In the end, only five points separated the teams, but Clare managed four goals while the losers could only pilfer one, and critically, all four were mostly the product of Limerick largesse than brilliant approach play.
Pat Vaughan and Jonathan Clancy found the net in the first half at which stage Limerick trailed by seven points, but they soon cut the deficit to just two after Ollie Moran had hit the target with a well-struck shot. However, at exactly the moment the game was in the balance, Limerick handed the initiative straight back to Clare.
An unopposed Tony Carmody was able to put Barry Nugent in for goal number three and then Diarmuid McMahon was given far too much space and time as he powered through for the fourth. “Those goals were very sloppy, especially the two in the second half,” bemoaned Limerick coach, Richie Bennis. “We were caught ball-watching big-time.”
In the end, Limerick were simply not consistent enough to halt Clare’s march towards a Munster final date with Tipperary on 13 July. They performed only in short bursts, and now have to take the difficult route through the qualifiers with a first game against either Dublin or Offaly.
Although his team hardly deserved to win, Bennis was none too impressed by the display of Dublin referee Eamonn Morris. “I don’t think he had a very good game. I’m going to get into trouble but that won’t bother me. I wasn’t a bit happy with the ref. He ran off the field at the end, so he must have felt guilty about something,” the Limerick boss said.
However, there should’ve been more guilt in the Limerick rearguard who lost concentration at vital moments, and to make the day even more difficult for Bennis, his attack, despite the best efforts of Ollie and Niall Moran, struggled to make a lasting impact.
If a rejuvenated Clare have defied the odds by accounting for Waterford, last year’s Munster champions, and now Limerick, last year’s defeated All Ireland finalists, they will probably have to find another gear to cope with the challenge of Tipp, who they last met in a provincial decider in 1997.
Clancy had a fine match, and both the veteran Colin Lynch and Brian O’Connell shone at midfield, but Tony Griffin injured his hamstring after just 20 minutes, and Brendan Bugler’s straight red card for an unnecessary pull on Niall Moran means he will almost certainly miss the final.
“We feel we played well against Waterford, really, really well and it was always going to be difficult to reach those heights again,” explained Clare manager, Mike McNamara. “We know we didn’t play as well as that this time, and neither did Limerick, of course. Goals win matches, and we got the goals at vital times. We know there’s a consistency there that we need, and if we grasp that level of consistency, I don’t think we’ll fear anyone.”
Meanwhile, Wexford booked their place in the Leinster decider with a 2-15 to 1-15 replay win over Dublin at Croke Park. For Wexford, it was victory hewn out of experience and tradition, but for a bitterly disappointed Dublin, it was yet another case of what might have been.
They were hit by two first-half goals from Rory Jacob and Stephen Banville, and despite some innovation and skill by David O’Callaghan and Ross O’Carroll, Wexford’s defense, well organised by Doc O’Connor, did the rest.
In truth, apart from O’Callaghan’s well-taken goal, Dublin weren’t potent enough from play and instead of taking their points in the closing stages, they tried to force the that might have changed the outcome.
Wexford now have to face the omnipotent Kilkenny. “Dublin are trying to make the breakthrough, and we’re trying to make the breakthrough with Kilkenny,” said manager, John Meyler. “Kilkenny are at level one, and we’re at level five.”
As for Dublin, who were relished a shot at Kilkenny, their manager Tommy Naughton recognised that inexperience cost his team dear during the second half. “We could’ve picked them off point by point, maybe there were some bad decisions made. The big difference between Dublin hurling now and years ago is there will be a good minor team next year and the year after and the following year.”