THE CONTEST WAS fierce when Clare and Limerick went toe to toe in Division 1B hurling league final in April and it was not just restricted to the action on the pitch.
The flashpoint that emerged on the sideline during the first-half of that game commanded headlines when rival managers Davy Fitzgerald and John Allen exchanged sharp words, an incident that preceded Limerick midfielder James Ryan barrelling into Fitzgerald in another altercation moments later.
Tomorrow evening in Thurles the teams meet again, this time in the championship arena with a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals at stake. Allen watched his Limerick charges lose out by two points in that league decider and while he is determined to move on from that showdown with Fitzgerald, the events of that game itself have given him food for thought.
“It was very simple really what happened that night,” Allen told TheScore.ie. “I saw one of our younger players being verbally abused so I intervened. I generally never get involved in these matters on the sideline at a match as manager. But I had to make an exception in that case. Look it’s over now though and we’ve moved on.
“But I do think that game still has relevance for us. If you think back to when we met Clare at the start of the league and were heavily beaten, we’ve come a long way. We were well off the pace that night and played very poorly but when we came to the league final we had closed the gap a good bit.
“We still lost that night having been in a good position in the second-half. The challenge now a few months down the road is to see how much further we’ve come and whether we are capable of beating Clare. I think we’re more sure of our players and our team now. We learnt a lot from the Tipperary match in the Munster championship when we lost a lead during the second-half.”
Clare may have been claiming a notable triumph in Ennis last Saturday night when they defeated Dublin but Allen was present at the other All-Ireland hurling qualifier tie as Cork faced Offaly. Limerick had decamped to Fota Island for a training weekend and the squad took in the clash in Páirc Uí Chaoimh afterwards. Since then Allen has closely watched the footage of Clare’s victory in Cusack Park and was left impressed by a team which has undergone a makeover since they last faced Limerick.
“Since we were down in Fota, it made sense to watch the Cork Offaly game as we could have been playing one of those teams so all the management and players went to it. We’ve had a look obviously at the Clare match since the draw was made. It was a very good win for them given the circumstances they faced when one of their players was sent-off.
“There’s no doubt they have the makings of a very good team. I’d argue that they’re in a stronger position following the development of their underage players. People are talking about Limerick on the back of an U21 team that won a Munster last year whereas Clare have players from an All-Ireland winning team from 2009. And while we have players from Ardscoil Rís Harty Cup winning sides, they have players from minor teams that have won Munster titles and been in an All-Ireland final. So there’s a lot of talent there clearly in Clare.”
Limerick’s own campaign has unfolded smoothly in recent weeks with routine victories over Laois and Antrim. The scale of those successes though, by 25 and 32 points respectivel,y has cast doubts over whether Limerick are steeled for this clash. But Allen is pleased with their victories and points to their penchant for goal-scoring as a positive development.
“I’ve met people who have been saying that we were provided with no opposition by Laois and Antrim. But there can be a tendency to under-estimate the importance of these wins. Scoring 14 goals in two games has to be a positive development. If we were winning these games by narrow margins, I’d be concerned. But we’re putting up good scores, confidence is growing amongst the players and we’re heading to Thurles to face Clare with a realistic chance of claiming a victory.”