The visitors found the crucial scores late on to secure a place in the provincial final while Limerick face into the Tailteann Cup.
Close but not close enough for Limerick as Clare ended their Munster and All-Ireland Football hopes on Saturday, coming away from the TUS Gaelic Grounds with a 1-16 to 0-16 win in their provincial semi-final.
After a heavy defeat to the Banner in the final round of the league just over a month ago, Limerick showed their grit, determination and skill to bring Clare down the stretch.
But the visitors found the crucial scores late on to secure a place in the provincial final while Limerick face into the Tailteann Cup.
With a fortnight until Limerick are back in action in the second tier competition, we analyse some of the talking points to emerge form the semi-final defeat.
Limerick rue missed chances
After working back from four points down to take the lead in the 56th minute, Limerick and Clare went score for score to remain deadlocked heading into the final five minutes of their semi-final contest. Eoin Cleary kicked over his fourth to put Clare ahead in the 66th minute but from the resulting play, Limerick manufactured a goalscoring chance, James Naughton slipping in Brian Donovan. The Monaleen man, who netted in last year’s semi-final struck for goal but was well stopped by Stephen Ryan in the Clare net.
Three unanswered followed from the Banner as Donovan’s last minute point proved in vain, his earlier miss proving costly. There is little blame to lie on the shoulder of Donovan with few Limerick men better at finding the net as Ryan did brilliantly to prevent his high effort. But still, it was a big chance missed and would have given Limerick a first two point lead of the evening. Similarly, Cillian Fahy was wayward with a mark around the same time, his effort just curling left of the post. In all likelihood, the Dromcollogher Broadford man would have been more comfortable with the chance had it come from play with two points to his name at that stage.
Two moments in a 70-minute contest didn’t decide the outcome but with Clare there for the taking, Limerick just couldn’t pull the trigger with the Banner regaining their composure to see out the tie.
From the XV that started against the Banner twelve months ago in the Munster quarter-final, eleven of that side were named from the start on Saturday evening. Of those four, Hugh Bourke came on in the second half to great effect, kicking over three, Adrian Enright was suspended, Josh Ryan is out for the season with injury while Darragh Treacy appears to have called time on his inter county career. Gerald Griffins’ duo Jim Liston and Colm McSweeney came into the line up alongside a pair of debutants.
Those making their first starts in the championship were Barry Coleman at wing back and Cathal Downes in midfield. Paying little heed to their inexperience, the pair were two of Limerick’s key men on the evening. Coleman was always a willing runner from deep, consistently adding to the Treaty’s attack with his powerful running style. Downes showed his class with two points right out of the top drawer, the first coming in the 5th minute of his debut with Limerick yet to get on the scoreboard. Receiving the ball just outside the 45, he launched over an effortless shot with the outside of his right foot. The second was as impressive.
With the majority of the current crop a part of the set up since Billy Lee’s time in charge, the integration of new players has freshened up the approach with Coleman and Downes showcasing just why they were selected.
Slow start costly
The contest was just three minutes old when Clare laid down their first marker of the evening. Keelan Sexton received the ball out near the sideline, about 30 metres from goal. Immediately sensing the danger, the Kilmurry Ibrickane star split a pair of Limerick attackers before slotting past Donal O’Sullivan. A minute later, Jamie Malone strolled up from centre back to hit the target and Limerick were four behind in as many minutes.
Mark Fitzgerald’s side did well to claw back and were within one on the half hour mark after knocking over three on the bounce. A double from Clare stretched the lead back out to three and while the Treaty did eventually draw level and move briefly ahead, they were in chasing mode for much of the contest. The energy exerted in the fight back was costly in the final quarter as Limerick looked fatigued at stages, leading to some uncharacteristic chances going a begging as Clare found their scores easier at the other end.
Limerick showed great courage throughout and things could have been much different with a place in the Munster final just a solitary score away. But in the end, it was the slow start that was most costly for Limerick.
The loss also means Limerick will miss out on the All-Ireland series as they look ahead to a maiden campaign in the Tailteann Cup. It is little consolation for a side that were promoted last year and reached a Munster final but considering the below par league that resulted in relegation, the second tier All-Ireland provides Limerick with a huge chance for silverware. League triumphs aside, Limerick haven’t won a championship title since 1896 (127 years ago).
Last year Westmeath came from relatively no where to capture the maiden Tailteann Cup with their win celebrated akin to their provincial triumph in 2004. The win also ensures them of their spot in this year’s championship and would allow Limerick to focus on Division 3 next year without the need for promotion to get into the All-Ireland series. Such is the layout this year, the four team group in the All-Ireland could have been detrimental to the development of Limerick football, with a huge gulf to the top teams as shown by Derry and Dublin in the league and Kerry last year in the Munster final.
The Tailteann Cup will provide opposition on Limerick’s level with some heavy hitters set to feature. Cavan were last year’s runners up while Meath, who Limerick drew with in the League, are also resigned to the competition. Division 3 runners up Fermanagh will be involved while the likes of Antrim, Wicklow, Laois and Longford will be dangerous opposition. New York will also come into the equation in the knockout stages.
Who Limerick will face will be determined this weekend following the last of the provincial semi-finals with the kick off on May 13/14. Following Saturday’s performance, it is a competition can look forward to.
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