In previous years Clare had struggled to overcome the challenge of near neighbours Limerick in the Munster Senior Football Championship, but not on this occasion as Colm Collins’ men eased their way to a semi-final clash against Kerry in Killarney.
Munster Senior Football Ch. Quarter Final Limerick 0-14 Clare 1-23
A major disappointment was the 2,304 attendance in the Gaelic Grounds to herald the beginning of this year’s Munster Senior Football Championship which was more akin to a national league game in the depths of winter. Clare made a positive start despite an early wide from Jamie Malone and led by 0-4 to 0-1 after Eoin Cleary opened the scoring in the first minute. Keelan Sexton and Pearse Lillis added further points as Sean McSweeney responded for Limerick from a placed ball.
Limerick were under pressure with just Patrick Begley a solitary figure in the Clare half of the field for much of the half. Indeed it wasn’t until the 11th minute that the Shannonsiders struck a first wide from only their second meaningful attack. Limerick’s blanket defence did little for the game as Clare always looked more threatening on the attack without ever really getting the better of Donal O’Sullivan.
A surging run through the centre by Jamie Malone, a constant thorn in Limerick’s side, ended with his effort flying over the bar after 14 minutes which was dominated in the main by the visitors. Eoin Cleary added Clare’s sixth score as the omens appeared dark for Billy Lee’s men. The mood worsened for Limerick when Kieran Malone found the net past Limerick goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan. The home side responded with a Jamie Lee point to go 1-6 to 0-2 in arrears by the 20th minute of the opening half.
Danny Neville and Eoin Cleary exchanged points by the 25th minute as the game’s tempo decreased markedly. Just as it appeared that a white flag would be raised, the home side came thundering back into the game with four points in as many minutes to halve Clare’s lead. Sean McSweeney, Jamie Lee, Danny Neville and Paul White were the scorers before Kieran Malone settled Clare nerves with a much-needed score.
Eamonn Tubridy was the first half hero for the visitors after a point-blank save to deny a certain goal from Jamie Lee in the 30th minute. After this let off, Limerick did not look like scoring any more after their five-minute burst. David Tubridy stretched Clare five clear from play in the 33rd minute and at the interval Colm Collins’ men led by 1-9 to 0-7 despite dominating 20 minutes of the first half.
Limerick struck for two points early in the new half courtesy of Jamie Lee and Sean McSweeney to cut Clare’s lead to a goal by the 40th minute. It was as good as it got for the home side who simply failed to compete from then on as Limerick were outscored by 0-14 to 0-5 for the last 25 minutes.
Points from Kieran Malone and Eimhin Courtney plus a great effort by Cathal O’Connor brought Clare back into the ascendancy and from this point, they never looked like leaking any further scores to cause undue concern. Eoin Cleary struck a brace inside two minutes and by the 55th minute, Limerick were eight behind. Fortunately for them, Donal O’Sullivan denied Jamie Malone a second Clare goal.
Limerick rallied with a point before David Tubridy found the target as Gearoid O’Brien replaced Keelan Sexton in the Clare attack and added a point before Limerick began to empty the bench. That didn’t prevent Kieran Malone from extending his tally to 1-3 in the final ten minutes.
Debutant Conal Ó hAinifein raised a white flag in the 64th minute before Josh Ryan, Limerick’s one-man attack, had his third point. Clare introduced Eimhin Courtney, Gavin Cooney and Martin O’Leary to lead by double scores entering five minutes of injury time. Late addition Conor Finucane struck for his second point as spectators bemoaned the extended injury time due to a large number of replacements.
Clare has earned a semi-final pairing away to Kerry in the semi0final of the Munster Senior Football Championship while this Limerick side, which seems to have many issues off the pitch, will face into the qualifiers. The Banner was served well by Cillian Brennan, Eoghan Collins, Pearse Lillis, top scorer Kieran Malone, Eoin Cleary, Eimhin Courtney, David Tubridy. Young players made their mark on the day, as five of the six replacements got on the score sheet from a total of 13 scorers in total.