Limerick v Clare: Champions will find a way to deny the Banner again

All-Ireland champions seeking to become first winners of new Mick Mackey Cup
Limerick v Clare: Champions will find a way to deny the Banner again

David Reidy of Limerick in action against Cathal Malone of Clare during the Munster SHC clash in Ennis last month. Picture: John Sheridan/Sportsfile

SUNDAY: Munster SHC final: Limerick v Clare, FBD Semple Stadium, 4pm.

EMPIRES rise and empires fall. 

When Clare made it three Munster titles in four years as they beat Waterford after a replay in 1998, they were in a good position to add another Liam MacCarthy Cup win to those of 1995 and 1997.

When they appeared to have beaten Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-final, they were just one step away from a run of success that would have bettered any since Cork’s three in a row of 1976-78. Of course, it turned out that referee Jimmy Cooney’s watch was faulty and Offaly were granted a re-match, which they won.

While Clare have won one All-Ireland since then – 2013, lest we forget – they have not claimed a Munster title since that incident-filled summer of 1998. In contrast, their opponents on Sunday, Limerick, are looking to necklace together four provincial titles on the trot: something not witnessed in Munster since Cork did five from 1982-86.

John Kiely’s men also possess the record that Ger Loughnane’s side didn’t manage to achieve in 1998, that of three All-Irelands in four seasons. Right now, with a minimum of three games to go to make it four in five, the bookmakers are offering them as 4/7 shots.

MOTIVATION

They are 2/5 to continue their Munster dominance on Sunday and, though they scarcely need it, there is an extra piece of motivation in the fact that the new Mick Mackey Cup is being contested for the first time.

Limerick sailed serenely through the round-robin stage. Cork were handed a lesson to add to that given in last year’s All-Ireland final before Waterford – seen as the strongest pretenders to the crown after winning the Allianz Hurling League – were kept at arm’s length despite the Shannonsiders losing Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes as well as Séamus Flanagan and Peter Casey.

With those victories securing a place in the knockout stage – not that it was ever in doubt – they laboured for a while against Tipperary but still summoned enough of a surge in the closing stages to ensure that they were back in the Munster final with a game to spare.

That remaining match was at Cusack Park in Ennis three weeks ago but, despite Clare’s encouraging start to the campaign, there was still an expectation beforehand that Waterford would see off Cork and stay in contention for the second part of the anticipated trilogy against Limerick.

However, after the Rebels won in Walsh Park, Clare battled out a draw to ensure that the finalists were decided before the final round of games. Even then, Brian Lohan had the luxury of being able to rest players for the visit of Waterford, with the comprehensive victory showing that there was more depth to the Banner squad than the layman might have thought. They will now have the chance to end that 24-year wait, but of course it’s far easier said than done against the machine that Limerick have become.

While Tony Kelly remains the oil in the Clare engine, he is no longer the sole bellwether – when he was kept relatively quiet by Séamus Kennedy against Tipp, the supporting cast of Shane O’Donnell, Peter Duggan and Ian Galvin were to the fore on the scoring front.

As well as the attacking flair, Clare have benefited from big performances by centre-back John Conlon, Ryan Taylor in midfield and David Fitzgerald’s industry at wing-forward.

Clare actually scored more than Limerick in the round-robin – 6-104 compared with 6-97 – but the champions’ 3-85 was better than the 7-79 allowed by Clare. If there is to be an upset, one would have to think that goals will be a part of it but Limerick haven’t conceded one since the Waterford match.

Despite Limerick’s all-round strength, the loss of Lynch might have been expected to be something to knock them out of their stride more than it has. It’s testament to Kiely and coach Paul Kinnerk that, regardless of what happens, they find a way around or through their problems.

Given all we know about them, it’s hard to say that they won’t do so again on Sunday.

Verdict: Limerick.

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