No quarter asked for, or given, as Limerick earn draw with Clare

Result means Clare and Limerick will meet again in Munster final early next month

Clare 0-24 Limerick 1-21

If the real thing lives up to this gripping dress rehearsal, then the Munster final will be something to behold. Diarmuid Byrnes sent a late, long free through the afternoon haze and a foghorn of Clare boos to earn the All-Ireland champions a draw and guarantee a mouth-watering rematch with Brian Lohan's men. In the 59 times these counties have met in the championship, this is just the second draw.

The day had it all.

Limerick withdrew Aaron Gillane before the throw-in ("a strain") and then had to live without Gearóid Hegarty for the last nine minutes of the contest when he was issued with a disputed second yellow after reacting with his hurl after a coming together with blood-substitute Aaron Fitzgerald. With space at an absolute premium at both ends of the pitch, it was a precarious moment for Limerick. Twice Clare missed chances to push out into a two point clearing in a claustrophobic match which contained 13 occasions on which the teams were level, including a missed free from Tony Kelly, a rare lapse in yet another summer aria.

John Kiely will be satisfied with the undiminished appetite in his squad to yield nothing, ever, Brian Lohan delighted his team matched that quality.

The first 15 minutes fell somewhere between championship hurling and an explosion in a dynamite factory. The contest for every single possession was primal and furious. If Kiely was beginning to wonder who, in the Munster theatre, would be the first to match his crew in primal hunger, he had his answer here.

Clare's work-rate and chasing down Limerick's leggy ball carriers helped to quickly form the narrative of the game. Certain affirmations were quickly established. John Conlon relishes a physical battle. Rory Hayes, detailed to shadow Seamus Flanagan, is having a summer to remember and Paul Flanagan had a terrific afternoon in the other corner.

And Tony Kelly is just a master. He was just silly here in that brilliant opening quarter. A blessed time for Clare people to have a sunny day hanging outside Ennis’s many saloons and then stroll in to see the old game’s equivalent of Messi. He was white hot: 0-12 in the first half, in a mood to punish any Limerick free beyond their own 21, and unplayable in the open; his score early in the second half - Clare’s 17th and his 14th - off his left at full speed in front of the stand was probably the pick of the bunch.

He even registered a spectacular miss in what was his easiest chance of the day which, strangely, just served to illuminate his genius. At the other end, Byrnes was equally magisterial with his dead-ball opportunities and was at the heart of Limerick’s stifling, rapacious defensive operation.

Limerick quickly absorbed the mood of the day and responded. Apart from one brilliant catch, their defensive unit completely smothered Clare's attempts to play Peter Duggan and put the shutters on speedsters Shane O'Donnell and Robin Mounsey. The first-half duel between David McInerney and Hegarty was a battle within the battle and during a period when the home defence was on top, Clare hit six unanswered points.

But Limerick did manage a vital goal in that period. Conor Boylan exploited one of the very rare gaps in the Clare defence to run at Eibhear Qulligan's goal before flicking a handpass to Kyle Hayes. The game see-sawed after that and Colm Lyons was forced to whistle more frequently.

The most curious statistic of the match was that Kelly's last score arrived in the 44th minute. It might have been instructive for the Clare management to see how the others responded during a Kelly lull. And they found a way. Duggan, double teamed whenever he got possession, found Shane Meadows with a bright pass to level the scores in the 68th minute before Ryan Taylor popped up to edge Clare in front. A famous win beckoned but Limerick exalt in adversity and so it went here. The athletes were still battling and bitching over a sideline ball when Lyons wisely ended the entertainment. There was not a complaint to be heard.

Clare: 1 E Quilligan, 4 P Flanagan, 3 C Cleary, 2 R Hayes; 5 (29) D Ryan (0-2), 6 J Conlon, 7 D McInerney (0-1); 8 D Fitzgerald (0-2), 22 J McCarthy; 10 C Malone, 13 R Mounsey, 12 S O'Donnell; 15 R Taylor (0-2); 11 T Kelly (0-16, 1 65, 12 frees), 14 P Duggan. Substitutes: 19 S Meehan (0-1) for 22 J McMcCarthy (half time), 26 D Reidy for 13 R Mounsey (46 mins), 25 A Shanagher for 14 P Duggan (73 mins).

Limerick: 1.N Quaid; 2 S Finn, 3 M Case, 4 B Nash; 5 D Byrnes (0-9, 65, 7 frees), 6 D Hannon, 7 D Morrissey; 8 W Donoghue, 23 R Hanley; 26 D Reidy (0-4 frees), 18 C Boylan, 12 T Morrissey (0-1); G Hegarty (0-4), 11 K Hayes (1-0), 14 S Flanagan (0-1). Substitutes: 9 D O'Donovan (0-1) for 23 R Hanley (56 mins), 25 O' O Reilly (0-1) for 14 S Flanagan (56 mins).

Referee: C Lyons (Cork).