Nicky English: Limerick somehow win in Ennis without playing well to leave Clare bereft

Another humdrum Cork display comes up short, as Waterford unexpectedly emerge as top three candidates

When Aidan McCarthy swung over a great point in the 58th minute to put Clare six ahead, the immediate thought was that there and then, it quelled the Limerick comeback that had been faintly — but noticeably — picking up a bit of momentum.

Clare had been well on top for most of the match even though Limerick hadn’t helped themselves by shooting wides from everywhere and conceding frees.

Aaron Gillane had briefly looked as if he would flare and had a goal chance on an advantage but didn’t make the best of it. Gearóid Hegarty was about the only Limerick player getting close to form but the rest were under pressure everywhere and they also lost Mike Casey to an early injury.

It meant it was little surprise that by halfway though the second half, they trailed by nine and it was hard to see how they’d change things. Even with the slight revival, they didn’t look like getting the run of scores, certainly not as easily as it happened.


There was a touch of good fortune about all three goals. Whether Diarmuid Byrnes was going low in desperation or that he simply mis-hit the free and Gillane got a touch, it ended up in the net and the margin was down to three. Donncha Ó Dálaigh then got a softish goal and before you could blink, Hegarty and Gillane combined for another.

Clare had gone from comfortably winning the match to being plunged into losing it. By now Limerick’s defence had also raised their game, making scores harder to come by and there was an air of inevitability about the outcome even though it ended as only a three-point difference.

Tony Kelly came on as a sub and fired over a couple of points to keep the margin within range of a late goal but the team’s attempts to engineer a late and unlikely comeback were poor and never really threatened.

Clare’s finish lacked conviction and after a largely poor day, Limerick ended up with as big a win as they’ve ever managed over Clare in the past two years of intense rivalry.

John Kiely would probably have taken your hand off for a draw when things were going badly but instead, they’re up and running with a win in what looked their most challenging match and also with things to work on and improvements to make.

They didn’t have to win this, as getting to Croke Park is their plan and this was a huge step in that direction.

For Clare, the fatal concession of such soft goals was soul destroying. When they were well on top, they had a couple of chances that Nickie Quaid stopped and in retrospect, those saves were key to winning in the end.

The goals couldn’t even be said to have been coming on the run of play but there was a slight shift in momentum. Cian Lynch came into the play around the middle and started to get on to the ball more but too many of their players didn’t get near their potential.

Limerick won’t be at all pleased with their performance. For a team to come to Ennis and play so disappointingly and yet win is, in its own way, a positive but it’s the only one and I expect a lot better next week.

Clare have now won the league but are facing a kill-or-be-killed date with Cork who are also in a corner after losing in Waterford.

In Walsh Park, the home side got off to a good start with a goal from Jamie Barron, who with Neil Montgomery held the midfield in a firm grip even if Darragh Fitzgibbon got a few points for Cork.

In fairness to Davy Fitzgerald, he asked during the league for judgment to be suspended until the Munster championship when more of his first-choice players would be available and he was vindicated.

Waterford looked like a rediscovered team. Calum Lyons is an outstanding player and scored three points and Tadhg de Búrca was an absolute rock in defence. Stephen Bennett was back on form.

Mikey Kiely and Jack Prendergast were so physical and able to win ball up front. And in the unaccustomed role of free taker, Dessie Hutchinson was unerring. They were simply better than Cork, who — no less than Limerick — missed a lot of chances in the first half.

Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett are exciting young players and played well up front but there were wider problems. They picked up a black card and then Damien Cahalane got sent off on two yellows — slightly harsh maybe, but that’s the way the game is.

Cork were disappointing. They’ve been much of a muchness over the past few years and needed to break out of that pattern. After a poor first half, they were level on 40 minutes. It was there for them, but they never seized the initiative.

It was Waterford who kicked on whenever they looked under threat. They now have a great opportunity to rewrite their fortunes in these round-robin championships.

Coming into this, I gave them a bit of a chance of exploiting Cork’s frailties but they were more impressive than that. From a team that looked to have run its race in the last few years, Waterford are now contenders to make the top three in the province.