THE Limerick minor hurlers crashed out of the Munster championship on Friday night when they lost to 1-19 to 2-14 to Clare after extra time.
Twelve months ago Limerick conceded three goals in the opening 10 minutes and despite a magnificent fight back, they ultimately lost to Waterford.
This time round, Limerick needed two injury-time goals to force extra-time but at the end it was Clare that found the extra scores to continue on their quest of a hat-trick of provincial minor hurling crowns.
In search of answers, Limerick won’t need to look beyond the statistic of 17 wides (compared to just four for Clare) over the course of the 80 plus minutes of hurling.
To be fair, there would not have been much complaints from Limerick, had Clare secured the win in normal time.
The home side in Cusack Park in Ennis led 1-14 to 0-11 as the game entered injury-time and although the wides tally read 13-1, Clare had been the stronger outfit for long periods.
Conscious of last season Limerick wanted a good start but it was Clare that raced into a 1-2 to no score lead inside six minutes with Bobby Duggan notched their goal. The Clarecastle teenager was to finish with 1-12 and it was his accuracy that proved the difference.
It was midway through the opening half before Limerick found their feet with just a Brian Finn points in the ninth minute in reply to 1-4 for Clare.
And, Limerick were playing with the wind in the opening half.
Clare looked the more composed and played to a pattern, while Limerick were uneasy in possession and failed to delivery quality ball into the attack.
Limerick came to life with four successive points midway through the half but still by the break Clare were 1-8 to 0-6 ahead.
There was one late change before the break for Limerick and another two at half time as Shane Fitzgibbon, Ger Cunningham and Mike Galligan looked to bring their side to life.
Two early scores had Clare seven points clear but then Limerick showed real character to battle back.
Clare were to score just four points in the final 28 minutes of the half, when backed by the wind.
Donovan and Hannon were now on top in midfield, while the defence were first to everything.
Eoin O’Farrell fired over twice – either side of a superb finish from Diarmuid Byrnes, and Limerick had the lead down to four points with 10 minutes to play.
But Clare hit back to leave six between the sides with six minutes to play.
Try and they did Limerick couldn’t find the range.
Until the dramatic ending. Kevin O’Brien was toppled in the goalmouth and corner back Shane O’Brien was sent off for a second yellow card for the foul.
Ronan Lynch crashed the penalty low to the net as the stopwatch ticked into injury-time.
It looked to be merely a consolation score until another twist.
Limerick won a free in their own half back line and it was mishit. Possession fell to Donovan and he handpassed to Liam O’Sullivan. Centre back Barry O’Connell had thrown caution to the wind and gone forward and when the powerfully built defender received the sliothar from O’Sullivan he had only one thing on his mind. Outside the ’21 O’Connell drove at the heart of the defence and as he swept aside tackles he kicked to the net.
With that came the final whistle and with darkness falling it was into two periods of 10-minutes of extra-time.
Limerick played with the wind in the first period and Donovan had two points. His second was the first time in the game that Limerick were ahead. But alas, Clare replied and were 1-17 to 2-13 ahead at the change of ends.
Sub Evan Fitzgerald had the only Limerick score of the second period and fittingly Bobby Duggan had the final say with his ninth pointed free to deny Limerick.
SCORERS – Limerick: Ronan Lynch 1-4 (1-0 penalty, three frees, one ’65), Barry O’Connell 1-0, Eoin O’Farrell, Darragh Donovan 0-2 each, Brian Finn, Liam O’Sullivan, Kevin O’Brien, Cian Lynch, Diarmuid Byrnes, Evan Fitzgerald 0-1 each. Clare: Bobby Duggan 1-12 (0-9 frees), Shane Taylor 0-2, Niall Deasy, Alex Morey, Conor Deasy, Jamie Shanahan, Aidan McGuane 0-1 each.
LIMERICK – Darragh Stapleton; Shane Irwin, Richie English, James Carrig; Diarmuid Byres, Barry O’Connell, Diarmuid Dee; Brian Finn, Kieran Cleary; Ronan Lynch (capt), David Condron, Cian Lynch; Liam O’Sullivan, Kevin O’Brien, Jack Kelleher. Subs: Eoin O’Farrell for Kelleher (25mins), Jody Hannon for Finn (h-t), Darragh Donovan for Cleary (h-t), Bryan Griffin for Condron (36mins), Pat Ryan for Griffin, inj (47mins), Andrew La Touche Congrave for O’Sullivan (e-t), Brian Finn for Ryan (e-t), Pat Ryan for O’Brien (e-t, h-t), Evan Fitzgerald for Ronan Lynch (e-t, 14mins), Kieran Cleary for Dee (e-t, 15mins).
CLARE – Eibhear Quilligan; Shane O’Brien (capt), Brian Carey, Gearoid Ryan; Aidan McGuane, Conor Cleary, Eoin Quirke; David Conroy, Alex Morey; Shane Taylor, Niall Deasy, Jamie Shanahan; Conor Deasy, Shane O’Donnell, Bobby Duggan. Subs: Stephen Ward for Niall Deasy (41mins), Jamie Malone for Conroy (59mins), Aidan O’Gorman for Shane Taylor (61mins), Shane Taylor for Ward (e-t, 6mins).
REFEREE – John O’Brien (Tipperary).