sideline for a full eight minutes before heading into the dressing room to instruct their players on what to do in the second half.
They came out and hit the first three scores without reply, having handed their free-taking to substitute Shane Dowling. While it briefly gave the Limerick supporters some hope, Clare soon resumed their business as usual, and played out the last 20 minutes well on top, fully deserving of their seven-point win.
Clare fairly lorded the opening 35 minutes too, aided it has to be said, by a nervy, error-riddled Limerick. They hit 10 wides in the first half alone, Declan Hannon missing several easy frees, and badly short of the attacking strategy that marked their Munster final win over Cork.
Clare, as expected, played Darach Honan and Conor McGrath up front, with Collins roaming back at centre forward, but both of Clare's opening scores came from the half back line, with Patrick Donnellan, then Patrick O'Connor, well set up for points inside the first six minutes.
Yet positions meant nothing, as players from both teams roamed all over the field. Limerick started with two good goal chances, Graeme Mulcahy forcing a big save from Patrick Kelly, but struggled to find some accuracy with points, hitting four wides.
Then, in the ninth minute Declan Hannon finally split the posts with his first successful free, and with that Limerick, it seemed, finally settled.
Instead, Clare struck back where it hurts with a goal, on 12 minutes, somewhat fortunate as it was, after Collins latched onto a long ball just in front of the Limerick goal, Nicky Quaid couldn't fully control it, and after Honan swept in too, got the unlikeliest of touches – including his helmet – that sent the ball over the line.
When Ryan added his first free not long after, Clare were up 1-3 to 0-1, while Limerick looked a little rattled (and losing forward Seamus Hickey to a knee injury, after 15 minutes, didn't help either). It looked that way all the way to half-time, too, as Clare consistently out-scored their opponents, building up a 1-10 to 0-6 advantage by half-time, with the brilliant young Kelly chipping in with two points in the opening half, too.
Indeed even then that seemed like too great a bridge for Limerick to cross – and so it proved, as Fitzgerald now looks for the ultimate prize against Cork on September 8th.
CLARE: P Kelly; D O'Donovan, D McInerney, C Dillon; B Bugler, P Donnellan (capt) (0-1), P O'Connor (0-1); C Galvin (0-1), Conor Ryan; J Conlon, T Kelly (0-4), Colin Ryan (0-11, nine frees); P Collins (0-3), D Honan (1-0), C McGrath.
Subs: F Lynch for Conlon (44 mins), C McInerney (0-1) for Honan (63 mins), N O'Connell for Galvin (67 mins), S O'Donnell for McGrath (70 mins).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; P O'Brien, W McNamara, G O'Mahony (0-2, one 65); P Browne (0-2), D O'Grady (capt); D Breene (0-1), J Ryan (0-1), S Hickey; G Mulcahy (0-1), D Hannon (0-2, both frees), S Tobin.
Subs: C Ailis (0-1) for Hickey (15 mins, inj), S Dowling (0-6, five frees, one free) for Tobin (32 mins), N Moran for Hannon (50 mins), T Ryan (0-1) for Ailis (55 mins), K Downes (0-1) for Breen (63 mins).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)