Limerick 0-16 Clare 0-10

CLARE completed their build-up to the National League which starts in a fortnight with a losing effort against Limerick in a murky Gaelic Grounds on Sunday. Eighteen wides and a failure to score from the 39th to the 74th minute contributed to the Banner loss as our nearest rivals claimed the Munster Senior League trophy.
This was January hurling with both sides struggling to make an impression on strong defences which were on top for most of the seventy minutes. Indeed there wasn’t one clear cut goal chance carved out by either team with conditions not conducive to fast hurling.
Clare’s forward woes weren’t helped by the size of our full forwardline, Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell and Cathal O’Connell not really suited to the bulk facing them under high balls. The pitch wasn’t suitable to the low ball that all three thrive on, but as management pointed out after the contest, the trio needed game time.
Our own full backline coped comfortably as well and can be pleased with the concession of 0-16, a couple of which came from some questionable frees. The experiment of playing Conor Cleary at full back looks to have merit, for the third game on the trot he impressed in the role.
Neither side looked comfortable on the slow surface of the Gaelic Grounds and the chill saw plenty of balls spilt from the hand. Clean catches were few and far between, it was not a day for forwards.
The notable exceptions to that were Limerick’s Tom Morrissey who shot four points from play and Clare’s Cathal Malone who matched that total.
The public’s thirst for hurling was reflected in the attendance of 3,209, who braved a dark and cold afternoon to see a game that never really took off or flowed, despite some niggling incidents in the Clare full backline which resulted in a number of yellow cards. Jack Browne would eventually see a second one which saw him dismissed on the hour mark.
The pattern of the game was evident from early on as both backlines dominated opening exchanges. The Clare back three of Cleary, Browne and Pat O’Connor looked comfortable from an early stage and restricted Limerick to mostly long range efforts, while at the other end the same scenario was unfolding.
Limerick’s edge on the scoreboard came from all six defenders, with their half backline of Diarmaid Byrnes, Dan Morrissey and William O’Meara all prominent, the trio’s workrate ensuring the Banner rarely had time on the ball.
Limerick were two points clear before Clare opening their account on seven minutes, Cathal Malone firing over after being set up by Niall Deasy. A Podge Collins score from a difficult angle and a ‘Tots’ O’Connell free had the sides level at 0-3 apiece after thirteen minutes, Tom Morrissey and Malone then swapping scores to make it 0-4 each after seventeen minutes.
It was level again on 25 minutes as Cathal O’Connell finished off an excellent passing move by firing over, Cathal Malone notching his third then to cancel out two Limerick points from Aaron Gillane (free) and Barry O’Connell. Approaching half time the home side would grab a two point lead, Gearoid Hegarty and Gillane again from a placed ball leaving them 0-8 to 0-6 clear at the break.
The first half had been ragged with Clare firing eight wides, a number of them from normally reliable Tony Kelly, while Limerick had six of their own. Tellingly no forward gained possession in what could be described as the danger area in the entire first half.
In Clare’s only purple patch, they began the second half with some intent, shooting the first three points. Cathal Malone had his fourth from play, Niall Deasy struck a close in free while Tony Kelly finally found his range from sixty yards. Ahead 0-9 to 0-8, this would be Clare’s only lead in the contest and it lasted for just four minutes.
Tom Morrissey levelled matters when he benefitted from some sloppy short passing in the Clare half backline on forty three minutes and this would be the first of eight unanswered Limerick white flags. Jack Browne would receive his first yellow card shortly after, the free being converted by Gillane, Morrissey and Gillane following up from play to stretch the lead.
By now there was an element of niggle creeping into the match. Two more scoreable frees were awarded to Limerick, both converted by Gillane, both blown from distance by referee McAllister as backs and forwards seemed to be dragging out of each other.
