Limerick’s journey in the Munster football championship came to an end last Saturday night at the Gaelic Grounds.
The final minutes provided some drama as the team pushed forward and looked to have secured their place in the Munster final but in the end it was heartbreaking as Clare just about did enough to cross the line. Having started so poorly, Limerick can have few complaints. Trailing by nine points at half time Limerick looked clueless and were so far off the pace. They allowed Clare control the middle of the field and, given the amount of possession Clare had, they should have been out of sight and the game wrapped up.
Limerick had no answers to the pace and movement of Clare in the opening half and many of the players were clearly running on low fuel. The management should have known from their win over Waterford that some of the players were struggling but they still opted to go with them in this game and ultimately that proved to be a costly call. The sideline can be a lonely place when hard calls need to be made but it took the Limerick management a long time to make them. Eoghan O’Connor should have seen action much earlier and, in fact, should have started the game.
Over the past ten years the Limerick footballers have produced some great results and many players were well able to live with some of the big names from other counties but I think that is now beginning to fade.
Clare looked very impressive in the opening half and played with real purpose but manager Michael McDermott will have much to ponder for the next few weeks as his side wilted for the majority of the second half. Limerick could manage only three points in the first half and that was a very poor return and it was during this period that the game was lost. In fairness they did have two goal chances, one from Seamus O’Carroll and one from Stephen Kelly.
Both of these were good chances and any one of them would have put Limerick in a much better place at halftime. I don’t know what was said in the Limerick dressing room at half-time but, given the way they had played, I am sure both players and management delivered some chilling words. Those words had the desired effect as Limerick were far more honest and this time they were up for the battle.
Very few Limerick supporters held the view at half-time that the team could come back but, to their credit, they did rally and took the game to Clare which showed another side to them.
Once Limerick ran at Clare they started to get results and this suited our inside forward line. Ian Ryan was in top form and he had the Clare full backs in all sorts of trouble and the direct ball was starting to reap benefits. Limerick kicked six points in the opening 17 minutes of the second half and by this stage Clare had lost the confidence to even take a shot.
Over the next ten minutes Limerick would add another five points and now the teams were level and Limerick had outscored Clare 0- 11 to 0-2. At this stage Limerick were very much in the driving seat and when Ian Ryan kicked his tenth point with five minutes to go it looked like Limerick had done enough to win a game that for so long looked well gone from them. David Tubridy, who had played well for Clare, came to the rescue and his two late points sealed a win for Clare.
Limerick will look back and wonder how they let this game slip away from them but they won’t have to look too far because, while mistakes were made on the field, many more were made on the sideline as the match-up of players and choice of some of the starting 15 played into Clare’s hands from the very start.
Limerick will now await the qualifiers draw but I think they will find it very hard to lift themselves after this result. Many of the players did work very hard in the second half and they came very close to pulling off a great result but a few never really got into the game.
I have long since written about the state of Limerick football over the past few years and what needed to be done to try and raise the standards but now I think it will be very hard to build a team that can compete in the future.
The Munster Council, I hear, are looking for a return to the old system which would see the big two meeting in the Munster final every year and if that comes to pass then it will make it even harder to build a team going forward.
The last three or four years have seen no progress made in the league and the player base is now at a stage that will make it very hard for counties like Limerick to challenge in the long term. When Limerick were going well no real effort was made to develop our underage system and we will pay the price for that now and in the future.
Limerick are years behind what others counties are doing and unless a few brave souls show great leadership, backed by the Limerick County Board, then losing is a habit we will become accustomed to.