Limerick’s Houdini act among the feats of magic on first day of hurling championship

Limerick escape artists outscore Clare by 3-6 to 0-3 in the final quarter

The Game of Thrones weather gave way to the first sunny Sunday since earlier this century and the hurlers came out to play. Glorious. Where would you like to start?

In Ennis, where Limerick performed a David Copperfield stunt, escaping from chains, in a sealed tank of water; or Wexford, where Dublin trailed by five points entering stoppage time and somehow pulled a draw from the hat. Or Waterford where Davy Fitzgerald, one of the game’s most famous illusionists, made the crowd gasp with his oldest trick: written off; wound up: won.

Cusack Park is first on the ticker tape. With less than a quarter of the game remaining the All-Ireland champions trailed Clare by double scores, and even assembling a paltry nine points had been a tax on Limerick’s reserves.

The turnaround was astonishing. Diarmuid Byrnes may or may not have mis-hit a free, which may or may not have deflected off Aaron Gillane, who may or may not have been in the square, before the ball ended in the Clare net. Within minutes Limerick cut Clare open again, Donncha O’Dalaigh scoring with an inoffensive shot that shouldn’t have amounted to a goal.


For the third Limerick goal, in a six-minute spree, Gillane may or not have been in the square again before Hegarty struck his cross-shot that kissed off a post and landed in Gillane’s lap; either way the goal stood.

When the counting stopped Limerick had outscored Clare by 3-6 to 0-3 in the final quarter, a 12-point scoreboard swing that enters the charts at number three on John Kiely’s watch – behind the 2021 Munster final (15 points) and last year’s All-Ireland final (14 points). Did the Limerick manager think the game was gone? That’s not how they think.

“Listen, at that point [trailing by nine] you’d have to say that the momentum wasn’t with us. But what I was also taking note of was the fact that Clare weren’t pulling away from us and we were still creating scoring chances. We just weren’t creating that bit of momentum by getting a couple of scores in a row. Then we strung off three points in a row in a row and the whole thing just shifted.

“We got the goal and at that point then you could say, ‘listen, there’s a chance here’. We just needed to seize the moment. I think the players felt that as well, and they grabbed it.

“I’m just really delighted with the impact of our boys off the bench. It was absolutely pivotal in that last quarter. And our last quarter in the league this season was our poorest quarter. For it to be our strongest quarter today is just fantastic for us to take out of the game.”

Clare must pick themselves up quickly for a trip to Cork next Sunday, where the home team will also have bandaged wounds. Cork were odds-on favourites with the bookies to win in Walsh Park on Sunday, but Waterford were 1-4 to 0-1 in front after 11 minutes and Cork spent the rest of the match running around with their tongues hanging out. The visitors led for less than 30 seconds and the teams were level just once in the game, early in the second half. Otherwise Waterford dictated everything that mattered and won by a goal.

Inspired by a resurgent Jamie Barron, who scored 1-3, and a returning Calum Lyons, who plundered three points from wing back, Waterford produced their best performance in nearly a year. After a deadbeat league and mounting local apathy led to concerns that the home crowd would be outnumbered in Walsh Park, everything about this performance felt restorative.

“You will have people wanting to say stuff,” said Fitzgerald. “If people want to give out about Davy Fitz or the Waterford thing, let them off. They are entitled to do that. It doesn’t feel nice because we are working so hard, but we can’t dwell on that. We decided to dwell on us. It was nice today to have the Waterford supporters behind us chanting. It would be nice to have it every day – I can’t say we will. All I can tell you is I think you saw how hard we worked.”

One of the oldest truisms in hurling is that no lead is safe. Wexford, unforgettably, led Westmeath by 16 points in last year’s championship and lost by two. This time they were five points clear after 70 minutes before Danny Sutcliffe and Cian O’Sullivan both found the net, out of the blue. Cathal Dunbar’s point sandwiched between Dublin’s two goals meant they escaped with something.

“If you can’t win it, don’t lose it,” said Micheal O’Donoghue, the Dublin manager.

“A good 70 minutes, bad last three,” said Kieth Rossiter, the Wexford manager.

The earthquake season is upon us.

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times