*Ian Galvin impressed when introduced late in the game. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Despite the gut-wrenching result, you would have to marvel at the occasion in the Gaelic Grounds last weekend.

There really is nothing like the GAA. Judging by the amount of ticket requests I received I think this fixture would have had no problem selling out Croke Park. 43,756 supporters packed into the Gaelic Grounds and created an electric atmosphere which set the stage for a classic. The excitement on the pitch did not disappoint as these two teams fought out a tough game which led to a thrilling finish.

While the neutral will have enjoyed this game immensely, it was a defeat which was tough to stomach from a Clare point of view. Clare have failed to win a Munster title for 25 years. Only five teams compete and each of our rivals has won it at least four times during that period: it is a very poor record for a proud hurling county. This was a great chance to correct the record but despite a horrible refereeing decision, we beat ourselves on the day.

I questioned before the game as to whether agreeing to play this game in the Gaelic Grounds was the wisest decision. The way the game played out, proved that it wasn’t. Under intense pressure, the player who can remain calm and execute are the ones who succeed. Clare’s scoring efficiency was poor while the Limerick players were unaffected and looked comfortable in their surroundings. We took the wrong option regularly, shot when there were free men in better positions and took on crazy shots from way out the field.

When Mark Rodgers pounced on a rebound to put the ball in the Limerick net, Clare had all the momentum. The surge in energy of the Clare players right around the field was evident while Limerick did go back into themselves for the last ten minutes of the first half. We failed to capitalise on this though, opting for two crazy shots from our half backline rather than feeding the in-form Rodgers and missing two good scoring chances close to the Limerick goal. What could have been a six or seven-point lead at half time was only three.

This was in stark contrast to Limerick’s approach when they hit a purple patch at the beginning of the second half. Aaron Gillane had Cian Nolan in big trouble on the edge of the Clare square. Limerick hit high quality ball after ball into space in front of him and allowed him to make hay. While Clare had been selfish in their shooting prior to half time, Limerick players all around the field prioritised getting good ball into the danger area and punishing Clare.

Cian Nolan was a surprise start for Clare. Nolan is a tenacious defender and had a tough job to do in picking up Aaron Gillane. He started well and rose to the challenge in the early proceedings. However, having not played many minutes this year, he looked a little caught for match fitness at times. Once the referee singled him out for fouling and gave a yellow card, he was in an untenable position.

To beat Limerick, you have to go toe-to-toe with them, and Clare management have done well over the last couple of years to set the team up to success. This is a high-risk strategy as it means more room than you would like is left in front of your full backline. You need fast, athletic, tenacious players back there to compete to the best of their ability.

When Cian Nolan was carded, he could no longer play on the edge and that is when a change was needed. Clare were too slow to make this change and it allowed Limerick to rack up a score early in the second half. When Seadna Morey was introduced, he improved things massively and brought Clare back into the game. It is just a shame that the change took so long.

Ian Galvin’s introduction was also crucial to keeping Clare in the game. Ian will have been disappointed with how things worked out in the Cork fixture and I’m delighted on a personal level that he got a chance to show what he can do. On a day when our finishing was poor and we had a lot of uncharacteristic misses, Ian came in and slotted two points. He made what we had laboured to do all game look easy. Ian’s scoring ability will be crucial for this team going forward and I hope he will see more time on the field.

Brian Lohan and his management team have instilled a never say die attitude in the players and they kept going to the final whistle, pegging back a significant deficit in the last ten minutes. The referee made a terrible decision in not awarding a free for two clear infractions in the last play of the game. Both Tony Kelly and Adam Hogan were clearly fouled but the referee opted not to give a free. Only Liam Gordon will know why he chose to do this. It’s possible he felt the pressure from the home crowd after a premature pitch invasion and bottled the decision.

After last year’s epic Munster final, Clare looked empty in their next two fixtures, and it’s up to the leaders on the team to ensure this doesn’t happen again. The challenge now will be to lift the players again and keep energy levels high. A Munster title would have been a huge achievement but an All-Ireland is better and we showed we are good enough to win it. Clare will have learned a lot from Sunday’s game and if they can improve from it and beat Dublin, they could play Kilkenny in another All-Ireland semi-final.

Last year’s Munster Final loss had a different feel to this one and in some ways, we are in a better position now. Last year it seemed as though no matter how well we played or what we did this Limerick team were just too good to be beaten. This year, the game was there to be won and we beat ourselves. The sense that we left this one behind us could drive this group on to achieving the ultimate goal and getting a crack at redemption.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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