Clare 1-22 Limerick 0-18
Clare secured their place in the All Ireland Final for the first time since 2002 with a comprehensive, well deserved victory over Limerick, setting up a rematch with Cork in the process, who so impressively knocked them out of the Munster Championship in June.
The sides came out fifteen minutes late after a cracking minor match went to extra time. In truth Limerick never really emerged from the dressing room in the first half! The other hangover from the minor match was a malfunctioning Hawk eye that was abandoned for the senior match as a result.
Clare were never once headed by Limerick who failed to get out of first gear in the first half. Declan Hannon missed several reasonably straightforward early frees and the confidence seemed to seep from the young forward and Limerick as a whole. The intelligence & intensity that was the hallmark of their Munster success was notably absent. With Pat Donnellan playing a sweeper role (Conor Ryan lined out at centre back), Limerick seemed intent on playing the Banner captain into the game by hitting aimless ball down into his channel. Limerick inexcusably had no idea what to do with their spare man.
Colin Ryan was unerring from placed balls and it meant that when Darach Honan rather fortuitously kicked a goal in the thirteenth minute Clare were firmly in the driving seat. Limerick hit ten wides in total in the first half and their shot selection was criminal. Both teams struggled to win possession, with the middle third extremely congested. But Clare succeeded in dispossessing Limerick on numerous occasions and were able to take advantage by striking impressively from distance, principally through the inspirational Tony Kelly & Podge Collins.
John Allen & his backroom team gave the majority of half time on the sideline of Croker, perhaps betraying their bewilderment at the first half performance & more importantly their lack of ideas. When Limerick resurfaced for the second half their attitude was much better and Dowling who took over the free taking duties from Hannon hit three frees to briefly raise hopes of a Limerick recovery. It was short lived as Clare showed great composure and continued to knock over scores methodically with tremendous accuracy & only hit four wides over the course of seventy minutes.
The Clare half back line was dominant throughout and the Limerick forward line struggled to get into the game. A lot of ball broke in this sector and a Clare defender was invariably first onto the ball to intelligently launch attack after attack with both McInerney & O’ Donovan impressing in this facet of the game. Amazingly Limerick persisted with the long ball particularly from puck outs, long after it was obvious that they were having no joy in this area. They needed to carry the ball an extra ten yards and try to take the Clare half back line out of play. There was an air of inevitability about this one from very early in the second half and the sense that Limerick needed a goal to truly ignite their challenge persisted throughout. Ryan continued to pop over his frees and Clare were able to comfortably stay out of touch with Limerick never really threatening Paddy Kelly’s goal.
Clare were excellent throughout and were readily able to pick out free men when coming out of defence. Limerick seemed devoid of ideas and even failed to bring the manic intensity which was in evidence earlier in the summer. Everything went right for Clare but they got what they deserved through the mastery of a game plan, one they look like they have been perfecting for much longer than just two years. It’s hard to fathom how something as old school as dropping an extra man back has bewildered both Galway & Limerick now so comprehensively. Clare will be well acquainted with Cork having already faced off against each other four times this year. The Rebels will surely be a different proposition and will be better able to throw something different at the Banner.