Limerick's Declan Hannon and Clare's Tony Kelly. James Crombie/INPHO
Talking Points

A Munster final epic, Limerick's resolve, Clare's progress and the dazzling scoring stars

Plenty to digest from yesterday’s thriller in Thurles.

1. A Munster hurling final epic

Has it been a good hurling championship? As always the responses are subjective, but the round-robin series did generate plenty drab encounters. The Limerick-Waterford Saturday night showdown was engaging, the Clare-Limerick collision in Ennis a thunderous encounter.

When that pair renewed acquaintances yesterday, hopes were high. They didn’t disappoint. The anticipation in the build-up was heightened by the insatiable ticket demand but that didn’t overwhelm the teams and the sodden conditions in the Thurles didn’t cloud what they produced.

It was rip-roaring, fiercely-contested and captivating stuff. A game faithful to the history of this fixture in the ‘90s when it was its most gripping. The teams were level on 15 occasions in normal time and the scoreboard before extra-time read the exact same as it did at full-time in Ennis a few weeks back.

Limerick’s claims for hurling greatness hardened with a fourth Munster title on the bounce, Clare’s push to be their strongest challenger was bolstered by their contribution. For those watching on, it was a hurling game to savour.

2. Limerick’s season of tests continues

A fourth Munster title in a row secured for Limerick and arguably the hardest earned one earned in that time frame. They needed a sensational second-half against Tipperary last year, but just like the 2019 decider, their victory always seemed assured before the final whistle, as it was in 2020 when facing Waterford.

This time the result was surrounded in doubt until the finish, extra-time necessary as Limerick were taken to the brink. They’ve become more accustomed to gruelling examinations. Waterford and Tipperary tested them in the Gaelic Grounds this season, Clare forced a share of the spoils in Ennis.

Yet the champions have survived, they remain unbeaten and have summoned the answers to whatever questions were posed. They move onto the last four in Croke Park, set to welcome injured stars Cian Lynch and Peter Casey back to the fold, and looking in strong shape.

the-limerick-team-celebrate The Limerick team celebrate. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

3. Clare’s progression

It’ll be of scant consolation after this Munster final loss but this was more proof of the major strides Clare have made. Their wait for this senior hurling crown is prolonged further, 1998 their last taste of success. Compared to the recent reversals at the hands of Cork in 2017 and 2018, the sense is that this will sting more.

But they should take a lot from this progressive performance. For the second time in the space of a few weeks they pushed Limerick all the way, finishing level again after 70-odd minutes, and again posting 0-24 on the board to chisel out a draw. In extra-time Clare looked the force that was fading more due to the exertions and a lack of a goal threat was again an issue against Limerick.

Yet the weekend feels like it has reinforced their status as a credible challenger to Limerick’s number one status. The brilliance of Tony Kelly and John Conlon is undisputed but it is the rate of development of players like David Fitzgerald, Paul Flanagan and Ryan Taylor that has really elevated their setup.

The weight of disappointment from this setback will need to lift quickly from the Clare camp. They’re back on the bigtime hurling circuit on Saturday week.

tony-kelly-celebrates-scoring-a-point-to-send-the-game-to-extra-time-with-david-mcinerney Tony Kelly celebrates scoring a point for Clare to send the game to extra-time. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

4. Flanagan and Kelly shoot the lights out

In a game full of stars, two stood out yesterday with their five-star showings in front of goal. Seamus Flanagan and Tony Kelly entered the game with different perspectives in the context of the draw in Ennis a few weeks back. Flanagan had a quiet outing, recording a single point and manager John Kiely said last evening the Feohanagh-Castlemahon man would have been disappointed with that display, while acknowledging his recent injury issue. Kelly in contrast blitzed Limerick, particularly in the first half, and finished with 0-16 to his credit. In a way the pressure was on both to deliver in this Munster final.

They lived up to that expectation. Flanagan shot 0-8, five more than any other Limerick player achieved from play. The rest of the Limerick starting attack scored 1-8, summing up how valuable Flanagan’s input was. He was electric, his game full of clever darts into space, deft footwork to create an opening and a comfort off either side in launching over points.

seamus-flanagan-and-aaron-gillane-celebrate Seamus Flanagan and Aaron Gillane celebrate. Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Kelly produced a mesmeric showing to rival previous efforts against Limerick (0-17 in October 2020, 0-16 in May 2022). That sideline cut towered over everything else he produced but there were other sublime moments like the first-half hook on Gearoid Hegarty and the dash forward before converting, and the shot clipped over from the right wing at lightning speed into the Town End early in the second half.

Flanagan may feel he could have added a goal to his tally in the opening period, Kelly will regret a few inaccurate shots from frees. But both adorned the match with their dazzling scoretaking.

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