Summer returned to Cusack Park on Sunday in front of a crowd of 2,968 for the first of this year’s Munster championship games against near neighbours Limerick.

Clare 1-13 Limerick 1-12 Munster Senior Football Quarter Final

Limerick started as 7/2 outsiders for the provincial quarter final against a Clare side that excelled in 2016, reaching the All Ireland SFC quarter final. The game’s opening score fell to Keelan Sexton from a free 45 metres from Donal O’Sullivan’s goal  in the third minute.

The equaliser was quick in its arrival and spectacular in its execution as Seamus Carroll pointed from a sideline. Shane Brennan raced through the centre before releasing Sean Collins and the manager’s son made no mistake with a clinical finish over the bar. David Tubridy added Clare’s third score.

A brilliant through ball found Eoin Cleary with plenty of time to sidestep his marker and Donal O’Sullivan before planting the ball into the Limerick net to open a 1-3 to 0-1 lead. Danny Neville struck back with an impressive left-foot effort for the first Limerick attack of note in ten minutes.

Jamie Malone

Jamie Malone

Ger Collins was on hand in the 15th minute for his side’s third point after a good pass from Carroll into open space as the Clare defence was stretched a little on the wings. Keelan Sexton grabbed his second point, from the kick-off Gordon Kelly conceded a free that was sent over the bar by Ger Collins to leave just a goal, 1-4 to 0-4 between the sides with 19 minutes played.

David Tubridy and James Naughton swopped scores by the 21st minute before a brilliant effort by Keelan Sexton resulted in a Clare point. Limerick hit back and it took a solid effort from Tubridy to restore Clare’s shaky lead. At the break the home side led by 1-8 to 0-6.

Clare started the second half with a smartly taken point from the boot of Eoin Cleary to go double scores ahead of their neighbours. Keelan Sexton set up the onrushing Jamie Malone who was tugged as he kicked the ball inches wide of Donal O’Sullivan’s post. Clare kicked their 12th wide of the game as opposed to 5 for Limerick and 15 minutes lapsed without a score before Danny Neville was on the mark for the visitors.

Keelan Sexton’s high lobbing effort was waved wide but David Tubridy rallied with Clare’s first score in 17 minutes. Sean O’Dea came all the way up from corner back to keep Limerick in the game before Sexton kicked another Clare wide. It was left to the trusty left boot of Eoin Cleary to restore a six point lead from a free. Seamus O’Carroll closed the gap to five in the 59th minute.

Eoin Cleary's goal

Eoin Cleary’s goal

Donal O’Sullivan pulled off a stunning save from Eoin Cleary before Iain Corbett rallied with a great score for Limerick, only four points divided the sides. Eoin Cleary and O’Carroll swopped minors with seven minutes of normal time remaining and Clare holding a 1-12 to 0-11 advantage.

A free from Cleary as the game entered the final five minutes kept Limerick five points adrift but playing better, the quality of fare improved markedly in the last fifteen minutes. A calamity of errors allowed Limerick to get within a point deep into injury time as substitute Josh Ryan hit the Clare net.

Luckily for home side they managed to survive and the sending off of Danny Neville helped as the clock ticked towards the final whistle. Clare will now host Kerry in Ennis on Sunday week.

Last year their bus broke down en route to Killarney for the corresponding fixture. On the day Clare played quite adequately against strong opposition. One would expect likewise in Cusack park although Kerry should advance to a final against either Cork or Tipperary.

Colm Collins looks relieved at the end of the close fought encounter against near neighbours Limerick

Colm Collins looks relieved at the end of the close fought encounter against near neighbours Limerick

Best for Colm Collins’ side included Eoin Cleary, Keelan Sexton, Dean Ryan, Shane Brennan, Martin McMahon, Pearse Lillis, David Tubridy and Gary Brennan. Limerick will prove difficult opponents in Limerick against any lower level opponents in the qualifier series. Their best included solid displays from Seamus O’Carroll, Donal O’Sullivan, Iain Corbett, Danny Neville, Josh Ryan, Sean O’Dea, Ger Collins, and Johnny McCarthy.

CLARE: Joe Hayes (Lissycasey), Gordon Kelly (Miltown), Kevin Hartnett (Meelick), Martin McMahon (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Pearse Lillis (Cooraclare 0-1), Dean Ryan (Eire Óg), John Hayes (Kilrush), Gary Brennan (Clondegad), Shane Brennan (Clondegad) Cathal O’Connor (Coolmeen), Sean Collins (Cratloe 0-1), Jamie Malone (Corofin), Keelan Sexton (Kilmurry Ibrickane 0-3), Eoin Cleary (Miltown 1-4), David Tubridy (Doonbeg) (0-4). Subs: Liam Markham (Cratloe) for O’Connor, Gearoid O’Brien (Kilrush) for Collins, Seanie Malone (Miltown) for Tubridy, Darren Nagle (Liscannor) for Harnett.
LIMERICK: Donal O’Sullivan (Monaleen); Daniel Daly (Fr Caseys), Johnny McCarthy (St Kierans), Sean O’Dea (Kilteely-Dromkeen 0-1); Paul White (Rathkeale), Iain Corbett (Newcastle West 0-1), Brian Fanning (Pallasgreen); Darragh Treacy (St Kierans 0-1), David Ward (Fr Caseys); Peter Nash (Kildimo-Pallaskenry), James Naughton (St Senan’s 0-1), Garrett Noonan (Dromcollogher-Broadford); Seamus O’Carroll (Castleknock, Dublin 0-3), Danny Neville (Ballysteen 0-2), Ger Collins (Monaleen 0-2). Subs: Josh Ryan (Oola 1-1) for Ward, Sean McSweeney (St Kierans) for Nash, Jamie Lee (Newcastlewest) for Naughton, Tony McCarthy (Kildimo) for Daly, Padraig Scanlon (Glin) for Collins, Padraig Quinn (Monaleen) for O’Carroll.
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).