John Kiely’s men got two deserved points on a night when a new face shone brightest.
By Sean Finnan
New starts and returning faces were the headlines for the Limerick team this week but all were outshined on their jubilant return by debutant Michael Houlihan who hit Clare for 12 points in a 1-27 to 2-18 victory.
A cagey start saw Limerick give away fouls, corner forward Aiden McCarthy hitting it between the sticks and Treaty County midfielder David Reidy making way for Houlihan to assume the free-taking duty, due to injury.
“All we need now is to injure Cian Lynch” sparked a youthful Clare supporter, but the Clare support and player’s fears resided on the wrong player, a tearing ball from over half the pitch from Michael Houlihan put Limerick 0-08 to 0-04 in front.
Limerick’s pressure on Clare’s decision to play out from the back spurred mistakes that the home side ultimately couldn’t capitalise on.
This left Ian Galvin to provide the largest momentum shift of the night, shooting from close range to give Clare their first goal of the evening, and pull their score within three.
For the remainder of the half, Limerick ran proceedings, pulling away to reestablish their hold on the night, heading in at halftime 0-16 to 1-07.
A similar showing against Cork last week saw the team stutter in the second half but Limerick came out first from the dressing room and for most of the second half, felt like the only side on the field, limiting Clare to scoring two points in 21 minutes.
The physical intensity that has become synonymous with Limerick’s recent success pulled together 20 minutes of domination in duels, breakdowns and interplay to leave Clare on the brink of their first loss, and push some supports over the brink, heading for the door as the hour mark struck.
Limerick’s lead extended into double figures, their momentum had washed over the Clare centre. Some imagination from the visitors led to opportunities to score but were wasted wide of the mark.
Brian Lohan’s side relied on set-piece points for the majority of the game, and once Limerick curtailed their physicality to limit opportunities for frees, the game was as good as done.
Captain Cian Lynch, who didn’t have his finest night in the Gaelic Grounds, was still rapturously cheered when leaving the field, the crowd sounding their appreciation of the two-time Hurler of the Year on a night when Limerick showed their quality without needing to get out of fourth gear.
Clare’s biggest spark of their torrid second half was substitute John Conlon, igniting the game back into the firey and cagey contest of the early first half.
His efforts aided his side, but couldn’t remedy it. Houilhan slipped the ball over a Clare head for Adam English to drive into the left corner unmarked and play a pinpoint pass to Donnach O Dalaigh to score Limerick’s only goal of the night.
More points form Aiden McCarthy helped bring a respectable scoreline to an assertive display in Limerick.
At the full-time whistle, Limerick supporters rushed the field and were told to leave before the sprinklers rained down on them.
A similar warning should have been sounded at halftime before Limerick rained down on Clare to bolster their hopes for the rest of the Hurling season.
Teams and scorers
Limerick: N Quaid; F O’Connor, R English, S Finn; C Barry, D Morrissey, K Hayes (0-03); D O’Donovan, D Reidy; G Hegarty (0-02), C Lynch (C) (0-01), M Houlihan (0-12, 8f); S O’Brien (0-02), S Flanagan, P Casey (0-03).
Subs: A English (0-02) for Reidy (8′ inj), A Costello for O’Connor (31′ inj), D Ó Dálaigh (1-00) for O’Brien (52′), T Morrissey (0-02) for Hegarty (53′), G Mulcahy for Lynch (61′), J Quilty for Hayes (66′).
Clare: E Quilligan; R Hayes, C Cleary (C), S Morey (0-01); D Ryan (0-01), D McInerney, A Fitzgerald; C Malone, P Donnellan; D Fitzgerald (0-01), D Conroy, A McCarthy (0-13, 9f); M Rodgers, P Duggan, I Galvin (1-00).
Subs: R Mounsey for Rodgers (27′-30′, blood), R Mounsey for Donnellan (31′), A Shanagher for I Galvin (50′), C Galvin for A Fitzgerald (50′), D Reidy (1-02) for Rodgers (57′), C Leen for D Fitzgerald (59′).