Seamus Flanagan of Limerick in action against Ross Hayes of Clare during the Bord Gáis Energy Munster GAA Hurling U21 Championship quarter-final match between Clare and Limerick at Cusack Park
When the final whistle sounded in Ennis on Monday evening it was Limerick that won with fourteen points to spare.
Score lines don’t always tell the entire story and while Limerick did well this was far from a crisp team performance. They have a lot of work to do before they face Tipperary in the semi final.
Once Clare went down to fourteen men only a minute into the second half it was very much advantage Limerick. They led by only two points at half time having owned the ball. They had three goal chances and in reality the game should have been over at the break.
Clare were on life support for the majority of the first half but to their credit they did hit four points in the last ten minutes of the first half and also kept Limerick scoreless during this spell.
Limerick went out of the game for that period but more over they stopped working. Indeed some players just stood up and never followed their men. The stand out player of the evening was Brian Ryan. He won the TG 4 man of the match and he well deserved it. He scored six points from play but also delivered some fine passes.
This was no five star performance from Limerick and both players and management will know that. They won with plenty to spare but for almost forty five minutes Clare battled but overall this was a poor Clare team.
From a physicality point of view Limerick had the edge but they also had to work a little less for their scores. Clare have struggled at U-21 level over the past few years and even in Clare there was little hope for this team. They showed some grit and worked hard at times but once they lost a man they really had no hope. They needed all players on the field but they also needed to score a goal to really challenge Limerick. Only once did they really look like scoring a goal whereas Limerick missed about five goal chances.
Clare got a grip with ten minutes to go to half time. Their half backline started to win some good possession and it was a surprise to their own supporters that only two points separated the teams at the break.
There was surprise in Clare with some of the team selections and early in the game the Clare management made some changes. Padraic O’Loughlin made a difference and most people were surprised he failed to start.
Limerick were very much on top after twenty minutes. The quality of play wasn’t great but despite this Limerick were the better team and were ahead 0-8 to 0-3 after twenty minutes. Seamus Flanagan was busy, so too was the impressive Darren O’Connell while Brian Ryan dominated and was very accurate. John Flynn stood out and continues to show promise. Kyle Hayes was on a lot of ball and was commanding overall.
Paddy O’Loughlin scored a massive point in the opening half but I am not convinced midfield is his best position. Mikey Mackey was busy as his partner but Limerick will be more severely tested against Tipperary in this vital area of the pitch. By the third quarter there was only three points between the teams after Limerick scored a few points from frees by Barry Murphy and also Brian Ryan. Seamus Flanagan also had a goal chance after Ryan had given him a great pass.
At the three quarters stage Seamus Flanagan got a goal and that really ended the game as a contest. The Feohanagh club man worked very hard for the entire evening and apart from scoring his work rate was superb. Clare were burning oil from this point on. They could only mange two points between the 45th and 64th minute. Limerick would add 2-6 in this period.
Goals from Conor Boylan and a superb skilful goal by Mark O’Dwyer closed the game out. O’Dwyer and Michael Houlihan have more to offer this team and on the evidence of what we saw in Ennis places are up for grabs. Limerick now have time on their side and Tipperary will be a far more difficult challenge. Winning this game should benefit Limerick whereas Tipperary have no opening round game.
For a long time now I have said that Kyle Hayes should be the first choice centre back for Limerick. Once again he showed in this game that he has the skill set to command this position. He looks in control and from here he can drive a team forward. Last year was a heavy year on Hayes for both club and county and such efforts saw him out of action for some time. He is back in form and this game will stand to him.
Many of the players in this game are busy off the field with exams and I question the need to play this game given that the semi final against Tipperary will not take place till June. The Limerick County Board didn’t think too much about player welfare either when they played the U-21 County Final on Wednesday.
Players from Doon and Kilmallock many of which will have exams and only two nights after they played in Ennis shows a lack of respect at the highest level.
Exams are very important to young players and many parents made contact with me this week to share their dissatisfaction and disappointment with the Limerick County Board.
The GAA is important but exams are key to the direction and opportunities afforded to players in the future. This is something the GAA in general needs to look at.
Some of the Limerick players had exams last Tuesday morning in Dublin and elsewhere. The entire fixtures calendar is in a mess and sadly there is a great lack of direction from the top.
The GAA are losing players and more and more top players are walking away from the county stage. This trend will continue and it’s also filtering down to clubs. Players are vital to the life blood of the association but they have been forgotten about by those that should know better.
This Saturday evening Johnny Murphy takes a major step forward in his refereeing career when he takes charge of All Ireland champions Galway and Offaly in the opening round of the Leinster championship.
It’s no surprise to any of us that have seen him operate locally but he has made steady progress over the past two years. The referee panel was reduced this year by Croke Park and it shows the progress Murphy has made.
He now moves to the bigger stage and with that comes more pressure but Johnny Murphy always shows respect for players and that has served him well up to now. Limerick has a great tradition of producing top referees and it’s great to see it continue. For his club Ballylanders its also a big occasion and I wish him well in the next part of his journey at this level.
For more of Martin's columns see www.limerickleader.ie