A clarifying weekend in the hurling championship. Clare’s 3-21 to 2-16 victory over Tipperary on Sunday probably told little enough about who might be standing at the end of it, other than that Tipp will have long moved on to any other business by then. But Saturday night did at least assure everyone that Waterford will not go quietly and that whatever Limerick have in their hands at the end of July, they’ll have earned it. Habemus Champo.
Cian Lynch will go for a scan on Monday on the hamstring injury that caused him to limp off after 11 minutes of Limerick's three-point win in the Gaelic Grounds. The result has bought them a bit of leeway at least - they have six weeks to the Munster final (assuming they beat Tipperary, which they surely will), eight to an All-Ireland quarter-final if it goes against them and 10 to an All-Ireland semi-final if it doesn't. If there's a good time to have four All Stars injured, it's now.
Tipp look unlikely to detain them in Limerick in a fortnight, at any rate. They were trounced by Clare in Semple yesterday, coughing up three first-half goals and never looking like hauling Brian Lohan's side back in thereafter. At a stroke, all the optimism of their opening day showing against Waterford was torpedoed. Colm Bonnar conceded the task facing his side now is enormous.
“It is yeah,” Bonnar said. “They are All-Ireland champions, they are Munster champions and you are heading into the Gaelic Grounds. And when Limerick have the upper hand on Tipp they are not going to let us go. So they are going to battle it and bring a good game.
“Look, it’s all about building this team, it’s about building leaders, it’s about building players and letting them build those bonds and connectivities that you need when you’re on the field, when you are fighting for your life. These players were fighting for their life.
"In fairness, they brought a big fight in the second half. Like I think we hit 15 wides and I think we hit something similar below in Walsh Park. So we are not doing ourselves any favours. Maybe that comes with experience."
For Clare, the championship is up and running now and they will take heart from running up such a timbering without having to shoot the lights out. They got big displays from Peter Duggan after a year away travelling and the likes of John Conlon and Ian Galvin put in bravura afternoons as well.
“I suppose we had worked hard and we felt there was a good bit of spirit,” said Lohan afterwards. “Probably didn’t see that in the league. If you’re missing a couple of crucial guys, you don’t really see the rewards and the supporters don’t see the rewards for the work that you’re doing. Glad for the boys that the work that they have been doing was rewarded. Happy enough with the work rate and the spirit.”
That said, the story of the day was the return of Shane O’Donnell after 18 months out. The brilliant Clare forward missed a huge chunk of hurling after a bad concussion last year but he was back skittering around the place here, insinuating himself into the action with all his trademark inventiveness.
Lohan looks to have reinvented O’Donnell as a wing-forward, knitting the play together out around the Spaghetti Junction of the middle third. He started the moves that led to the first two Clare goals and swished a couple of raucous points of his own as the game wore on. Away from the nuts and bolts, getting back on the pitch at all was a win in itself.