Keith Duggan: Limerick luck in 100mph Munster thrust
Magnanimous Davy Fitzgerald already working on ways to end Clare’s bad streak
Limerick manager TJ Ryan celebrates his side’s goal in the victory over Clare at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
The Banner County still light up hurling fields but when the dust settled, they were left with a bagful of what-ifs to parse through in Ennis over the coming weeks. Limerick continue to grow in stature and in boldness, firing 1-19 on a day that will be remembered for an irresistible debut bow by Cian Lynch of Patrickswell. It was a start to keep the uncle happy.
“It was just a great game of hurling,” reckoned the recently graduated minor star, and that about said it.
The adventure in Lynch’s play and the three points he struck were each a delight but the disruption he caused within the seasoned Clare full-back line presaged mischief to come. Limerick held their nerve when hit by two inspiring goals by Aaron Cunningham in the last quarter, when this Munster quarter-final had matured into a gripping, completely unpredictable test of will and nerve.
Talking points’Shane Dowling
“If I don’t sum it up the Sunday Game will. It should have been a drawn game. That’s the way your luck goes, Limerick got done in Croke Park with Hawk-Eye so maybe we deserved a bit of luck.”
Added time was the other big mystery. Most of the stadium believed that the electronic board had promised four extra minutes of hell for leather, with Clare chasing an equaliser that would have earned them a draw they probably deserved. It turned out later that the number shown was to signal the substitution of Seamus Hickey, Limerick’s corner back.
All of Clare was stunned when the match was ended with just one played. Davy Fitzgerald sought an explanation from the officials. “Something about some lad who came off or something,” he recalled mutedly in the dim chambers underneath the stand.
Davy’s mind was already elsewhere, already concerned with the next opportunity with breaking this streak of Clare just falling short. Terse though he may have been when interviewed on television seconds after the whistle, the Clare manager could not have been more magnanimous about the winners when he sat down.
“I thought that Limerick’s character was phenomenal today,” he said before trying to sort out the nuts and bolts of what had happened on that field. They trailed 0-8 to 0-9 at half time when Patrick Donnellan, the Clare captain, was issued a straight red for striking when a free-for-all flared up in front of the dugouts. The opening half was cagey and restrained but Clare came out and, emboldened by two impetuous early points from John Conlon, went about winning the thing anyway.
“It didn’t affect us that much,” Fitzgerald said. “I thought we were the better team in the first half, without a doubt. I’m not exactly sure, I’d say we scored a good lot from play. We scored 2-10? What did Limerick score from frees? They got 12 points from frees? And what did we get? We must be fouling unreal so. Maybe we’ll have to look at how we’re conceding frees or maybe we’ll have to look at getting a few more.”
Clare flickered as if tethered to an unreliable voltage while Limerick kept their noses in front thanks to the distance free-taking of Shane Dowling. When Graham Mulcahy, a splendid nuisance to the Clare defence all day, tidily pick-pocketed a long, spiralling ball from the small square and calmly picked his spot to land a 52nd-minute goal, the Treaty men looked poised to romp on.
Tony Kelly, also working off the O’Donnell supply line, landed a geometrically absurd point. Then Limerick’s Seanie Tobin unwisely clattered into Pat O’Connor upon his introduction in the 56th minute. He was shown a red before experiencing a second of play.
The minutes thundered on, with Clare cancelling out another steadily crafted Limerick lead. It was decided by a brilliant point from midfield by young John Fitzgibbon, on the field all of 11 minutes. Clare just ran out of time. “I don’t know when it will turn for us but I know that myself and the lads, we will stay with it,” vowed Fitzgerald. “And I would do absolutely anything for them bunch of boys.”