It’s a situation that few expected the county to be in, an hour away from a fourth successive provincial U-21 title.
Having tasted defeat in 13 Munster deciders, Clare finally made the breakthrough in 2009, when they went on to add the All-Ireland crown. They have repeated this achievement in the last three years and are now just one win away from a record fourth successive title.
Waterford came to Ennis as hot favourites to end Clare’s reign as champions. However, a magnificent display from a new-look Banner saw them emerge with a two-point win, 0-23 to 1-18.
It was a similar situation for Limerick 24 hours later, as they went into their semi-final against Tipperary as underdogs. They too produced a very impressive display, however and at one stage, they were 14 points clear and coasting. Tipperary fought back to level and this rally, together with Limerick having centre-back Barry O’Connell harshly sent off on a second yellow card, seemed to turn the tide in the Premier County’s favour. Limerick recovered in the closing stages though and deservingly won, 3-16 to 3-14.
These sides met at minor level three years ago and extra-time was required before Clare came through on their way to the final, where they lost to Tipperary.
Any Clare-Limerick clash is a major attraction and the fact that the Shannonside neighbours are set to do battle in a provincial decider means a capacity crowd is expected at Cusack Park this Thursday evening at 7pm.
Work on the renovation of the county grounds has been postponed for a two further weeks so that the game can go ahead there.
Both teams are expected to be along the lines of what lined out in the semi-finals. David McCarthy, Barry O’Connell, Robbie Hanley, Ronan Lynch, David Dempsey, Tom Morrissey and Cian Lynch were al prominent for the Shannonsiders in their semi-final victory. A goal from Cian Lynch inside the first minute set the tone in that tie and the Patrickswell teenager will be hoping to cause similar problems for the Clare defence this week.
The visitors have a strong forward line, which includes Tom Morrissey from their senior panel, David Dempsey, Robbie Hanley, from county senior champions Patrickswell and Ronan Lynch, who captained the Limerick minors.
In their semi-final win over Waterford, the Clare half-back trio of Aidan McGuane, Conor Cleary and Ben O’Gorman played key roles, while forwards Bobby Duggan and Ian Galvin were outstanding. No doubt the Limerick defence will be hoping to devise some kind of plan that will limit the influence of this duo.
From a situation where they were rated outsiders going into the semi-final, Clare now find themselves carrying the favourites’ tag but, having beaten the competition favourites in their semi-final, Limerick come to Ennis with strong credentials. For Clare to retain the title, they will have to repeat their semi-final performance, showing the same commitment and hunger for victory. If they can manage that, they will be a long way on the road to creating further history for Clare GAA.
By Seamus Hayes, sports editor