Limerick break in new mould
A livelier, more committed Limerick side left many at Cusack Park, Ennis confused as to why their manager's future was on the line when they comfortably took the Church & General NHL title after dismissing a feeble and errorstrewn performance by defending League champions Galway.
It was a disappointing end to an historic League, but perhaps in keeping with the competition's decline since the phenomenally exciting initial phase ended four months ago. Once the holders had blown out after a reasonable opening quarter, Limerick took the initiative and didn't surrender it for the rest of the match.
In fairness to the winners, they showed greater coherence throughout the match and their experimental selection was successful in many respects, giving Tom Ryan, or whoever gets his job, something to build on during the secondary competitions of the winter.
Principally it was Limerick's defence that caught the eye. Anchored by the familiar back four of Joe Quaid, Stephen McDonagh and the Nash brothers, it also featured some fine hurling from newcomers TJ Ryan and Jack Foley in the half backs, where Dave Clarke gave a man of the match performance on the right wing.
Ryan has played two All-Ireland finals as a corner forward, but looked comfortable at his club position of centre back. Ironically the move which helped facilitate Ciaran Carey's reversion to centrefield worked perfectly at centre back, but less convincingly in Carey's case.
The normally influential Patrickswell man had a fitful match, injecting only a couple of the pacey solos which are amongst his most devastating trademarks and managing a 17th-minute wide that, had it been conjured up 16 months ago, might mean Clare would now be three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions.
His partner Shane O'Neill worked hard and played a more constructive role than he had managed at full forward earlier in the campaign.
Up front, Limerick would have managed the uncommon feat of having all forwards score from play had a long-range effort by captain Gary Kirby not been overruled just before half-time - to the surprise of most present, including the scoreboard operators.
If the idea of positioning Kirby at corner forward was to give the rest of the attack more space and remedy the withering effect of Kirby's virtuosity on his colleagues' capacity for individual initiative, the move can be judged a provisional success.
In the captain's usual centre-forward slot, converted wing back Mark Foley played an energetic match and managed two points on top of a performance which constantly harrassed Galway's half-back line.
Ollie and James Moran, one of three pairs of brothers in the team, created some difficulty on the inside. Ollie's physical presence caused a flutter under high ball and James struck two well-taken points in the second half.
Galway manager Cyril Farrell and his colleagues have no such positive laboratory findings to console them in defeat. Darragh Coen proved moderately reliable from the placed ball - six points watered down with four wides - but elsewhere the attack would break your heart.
Fourteen wides - out of a total of 16 - peppered the performance which saw the side well beaten by the end. The gamble of bringing back Joe Rabbitte so shortly after injury didn't really work and, looking generally ring-rusty, he chipped in three wides.
Liam Burke showed flashes at centrefield but too often failed to let the ball go in sufficient time for the attack to benefit from his scything runs.
At the back, Galway were always under pressure from the combined threat of Limerick's pace in the half forwards and strength on the inside. Transplants Brendan Keogh and Vennie Maher played well enough, with Keogh in particular clearing some good ball in the second half.
Galway were best placed to make a break around the 20-minute mark. In the 18th minute, Justin Campbell blazed a goal chance wide from a difficult angle. Three minutes later, Joe Quaid's save from Michael Coleman present Coen with a 65 opportunity which he converted.
Within 60 seconds, the match tilted decisively in Limerick's favour. Barry Foley's line ball was badly misjudged by Galway goalkeeper Pat Costello and Mike Galligan had time to nip in and roll the sliotar into the net for a 1-3 to 04 lead which had expanded to three points, 1-5 to 0-5, by half-time.
Campbell cut the deficit shortly after the restart, but Galway were unable to exert any sort of grip on the match despite a couple of substitutions. Alan Kerins looked a bit of a long shot to make an impact on an in-form Stephen McDonagh, and so it proved, whereas Francis Forde entered proceedings a little late to have a decisive influence.
Coleman's switch back to his favoured centrefield was similarly a bit late in the day after Nigel Shaughnessy's unproductive afternoon in the position.
Limerick created some fine points from Barry Foley, Galligan and James Moran and by 60 minutes were six points ahead. Coen's injurytime free was blocked on the line by Declan Nash but Ollie Fahy was on hand to crack in the rebound and bestow spurious respectability on the scoreboard.