It was the second of those frees that saw Jack Browne receive his matching orders and second yellow. Gillane and Morrissey continued to be the most accurate players on the field, both adding another from play as time ran out to stretch the Limerick advantage.
The Banner response was to send in David Reidy, John Conlon and Conor McGrath during the course of the last twenty minutes but none made an impact as our forwards continued to shoot some poor wides in the gathering gloom.
The last score of the game was a Clare free, fired over by David Reidy in the fourth minute of injury time, Clare’s first score in more than half an hour’s worth of hurling, a telling statistic.
Two weeks out from the National League, Clare’s management won’t be unduly concerned with Sunday’s result, even if the performance was a little flat. Sunday’s Munster League final was a strange and forgettable seventy odd minutes, with neither side ever really going through the gears. It was a day for the strong defender, physicality counting for much on a heavy pitch with the ball not travelling any real distance.
Goalkeeper Andrew Fahy had little to do and what was asked of him he did well, while the full back line was more than competent. Conor Cleary was solid, while Pat O’Connor and Jack Browne could consider themselves a little unlucky to apparently live on the wrong side of referee Cathal McAllister. Browne was unlucky to go, while Pat O’Connor was whistled on a couple of fifty-fifty occasions.
Both suffered too from some wonder points shot by Morriseey and Gillane, from distance and awkward angles. The back three did not concede one goal opportunity.
Clare’s half back line was also competent, although their distribution did not suit the conditions or the small forwards they sought to find. David McInerney is clearly a championship centre back in waiting, his physicality, range and skill underlining that fact. With Cleary’s prominence at full back, perhaps the Tulla man can now be set free to assume a play maker role at six.
Sunday mightn’t have been David’s dominating best but with him at six Clare look a more rounded side. Beside him David Fitzgerald battled manfully, revelling in some of the physical battles, while Diarmuid Ryan shone at times too. In what was at times an arm wrestle, the Cratloe teenager did not look out of place.
Midfield was an area we struggled in this time around. A week after Ryan Taylor and Colm Galvin had bossed proceedings against Cork, neither could make a telling impact here, the stop start nature of the match not suiting eight or nine.
Cathal Malone was the pick of the Clare attack, his four points from play standing out. Direct and physical, he could have finished the game with six or seven, shaving the post with three other attempts.
Clare’s full forward line struggled throughout with their size playing into Limerick hands. Seamus Hickey, Tom Condon and Richie English were made to look like All-Stars as they gobbled up high ball after aerial ball played into them. O’Donnell, Collins and Tots as usual competed as best they could, but the soggy pitch and dead air did not allow for fast ball in front of them, the distribution they thrive on.
Niall Deasy and Tony Kelly had some moments in the half forward line, but both were guilty of wayward shooting. Kelly in particular shot a series of uncharacteristic wides, seven in all.
Substitutes Conlon, Reidy and McGrath found it difficult to make an impact, while Seadna Morey and Jason McCarthy were only introduced as the game slipped into injury time.

Andrew Fahy; Jack Browne, Conor Cleary, Pat O’Connor, David Fitzgerald, David McInerney, Diarmuid Ryan; Ryan Taylor, Colm Galvin; Niall Deasy (0-1 f), Cathal Malone (0-4), Tony Kelly (0-1); Podge Collins (0-1), Cathal O’Connell (0-2, 1f), Shane O’Donnell. Subs David Reidy (0-1 f) for Taylor (46 mins), John Conlon for Deasy (52 mins), Conor McGrath for Collins (58 mins), Jason McCarthy for O’Connell (69 mins), Seadna Morey for Ryan (71 mins).

Nickey Quaid; Tom Condon, Seamus Hickey, Richie English; Diarmaid Byrnes, Dan Morrissey, William O’Meara; Paul Browne (0-1), Cian Lynch; Tom Morrissey (0-4), Daragh O’Donovan, Barry O’Connell (0-1); Aaron Gillane (0-8, 5f), Seamus Flanagan (0-1), Gearoid Hegarty (0-1) Subs Barry Murphy for O’Connell (56 mins), David Reidy for Hegarty (65 mins), Andrew Latouche Cosgrove for Morrissey (70 mins).

Cathal McAllister (Cork)

For more reaction see this week’s Clare People

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