BATTLING Limerick have claimed Shannonside bragging rights in the Munster SHC after a 1-19 to 2-15 victory over Clare in Thurles.
The one point victory books a provincial semi final against Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds on June 21.
While this wasn’t anything pretty it was a battling, intense display from start to finish for TJ Ryan’s men.
Three times in the second half Limerick were hit for goals but responded to each impressively in another show of great character.
In the end it was John Fitzgibbon that proved the match winner with a 67th minute point.
In front of 21,493 Limerick won the toss and opted to play with the breeze into the town goal in Semple Stadium.
It was a stop-start first half with plenty vigour and intensity but little free-flowing hurling.
Limerick led 0-9 to 0-8 in a half dominated by free-takers Shane Dowling (5) and Colin Ryan (6).
Limerick’s best were newcomers Cian Lynch and Seanie O’Brien.
Limerick’s Paudie O’Brien had Limerick off the mark after just 55-seconds and two Dowling frees had TJ Ryan’s side 0-3 to 0-1 up after seven minutes.
But Colin Ryan and Tony Kelly had the game level in the ninth minute.
Then came three in a row for Limerick with Dowling frees wither side of a fine Lynch effort.
When Lynch had his second it was 0-7 to 0-4 with 19-minutes played.
But Limerick wides were mounting at a time when O’Brien and James Ryan were giving them a midfield platform. Possession was overplayed in the tight confines of the middle third while other ball was aimlessly struck towards goal.
Shane Golden and frees from Colin Ryan edged Clare closer but Seanie O’Brien hit back for Limerick.
But much of the fist half drama came in injury time when Donal O’Grady was felled by a hurley lunge from Pat Donnellan amid a melee in front of the Limerick dugout. The referee blew for half time to end the melee but called back Clare captain Donnellan to show him a straight red card.
But it was Clare that started the second half the better with experienced duo John Conlon and Colin Ryan among the scores..
Clare were ahead 0-12 to 0-11 in the 40th minute.
But Limerick hit back in style with Graeme Mulcahy, Tom Condon and Dowling (free) finding successive points to return a two point lead with just 47-minutes gone in the contest.
It was now end-to-end but Limerick were about to strike for the winning line.
The all-important Limerick goal came in the 52nd minute. Dowling delivered along ball into the goalmouth and Mulcahy climbed high to ensure the goalkeeper Patrick Kelly didn’t gather cleanly. The ball broke and Mulcahy swept to the net.
That had Limerick 1-16 to 0-13 clear.
But they didn’t put the game to bed and back came The Banner.
Within 60-seconds sub Aaron Cunningham crashed home the first of two top class goals.
Tony Kelly added a point and Clare looked to be gained momentum.
Especially when Seanie Tobin was sent off in the 54th minute to make it 14 v 14. Tobin was just introduced and got involved with marker Pat O’Connor and was shown a straight red card in an incident not seen by many but O’Connor was shown a yellow.
But it was Cian Lynch that stopped their run with a fine point to copperfasten his Man of the Match display on his debut.
Then 10-minutes from time Dowling had his 11th point of the day. Their was confusion over the close range free and afterwards the Na Piarsaigh man admitted that the score was actually wide.
At 1-18 to 1-14 with seven minutes to play Limerick looked in control but again Clare hit back.
Again Cunningham struck for goal.
This time Shane O’Donnell added a point and it was 1-18 to 2-15 with five minutes to play.
Five subs entered the fray in these closing minutes but it was Fitzgibbon that popped up with the winner.
SCORERS: Limerick: Shane Dowling 0-11 (10frees, 1 ‘65), Graeme Mulcahy 1-1, Cian Lynch 0-3, Paudie O’Brien, Seanie O’Brien, Tom Condon and John Fitzgibbon 0-1 each. Clare: Aaron Cunningan 2-1, Colin Ryan 0-7 (5frees), John conlon and Tony Kelly 0-2 each, Shane Golden, David Reidy and Shane O’Donnell 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: Barry Hennessy; Stephen Walsh, Richie Mccarthy, Seamus Hickey; Seanie O’Brien, Gavin O’Mahony, Tom Condon; James Ryan, Paudie O’Brien; Donal O’Grady, Declan Hannon, Paul Browne; Graeme Mulcahy, Shane Dowling, Cian Lynch. Subs: Seanie Tobin for Donal O’Grady (54mins), Dan Morrissey for Stephen Walsh (62mins), Wayne McNamara for Seamus Hickey (65mins), John Fitzgibbon for James Ryan (65mins). Kevin Downes for Paul Browne (70mins).
CLARE: Patrick Kelly; Domhnaill O’Donovan,Cian Dillon, David McInerney; Jack Browne, Conor Ryan, Pat O’Connor; Patrick Donnellan, Shane Golden; John Conlon, Tony Kelly, Colin Ryan; Gearoid O’Connell, Shane O’Donnell, David Reidy: Subs: Aaron Cunningham for David Reidy (47mins), Seadna Morey for Domhnaill O’Donovan (54mins), Bobby Duggan for Gearoid O’Connell (57mins), Darach Honan for Shane Golden (67mins), Nicky O’Connell for Tony Kelly, inj (68mins).
REFEREE: Colm Lyons (Cork).