Limerick edge Clare in thrilling second half in Thurles

There were some precocious interventions by debutant Cian Lynch in one-point win

Limerick 1-19 Clare 2-15

In the end it was John Fitzgibbon who brought the curtain down on a compelling opening act in this year's GAA Munster hurling championship. His 68th-minute point restored Limerick's superiority after it looked to have evaporated in the heat of Clare's desperate comeback.

There was late confusion, as injury-time was first signalled as one minute and then, apparently four. In the event referee Colm Lyons played an additional one minute and 37 seconds and it was later explained that the initial indication had been the correct one – and in keeping with public announcement at the stadium.

After the match Limerick's top scorer Shane Dowling added further confusion by claiming his 62nd-minute free – the subject at the time of indecision before being allowed – had gone wide. RTE footage suggested however that it had indeed been a valid score.

Like middle distance runners, counting down the humdrum laps, the teams ambled through most of this provincial quarter-final in Thurles but in a madcap, exhilarating run for the tape there was bumping, fluctuating fortunes and high drama.


Limerick had their noses in front on the line and had looked likely winners for most of the match, which had earlier featured controversies, three goals and two red cards.

Clare led only once in the entire 70 minutes, for about 90 seconds, and weren't even on level terms for most of the match. They were down to 14 for the whole second half and yet managed to recover from six down at the start of the final quarter to equalise in the 66th minute.

The first half had the tit-for-tat scoring rhythms of its televised precursor the Cavan-Monaghan Ulster championship match. Limerick looked to have the upper hand but were unable to stretch their lead on the three occasions they took it to three points.

There was some virtuoso stick work from the extravagantly gifted debutant Cian Lynch. A nephew of Ciarán Carey, he hit two points in the first half and a third later in the match and at times tormented the Clare defence with his movement and tricksy flicking ball over the heads of markers. O'Donovan was eventually moved off him but the corner forward nearly had a goal when a 43rd minute shot – possibly for a point – dipped and Kelly had to scramble to block and scramble it clear.

Limerick were only a point up at the break, 0-9 to 0-8, and Clare would have considered that good business on the balance of play.

This was an absorbing match but not a feast for the senses. Both teams were cautious and Clare as is their wont played a sweeper, on this occasion Patrick O’Connor, but gave away enough frees to keep Limerick in business and contributed to their own misfortune when gifting Graeme Mulcahy a second-half goal.

They were handicapped by disciplinary problems. Brendan Bugler was already suspended for this match after a red card in last season’s defeat by Wexford and today in the midst of a fracas at the end of the first half, Patrick Donnellan was also ordered off for jabbing his hurl into Donal O’Grady’s face.

The loss of two such experienced defenders was a blow for Clare and up front they were missing Conor McGrath, which disarmed their attacking potential. Shane O’Donnell – operating in a two-man inside line with David Reidy – battled manfully in the full forward line and replacement Aaron Cunningham burst onto the scene for little over 20 minutes and fired in 2-1 but the absence of so proven a scoring threat as McGrath was debilitating.

Neither side made the most of their attacking opportunities. Clare shot some poor wides and Limerick, although they had fewer such misses, saw Dowling put a free and a 65 wide as well as ploughing another, close-range range free into a defender when going for goal in the fourth minute.

The Limerick full forward still served up half of his team's scores, from placed balls, some of them impressive feats of finishing such as the 52nd minute strike from 85 metres.

A minute later Mulcahy, posing the usual menace from play and finishing with 1-1, scored the first goal after Patrick Kelly and Domhnall O’Donovan had made a hames of clearing a dropping ball, allowing the Kilmallock corner forward to pull on the loose ball and direct it into the net.

That appeared to have buried the match. Clare had come out battling for the second half and having fallen farther behind after an early Dowling 65, they levelled scores and briefly took the lead.

John Conlon knocked over two points and Cunningham pointed a chance that might have yielded a further goal for the replacement but Limerick weren’t wilting in the face of the comeback. Séamus Hickey, Tom Condon and increasingly Gavin O’Mahony gave the team forward momentum with their counter attacks and they appeared to have quelled the uprising when moving six in front with Mulcahy’s goal.

Instead they leaked 1-1 in the following two minutes: O’Donnell taking on the defence and finally passing laterally to Cunningham, who with the move looking to be running out of steam weaved a way back towards goal before letting fly into the net.

Tony Kelly – diligent, occasionally spectacular but overall quiet by his standards and replaced with a late injury – added a point and when Limerick replacement Seán Tobin got an immediate red card for giving O’Connor an unwise dig of the hurl when taking up position, Clare looked to have all the momentum.

It was Lynch who stopped the rot and Dowling who pushed the margin to four in the 62nd minute. Again Clare responded – it was to their credit that they seven times scored within a minute of conceding – with Cunningham's second goal, a blazing solo topped off with a torpedo of a shot to the net. Two minutes later O'Donnell equalised.

It will be a matter of concern for Clare manager David Fitzgerald that his team keep coming up short in tight finishes but they will be better equipped later in the summer, suspension depending. Limerick have again emphasised their championship credentials and have a home semi-final against Tipperary to look forward to in four weeks.

LIMERICK: 1. Barry Hennessy; 2. Stephen Walsh, 3. Richie McCarthy, 4. Séamus Hickey; 5. Seánie O'Brien (0-1), 6. Gavin O'Mahony, 7. Tom Condon (0-1); 8. James Ryan, 9. Paudie O'Brien (0-1); 10. Donal O'Grady (capt.), 11. Declan Hannon, 12. Paul Browne; 13. Graeme Mulcahy (1-1), 14. Shane Dowling (0-11, 10 frees, one 65), 15. Cian Lynch (0-3).Subs: 22. Seán Tobin for O'Grady (56 mins), 18. Dan Morrissey for Walsh (63 mins), 20. John Fitzgibbon (0-1) for Ryan (66 mins), 17. Wayne McNamara for Hickey (67 mins), 23. Kevin Downes for Browne (71 mins).

CLARE: 1. Patrick Kelly; 2. Domhnall O'Donovan, 4. Cian Dillon, 3. David McInerney; 5. Jack Browne, 6. Conor Ryan, 8. Patrick Donnellan (capt.); 7. Patrick O'Connor, 20. Gearóid O'Connell; 9. Shane Golden (0-1), 11. Tony Kelly (0-2), 12. Colin Ryan (0-7, five frees); 15. David Reidy (0-1), 14. Shane O'Donnell (0-1), 10. John Conlon (0-2). Subs: 23. Aaron Cunningham (2-1) for Reidy (48 mins), 17. Seadna Morey for O'Donovan (55 mins), 22. Bobby Duggan for O'Connell (58 mins), 25. Darach Honan for Golden (67 mins), 21. Nicky O'Connell for Kelly (69 mins).

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times