End of the Streak, Injuries, Low Scoring Limerick | Talking Points as Clare stop the Treaty juggernaut

With a lengthy break to that vital clash with Tipperary in Thurles, we look at some of the talking points to emerge from the instant classic.

The Munster Senior Hurling Championship roared into life on Saturday evening with Clare overcoming Limerick to inflict a first defeat in 17 on the defending champions.

Clare were full value for their win as they responded to an opening day loss to Tipp. Limerick are now in jeapordy as they prepare to face the Premier on May 21.

John Kiely’s men will have to go back to the drawing board as they were beaten in many aspects in the TUS Gaelic Grounds against a ravenous Clare side.

With a lengthy break to that vital clash with Tipperary in Thurles, we look at some of the talking points to emerge from the instant classic.

Unbeaten Streak Comes To An End

The feeling around the TUS Gaelic Grounds as the final whistle was blown on Saturday evening was palpable. It was inevitable that Limerick’s unbeaten championship record would come to an end at some stage but like Kilkenny on 2010, the longer it lasted, the more impossible to imagine it ending became. But after threatening twice last year, Clare finally got over the line against their neighbours on Saturday and deservedly so. The better team won out and for the first time in 17, Limerick were on the wrong end of a scoreline.

The streak dates back to the 27th of July, 2019 when Kilkenny held on for a one-point win over the then All-Ireland champions in the semi-final in Croke Park. Since then, Limerick had won sixteen out of their previous seventeen games, with the round robin draw with Clare last year their only blip. They did draw with the Banner in the Munster final of 2022 but prevailed in extra-time.

Over the course of that run, Waterford were the most beaten, losing five successive to John Kiely’s men while Cork and Tipp lost on three different occasions. Galway and Clare were twice defeated before Limerick eventually got revenge on Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final last year.

Limerick’s unbeaten championship run (2020-2023)

  • Waterford (2020, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023)
  • Tipperary (2020, 2021, 2022)
  • Cork (2021, 2021, 2022)
  • Clare (2020, 2022)
  • Galway (2020, 2022)
  • Kilkenny (2022)
17 July 2022; Declan Hannon, left, and Cian Lynch of Limerick lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Shannonsiders defeat means the record remains at 21 games, achieved by Kilkenny between June 2006 to September 2010. It is a record that looks increasingly likely of never being toppled.

However, while a defeat is always hard to take, Limerick’s response to any setback under John Kiely has been incredible and the clash with Tipp will tell a lot in that regard.

Clare Completely Stifle Limerick’s Attack

Coming into the championship campaign, the narrative on stopping Limerick centred largely around their scoring prowess with Kiely’s men breaching the 30-point barrier more often than not. To limit Limerick, teams would have to match that tally at the very least, hit the net a couple of times and hope the Shannonsiders radar was a bit off with Kiely’s outfit regularly having more than 40 shots on target. The 2-20 scored against Kilkenny in the League final was accompanied by 20 wides with Limerick looking unstoppable coming into the championship.

However, the first round saw Limerick hit just 1-18 against Waterford with the wide tally way down as their accuracy proved crucial. Playing with 14-men somewhat contributed to their lowly shot count. On Saturday Clare doubled down on that and limited the Shannonsiders to 2-20. Although it was three more scores than they managed against the Deise, Limerick were at their full compliment for the entirity of the game. Their wide count was increased and Kiely did reference that in his post match comments.

And while a more efficient attack would have likely been enough to Limerick, it will be the scores they conjured that will be most worrying. It took seven minutes for Limerick to register a score and over the course of the next hour, they only managed a further 2-7 from play. Diarmaid Byrnes and Aaron Gillane combined for 11 frees while Tom Morrissey added another. Meanwhile, Clare hit just 0-5 from placed balls. Morrissey (0-3), Seamus Flanagan (2-1) and Cathal O’Neill (0-2) were the only Limerick players to hit multiple scores from play while overall there were only six scorers throughout the 19 players used.

