A year on from what was Limerick’s most disappointing performance under John Kiely, Limerick gained ample revenge for their heavy defeat in Ennis last summer with a 1-28 to 0-13 victory over Clare in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday.
After the opening day loss to Cork, Limerick have looked close to their scintillating best against Waterford and Clare in the past two weeks, with progression to the All-Ireland series all but guaranteed at this stage.
With their most difficult game to date coming up against Tipperary this Sunday, we look back on the main talking points to emerge from the Clare game with an eye on the trip to Thurles.
Limerick defence come up trumps
After last year’s loss to Clare in Cusack Park, much was made of the performances of the Clare forward unit with John Conlon, Peter Duggan, Shane O’Donnell and Tony Kelly running riot in Ennis. Having been stung badly by the result twelve months ago, Limerick came into the rematch fully focused on the job at hand.
From the very first minute, Limerick’s superior work rate and determination shone through as they continuously overturned their opposition. The work rate of Limerick’s forward unit has been spoken about at length since the beginning of John Kiely’s tenure and was on show once more again yesterday as Limerick dominated Clare.
The effort of the forwards gave the defenders the opportunity to square up their men one on one, an opportunity that they took with both hands as they squashed any Banner threat. Clare were restricted to just four points from play in the entire game with just 0-13 conceded overall.
Clare’s use of a sweeper was to their detriment as it left Declan Hannon open at the other end with the Adare man giving one of his most accomplished performance for his county at no. 6.
His interception on Duggan near Nickie Quaid’s goalmouth within the opening 10 minutes set the tone and was only bettered by Sean Finn’s constant heroics with the Bruff man first tying down Shane O’Donnell before switching onto the dangerous John Conlon with Finn deservedly awarded man of the match.
With Tipperary up next, Limerick will need to bring the same intensity throughout the field to restrict arguably the most impressive forward unit in the country.
Limerick clinical in attack
At half-time in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday the scoreboard read 0-15 to 0-7 in favour of Limerick. Looking down on my programme there were blue scribbles all over the Limerick teamsheet with eight different scorers in the opening half ranging from Declan Hannon, through William O’Donoghue in midfield with each of the starting forwards all getting their name on the scoresheet.
In stark contrast on the Clare side, Peter Duggan was the only player to get a score for the Banner with six of his seven points coming from placed balls.
The disparity here was clear as Limerick displayed a clinical nature in front of goal that has rarely been matched by the Treaty men before. While the Limerick defence were in full control, the Limerick forwards were equally dominant. Aaron Gillane terrorized Clare captain Pat O’Connor before David McInerny was switched onto the Patrickswell man to suffer the same fate.
One noticeable trait of the Limerick players yesterday, that was so evident en route to the All-Ireland last year and in the League this year, was the unselfishness of the players which was summed up by Diarmaid Byrnes performance.
After being relegated to the bench for the Walsh Park clash, Byrnes returned to the starting team yesterday with a clear point to prove. Whereas he could have previously been seen to launch pot shots from deep, Byrnes was a constant provider of quality balls, both long and short to his teammates and was rewarded with a fine long-range effort midway through the half.
Rarely did Limerick shoot under pressure, instead presenting the ball to the man in space with the interplay as seamless as it was efficient.
Limerick suffocated Clare from the first whistle, racing into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead within the opening ten minutes. This was pushed out to eight by the time James Owens brought the half to an end. Clare must have been shell-shocked by the Limerick intensity having so easily defeated Kiely’s men in Ennis last June.
Any traveling Banner fans expecting a response in the second half would have been swiftly disheartened after the opening minutes as Limerick continued to turn the screw on a largely lifeless and disorientated team.
In consecutive Sunday’s Clare have been the victims of mauling’s at the hands of teams they beat in the championship 12 months ago.
They still have a chance to progress should they defeat Cork and Limerick get a result in Thurles. However, a similar performance to that at the Gaelic Grounds and the Clare faithful will be in line for a third consecutive demolition job.
Tipperary still the team to beat
Limerick have looked close to their all-conquering best in the past two weeks with twenty and eighteen points to spare against Waterford and Clare respectively. Yet the performances of those counties in their other games suggest they are far removed from the pace and so talk of Limerick as favourites in Thurles is premature.
Don’t forget that it is less than a month since Cork so cruelly destroyed Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds while Tipperary disposed of the Rebels a week previously in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
Their play has been relentless under Liam Sheedy since his return. While the league was a testing ground for the Premier county, the championship has seen them fire out of the blocks.
A win on Sunday would signal the first time a team has won each of their games in Munster under the new format and such would affirm their place as the team to beat in the All-Ireland series.
Yet, they face a Limerick team who have shown their desire to prove the consistent doubters wrong in recent weeks.
Whatever the outcome on Sunday, the championship picture will become all the clearer, probably.