*Photograph: Sport Action Photography
Not even an unprecedented 17 point masterclass from Tony Kelly could prevent neighbours Limerick from securing the double boost of National League honours and a Munster Semi-Final spot in Semple Stadium, Thurles this afternoon.
Venue: Semple Stadium, Thurles
Kelly’s remarkable resistance ensured that Clare were locked at 0-15 to 0-15 by the break. However, Limerick’s superior threat and balance did eventually storm to the surface in the second period as backed by the conditions, they would outscore their neighbours by 0-21 to 1-08 to run out convincing victors.
In truth, with only Kelly and Shane O’Donnell remaining from Clare’s top eight that started last year’s derby with Limerick, Clare were always going to be up against it to match a well-oiled Limerick side that would flex their considerable muscles with 26 points from play stemming from 11 different scorers.
Clare’s spirited defiance eventually ran out of steam in contrast to the holders who only seemed to grow in confidence and swagger as the second half developed. Consequently, while the spoils were fully deserved, Limerick finished with eight of the last ten points to flatteringly flesh out the final margin.
It was all so different in the opening period however as the elusive Kelly caused Limerick no end of headaches to raid for 12 points and more pointedly match their opponents on eight occasions to dictate a 0-15 to 0-15 half-time stalemate.
However, that pattern would irrevocably alter immediately on the restart as a spurned Limerick set a blistering pace to pick off the first six points of the new half in just five minutes through Graeme Mulcahy, Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes, Aaron Gillane, Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey.
That foreboding blitz put clear daylight between the sides at 0-21 to 0-15. So while Clare did rally once more, inevitably through Kelly (2) along with a poacher’s goal for Ryan Taylor in the 46th minute to lessen the gap to just the minimum, Clare simply weren’t able to sustain that challenge. Instead, an angered Limerick responded with six of the next seven points to restore a six point cushion entering the final quarter.
And with Limerick’s scoring threat coming from a multitude of sources, there were just too many fires for a flagging Clare to put out as Gearoid Hegarty and Kyle Hayes in particular relished in the increasing space provided.
Indeed, with the finish line in sight, Limerick put on the afterburners with a late eight point burst to soar to back-to-back National League crowns along with a successful first defence of their Munster crown.
Clare now revert to the backdoor route whereas Limerick face All-Ireland champions Tipperary in Pairc Uí Chaoimh next Sunday at the penultimate stage of the provincial championship.
Scorers for Limerick: Aaron Gillane (0-12, 9f, 1’65); Gearoid Hegarty (0-5); Tom Morrissey (0-4); Peter Casey, Kyle Hayes, Diarmaid Byrnes (0-3 each); Graeme Mulcahy (0-2); Cian Lynch, Declan Hannon, Seamus Flanagan, Pat Ryan (0-1 each)
Scorers for Clare: Tony Kelly (0-17, 9f); Ryan Taylor (1-1); Cathal Malone, Diarmuid Ryan (0-2 each); Stephen O’Halloran (0-1)
1: Nicky Quaid (Effin)
2: Sean Finn (Bruff)
3: Dan Morrissey (Ahane)
4: Barry Nash (South Liberties)
5: Diarmaid Byrnes (Patrickswell)
6: Declan Hannon (Adare) (Captain)
7: Paddy O’Loughlin (Kilmallock)
8: Cian Lynch (Patrickswell)
9: William O’Donoghue (Na Piarsaigh)
10: Gearoid Hegarty (St. Patrick’s)
11: Kyle Hayes (Kildimo/Pallaskenry)
12: Tom Morrissey (Ahane)
13: Graeme Mulcahy (Kilmallock)
14: Aaron Gillane (Patrickswell)
15: Peter Casey (Na Piarsaigh)
23: Darragh O’Donovan for T. Morrissey (57)
21: Seamus Flanagan for Casey (59)
26: Pat Ryan for Mulcahy (64)
25: David Reidy for O’Donoghue (64)
18: Jerome Boylan for Nash (72)
1: Eibhear Quilligan (Feakle)
2: Jack Browne (Ballyea)
3: Conor Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown Malbay)
18: Rory Hayes (Wolfe Tones)
6: Patrick O’Connor (Tubber)
5: Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge)
4: Stephen O’Halloran (Clarecastle)
8: David McInerney (Tulla) (Captain)
14: Cathal Malone (Sixmilebridge)
10: Diarmuid Ryan (Cratloe)
11: David Reidy (Éire Óg)
12: David Fitzgerald (Inagh-Kilnamona)
9: Tony Kelly (Ballyea)
15: Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg)
13: Ryan Taylor (Clooney-Quin)
20: Aron Shanagher (Wolfe Tones) for Fitzgerald (HT)
7: Aidan McCarthy (Inagh-Kilnamona) for Reidy (55)
19: Domhnall McMahon (Michael Cusack’s) for McInerney (63)
21: Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones) for Taylor (70)
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)