15 January 2023; Tom Morrissey of Limerick during the Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League Group 2 match between Cork and Limerick at Páirc Ui Rinn in Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Those are startling stats for a Limerick side who so often have double digits in terms of players hitting the target. No one in the defence or midfield scored from play while Peter Casey was held, as was Gearoid Hegarty on his introduction. Clare had nine different scorers and it told during the contest.

Moving onto Tipp, Limerick will need to find their forward momentum that had seen them go unbeaten for four years if they are to prolong their season. With the calibre of players looking to prove a point, there could be a huge response from the Shannonsiders.

Injury Blows To Key Men

It was a first half where Limerick never looked like hitting gear. Following Seamus Flanagan’s first minute effort that was well stopped by Eibhear Quilligan, the Banner dominated the next twenty minutes or so. Aidan McCarthy had Clare 0-10 to 0-7 in front and Limerick looked shellshocked. But the champions responded with 1-3 on the bounce and suddenly they were three in front approaching the half. Clare replied with a pair with the second ultimately proving to be crucial with Sean Finn going off injured as a result. Twisting awkwardly in his bid to stop Peter Duggan, the Bruff man injured his knee and was forced off during the interval.

The second half was just two minutes old when Cian Lynch was forced off with a hamstring issue, the same injury which kept him on the sidelines for the majority of the 2022 season. The big guns that had been kept in reserve, Mike Casey and Gearoid Hegarty were suddenly thrust into the action and when Limerick needed the kick down the stretch they couldn’t find it.

23 April 2022; Limerick manager John Kiely with Cian Lynch as he leaves the pitch to receive medical attention during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 2 match between Limerick and Waterford at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Not only did the loss of Finn and Lynch have an impact on the final result on Saturday (with the duo surely worth a pair of points at either end), but their absence could be keenly felt if they are ruled out for any length of time. Finn has been a mainstay since breaking onto the team in 2017, a year after rupturing his cruciate while Lynch has been the same since 2015 barring last year. The news on Lynch is positive but after the year that was 2022, there will be concern while it was confirmed on Thursday evening that Finn will be out for the year with an ACL injury.

“Cian (Lynch) was just a hamstring. He just felt a pinch on it so you know no point in risking that and that being a more significant injury so he came off.

“Sean (Finn), it was a knee injury I don’t know the extent of it, we’ll probably have to get a scan on it during the week and see where we are.”

Limerick’s squad depth is unrivalled but Lynch and Finn are two they possibly cannot do without.

Tipp Test Becomes Even Greater

Every game in the Munster Senior Hurling Championship is a crucial one but the Banner’s win over Limerick has completely blown open the round robin series. Currently, Limerick, Clare, Cork and Tipperary are on two points with Waterford yet to get on the board. Cork and Tipp meet this weekend and will leave everyone on a pair of games played with the winner out on front and the loser level on points with Limerick and Clare.

Heading into the final pair of rounds, it will be all to play for with no team ruled out of the reckoning. Last year, Limerick and Clare finished level at the top on seven points with Cork qualifying in third on four. 2019 saw Tipp win each of their games while Limerick, Cork and Clare all finished on four. Limerick were runners up on scoring difference as Clare missed out. The previous year, Cork and Clare reached the final on six points with Limerick in third on five.

As such, each team will be looking to hit the five point mark at the least which has been enough for qualification in each of the three years of the round robin. if Limerick were to lose to Tipperary, then that tally would become impossible and would leave them in a very vulnerable position heading into their clash with Cork in the final round. However, two wins would ensure their progression regardless of what happens elsewhere.

The landscape will have shifted by the time Tipp and Limerick throws in in three weeks time with the Premier meeting Cork this Saturday and Clare facing the Rebels earlier on the 21st.

The greatest championship in the GAA is certainly delivering once more with the first pair of rounds as eventful as you’d have expected.

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