Clare forward duo on fire, costly Limerick defensive mistakes and Munster final intrigue

The42′s hurling columnist John Gardiner looks back at yesterday’s Munster semi-final.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE MUNSTER CHAMPIONSHIP began with a bang two weeks ago, Cork and Tipperary serving up an epic.

Yesterday’s game was a drop from those high standards but that won’t bother Clare.

This was a hugely important win for Clare. We all know the potential that is in this Clare team but they’ve really underachieved since winning the All-Ireland in 2013.

They’ll be delighted to get that monkey off their back after a few bad years playing in Munster.

Semi-finals can be awkward games with such a huge prize on offer but Clare managed to get the job done yesterday. A first Munster final in nine years is a big deal for them.

It was interesting to see the style of play they went with. After those U21 title wins, this new management team are well used to working with these players.

Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor The Clare hurling management team of Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

There was no sweeper yesterday but you could see from the start what they were trying to do. Work the ball through the lines, get runners in support of the man in possession and play short passes around the pitch.

They worked very hard on it but the execution just wasn’t there at times. They wanted to crowd the middle and have their runners operating on the wings but I felt their goalkeeper’s set plays were a slight bit off

The pluses for Clare were in attack. Shane O’Donnell looked lively and dangerous from the start. 2-2 from play was a really good return to start their season.

I thought his finish for the second goal was outstanding. With a keeper coming out at pace like that, it cane be difficult for a forward to finish but he pulled it off.

With a guy like him in that form inside, Clare needed to make the most of it but they just didn’t hit him often enough with the type of quality ball he needed.

Conor McGrath’s return was another big boost for Clare. He’s the man they go to in the full-forward line and they need him in top form. O’Donnell and McGrath got a good return between them and having the two of them firing was probably the winning of the game.

O’Donnell and McGrath’s contributions were important for Clare as Tony Kelly was strangely quiet. It’s worth remembering that he had such a long year with his club Ballyea and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong.

He just had an off day and there’s a strong chance he’ll be flying the next day. Clare might put him back on frees just to get a couple of scores on the board and have him involved. He hit penalty really well near the end, it was just a fraction off.

He’ll be disappointed but coming into a Munster final, you’d want Tony Kelly on your team. It’s not a bad situation for Clare to be in.

Tony Kelly with Paul Browne Clare's Tony Kelly goes up against Limerick's Paul Browne Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

From a defensive point of view, Limerick should be disappointed with the three goals they conceded. Fair enough Clare took the chances well but Limerick will look back and see how they could have done better on each occasion. Defensive errors were a factor in all three goals that Clare scored.

I felt Clare were always playing within themselves. Limerick came at them with everything you’d expect in terms of tenacity and playing a tough attitude. The second goal woke Limerick up and they hit 1-5 in a row.

The goal was a huge boost for them and Cian Lynch deserves credit for the initial shot. How many times do we see guys just run in and tap shots over the bar? That lifted them and I thought they’d kick on.

They came strong for a while at the start of the second half but Clare just had too much for them all over the field in terms of hurling. They were that bit classier on the ball.

Limerick had 11 wides in the first half and that just wasn’t good enough. They were taking pot shots from out the field when the ball could have been used so much better.

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They had the players to do that if they used. Cian Lynch is a good hurler with a playmaker style and Kyle Hayes played really well when he came out the field but we saw too many deliveries go past the half-forward line.

There’s potential there in Limerick. They looked a bit raw but they just need to cut out some of their mistakes. Sean Finn had a fine game at corner-back and Hayes did really well for a guy just out of minor.

It can be a gamble throwing in so many young players for a Munster championship game. We saw the last day that it worked for Cork as all those young guys played very well. But when the team is struggling a bit, it’s tough for debutants to get into the game.

You can’t fault them as they tried really hard and there was some good things to their play. It’s easy to see what John Kiely is trying to do and I’d expect him to stick with those young fellas throughout the qualifiers. They can build on this.

It’s going to be a really interesting Munster final. The thinking at the outset was that Tipperary would be in it given their league form and All-Ireland success last year but it takes on a different dimension now.

Podge Collins Clare hurler Podge Collins Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It’s a big occasion for Clare, Cork have a lot of new and exciting players, while we’ve been waiting this year to see what Waterford’s championship plan will be.

It looks like Páirc Uí Chaoimh will host it regardless of the pairing. I think it’ll be a great spectacle and a great chance to show off the new stadium.

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John Gardiner

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