LIMERICK fell at the first hurdle of the Munster U-21 football championship when they lost 2-7 to 0-10 to Clare in the Gaelic Grounds on Wednesday night.
A goal in either half from Clare senior hurler Cathal McInerney (formerly of Ardscoil Ris) proved to be the difference between the sides in the Gaelic Grounds.
These sides have now met in the opening round of the U-21 championship for four successive years and Limerick had emerged victors in the past two seasons.
Last year, Limerick needed an injury time goal to help them towards an extra-time win.
This Wednesday night, Limerick were once again left chasing a dramatic late equaliser and it almost came when Ian Corbett crashed a 25-metre shot off the upright deep into injury time. Twelve months ago it was his Newcastle West club-mate James Kelly who had proved the Limerick saviour.
Kelly was underage for the 2012 campaign but didn’t commit to the panel and his loss, as well as that of Michael Sheehan (studying in the US) was crucial. Both played senior championship football with Limerick last season and would have been integral players at U-21 level.
But still this was a game that Limerick could have won. In the end it was Cratloe’s McInerney (grandson of Tom McInerney, one of the founding members of Na Piarsaigh) that divided the teams.
Both sides set out to play fast open football - at times not helped by a fussy referee, who handed out eight yellow cards and then showed red to Limerick Ian Corbett in the dying seconds.
The two sets of managements withdrew players into defence and placed much emphasis on their full forward line for scores and here Clare’s McInerney came into his own with 2-1 from play. At the other end of the field Limerick appeared to over play the ball at times and never asked the Clare goalkeeper to make a serious save.
Limerick senior player Eoghan O’Connor had the home side off the mark after just 30 seconds.
Jamie Lee and captain Derry O’Connor had other early Limerick scores but with Darren O’Neill, Enda Finucane and Stephen Tierney on the mark for Clare the sides were level 0-3 each after the opening quarter.
Then came the Clare goal and McInerney and Tierney both added points with their second scores of the game for a five point lead for Clare.
With half time approaching Limerick fought back and points from O’Connor and Ian Corbett left it 1-5 to 0-5 at half time.
Limerick again started the second half on top with Francis O’Riordan, Derry O’Connor and two Eoghan O’Connor frees on target to level the game 0-9 to 1-6 entering the final quarter.
Then McInerney struck for his second goal in the game’s 48th minute.
But that was to be the last Clare score as they led 2-7 to 0-9.
Limerick went in search of an equaliser but could only find an Eoghan O’Connor free 10-minutes from time.
Ian Corbett and Francis O’Riordan tried for late goals but there was to be no extra time like last season as Clare held on this time round.
SCORERS: Limerick: Eoghan O’Connor 0-5 (4frees), Derry O’Connor 0-2, Jamie Lee, Ian Corbett, Francis O’Riordan 0-1 each. Clare: Cathal McInerney 2-1, Stephen Tierney 0-3, Darren O’Neill 0-2 (1free), Enda Finucane 0-1.
LIMERICK – James Brouder; Aidan Morrissey, Aidan O’Sullivan, Conor McLoughlin; James O’Meara, Tom McCarthy, Sean Sheahan; Darragh Treacy, Ian Corbett; Derry O’Connor, Jack Donovan, Francis O’Riordan; Denis O’Dea, Eoghan O’Connor, Jamie Lee. Subs: John Lane for Denis O’Dea (45mins), Darragh Bonfil for Jack Donovan (51mins), Padraig Quinn for Darragh Treacy (28mins), Thomas Quilligan for Jamie Lee (58mins).
CLARE – Wesley De Loughery; Enda Ralph, Eamon Malone, Marty O’Connor; Seanie Malone, Stephen Collins, Stephen Tierney; Keith O’Connor, Conor Ryan, Enda Finucane, Shane Brennan, Sean O’Driscoll; Padraic Collins, Darren O’Neill, Cathal McInerney. Subs: Matt O’Shea for Sean O’Driscoll (35mins), Micheal Malone for Keith O’Connor (43mins), John Looney for Conor Ryan (50mins), Ronan Linnane for Enda Finucane (59mins), Oisin Vaughan for Enda Ralph (62mins).
REFEREE – Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary).