The Limerick hurlers bowed out of the Waterford Crystal Cup on Sunday when they lost 1-14 to 0-11 to All Ireland champions Clare in Sixmilebridge.
The 2014 edition of Limerick senior hurling got off with a bang last Friday week when the side whacked 10-17 through the Tralee IT goalposts in the Waterford Crystal tournament. However, the real season was expected to start on Sunday when they faced Clare in thecompetition’s quarter-final in Sixmilebridge.
Except it wasn’t the Banner team that won the All-Ireland championship. Just Pat O’Connor, a late replacement for Stephen O’Halloran, lined out in Croke Park last September. The rest came from the fringes of the 2013 panel or from the surge of underage talent popping off the conveyor belt.
It could have been the opportunity for Limerick to make a statement.
Instead, Clare’s second string won far more comfortably than the scoreline suggests. True, getting the day’s only goal, and a soft one at that, in the first minute set them up for the rest of the game. But they were never appeared threatened by their strangely flat opponents after that.
It wasn’t even a sustained effort over the entire 70 minutes. Every now and then, the tempo rose to produce a run of two or three scores before settling back into containment. During those intervals, Limerick got their chances to build up some momentum but, unlike their opponents, were incapable of moving up through the gears. Only as the game yawned to a close and in the minute divided by half-time, did they chalk up two scores in succession.
Apart from William Hickey, nothing was happening up front. With top scorer John Fitzgibbon withdrawn from the corner to act as a third midfelder, Séadna Morey and Cillian Duggan mopped up everthing coming into them. The extra man in the middle didn’t work either as Limerick at best broke even yet they continued with the formation right up to the final whistle while, all the time, they were chasing the game.
Early on, the fast passing movements from deep, which wrought havoc in the previous outing, fell apart as they were disrupted by Clare’s superior first touch.
By the end, all the bad habits of the pre-Cork management era returned as clearances were lamped up the field to nowhere, forwards ground to a halt without support and defenders lost the sightlines to keep the opposition at bay.
It may have been one of those days and it was only the Waterford Crystal but the display sent a shudder
through the thousand-odd supporters who made their way across the Shannon. On the other hand, there’s another month to go before the league and Limerick looked like a side that has yet to find sharpness of touch while it beats itself back into physical condition.
The hosts started with a bang as the game’s first movement ended with O’Connell’s lob dropping through the fingers of Barry Hennessy. Duggan and Fitzgibbon swapped their first exchange of frees before Killian Ryan striking from deep and O’Connell’s free widened the gap.
Limerick could have changed the scenery had Michael Ryan finished Graeme Mulcahy’s pass off a scything run in his side’s first serious attack before Clare took a breather to consolidate their advantage.
Three Dugganfrees, met in turn by Darragh O’Donovan and two Fitzgibbon frees kept the gap as it was despite Limerick finally finding a spark but Duggan, with two frees either side of one from play, upped the tempo coming up to the break.
William Hickey broke the sequence, Duggan replied and Fitzgibbon’s free cut the Banner’s lead to 1-9 to 0-6 before the teams headed for the dressing room.
Limerick restarted with a bit more bite and Hickey found the posts but then a couple of scuffles provoked a Clare response as Duggan struck twice from frees and once from play.
After that, the subs trooped on as Fitzgibbon and Duggan swapped frees, Duggan’s radar went on the blink as he sent the next two wide and the Banner settled back in their armchairs.
Even then, Limerick made hard going out of the extra spaces opening up. Seanie Tobin scored with his first puck after coming on but that was met by O’Connell before Tommy Quaid and Donal O’Grady brought the visitors’ tally into double figures.
SCORERS - Clare: Bobby Duggan 0-12 (nine frees), Cathal O’Connell 1-1, Killian Ryan 0-1; Limerick: John Fitzgibbon 0-5 (all frees), William Hickey 0-2, Darragh O’Donovan, Tommy Quaid, Seanie Tobin, Donal O’Grady 0-1 each.
CLARE: Donal Tuohy; Killian Ryan, Cillian Duggan, Séadna Morey; Conor Cleary, Patrick Kelly, Pat O’Connor; Liam Markham, Shane Golden; Nicky O’Connell, Cathal O’Connell, Alan O’Neill; Bobby Duggan, Conor Cooney, David Reidy. Subs: Seán Collins for Alan O’Neill (half-time), Domhnall O’Donovan for Patrick Kelly (58 mins), David O’Halloran for Conor Cooney (58 mins), Colin Ryan for Liam Markham (64 mins), Shane Gleeson for David Reidy (65 mins).
LIMERICK: Barry Hennessy; Stephen Walsh, Philip O’Loughlin, Richie English; Wayne McNamara, Cathal McNamara, Gavin O’Mahony; Paul Browne, Paudie O’Brien; William Hickey, Donal O’Grady, Darragh O’Donovan; Graeme Mulcahy, Michael Ryan, John Fitzgibbon. Subs: Seanie Tobin for
Darragh O’Donovan (52 mins), Tommy Quaid for Michael Ryan (58 mins), Barry Lynch for Stephen Walsh (65 mins), Richie McCarthy for Richie English (66 mins).
REFEREE: David Copps (Cork).