Munster Under 20 Hurling Championship Round 1
Limerick 3-7 Clare 0-15
A dream start descended into a nightmare at the death as Clare were agonisingly pipped at the post by Limerick in the opening round of the Munster Under 20 Hurling Championship in the TUS Gaelic Grounds, writes Eoin Brennan.
Leading for the the last 45 minutes, Clare appeared to have weathered the storm on the field and in the skies to keep a frustrated Limerick at arm’s length. However, with only seconds remaining of the four minutes of injury-time, a foul on Colin Coughlan saw Cathal O’Neill step up to rifle a 25 metre free through a crowded goalmouth to the net before the senior pair also combined from the restart for O’Neill to subsequently add the winning point.
It was a cruel twist in the tale for a Clare side that had displayed the greater hunger and application for the majority. Crucially however, they failed to convert any of five glorious goal opportunities while the insurance point they craved never came either as the visitors didn’t register a score in the final quarter.
In contrast, a lacklustre Limerick display was propped up by three timely goals that were evenly split to make telling impacts. Facing into a gale, Cathal O’Neill raced through to fire the opening goal after only 90 seconds before bookending it with that spectacular last gasp free while Patrick Kirby’s 39th minute strike finally resuscitated the wind-assisted home challenge.
Clare managed to bounce back from the first two sucker-punches but ran out of time to be able to recover from the third as Limerick somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
With a gale at their backs, the Banner settled with 12 of the next 13 points, six from Shane Punch, to take a 0-12 to 1-2 advantage into the dressing rooms before substitute Keith Smyth stretched the gap to eight on the restart. Ian McNamara was Clare’s stand-out player while Adam Hogan, Cian Galvin, Colm O’Meara, Conner Hegarty Diarmuid Cahill and Shane Punch were others to prove the main resistance over the hour.
The introduction of Keith Smyth was also inspirational as the Killanena clubman had a shot saved before the break while just clearing the crossbar on the resumption. Jack Kirwan had also shot too high early on while Colm O’Meara’s one-handed bullet and a Shane Punch attempt were both repelled in the third quarter.
Kirby’s goal lowered the arrears to just three at the two thirds mark but Conner Hegarty and Cian Galvin both got in on the scoring action to restore a five point cushion that remained into the final ten minutes. Several attempts at procuring a clinching point just came up short but Limerick were equally as desperate, with shots from Adam English and Cathal O’Neill both stopped by goalkeeper Cian Broderick as Clare clung on to a three point lead deep into injury-time.
There was still time for a remarkable turnaround though as O’Neill’s equalising goal was a bitter enough pill to swallow without doubling the dose with a gut-wrenching winner.
It leaves Clare with their backs to the wall for a must-win backlash against reigning All-Ireland Minor and Under 20 champions Cork in Sixmilebridge next Wednesday (7pm).
Limerick: Conor Hanley Clarke (Kilmallock); Chris Thomas (Doon), Fergal O’Connor (Effin), Evan O’Leary (Ahane); Colin Coughlan (Ballybrown), Jimmy Quilty (Blackrock) (Captain), Ethan Hurley (Newcastlewest); Joe Sweeney (Adare), Eddie Stokes (Doon); Aidan O’Connor (Ballybrown), Cathal O’Neill (Crecora Manister), Adam English (Doon); Shane O’Brien (Kilmallock), Patrick Kirby (Patrickswell), Donnacha Ó Dalaigh (Monaleen) Subs: Patrick Reale (Knockainey) for Ó Dalaigh (54), Cian Scully (Dromin-Athlacca-Banogue) for Thomas (57)
Scorers: Cathal O’Neill (2-3, 1-0f); Patrick Kirby (1-0); Aidan O’Connor (0-2f); Colin Coughlan, Jimmy Quilty (0-1 each)
Clare: Cian Broderick (Clarecastle); Jarlath Collins (Éire Óg), Adam Hogan (Feakle), Ian McNamara (Killanena); John Conneally (Clooney-Quin), Cian Galvin (Clarecastle), Oisin Clune (Feakle); Colm O’Meara (Clonlara), Conner Hegarty (Inagh-Kilnamona) (Captain); Jack Kirwan (Parteen), Patrick Crotty (Scariff), Cormac Murphy (O’Callaghan’s Mills); Josh Guyler (Inagh-Kilnamona), Shane Punch (Ruan), Diarmuid Cahill (Corofin) Subs: Keith Smyth (Killanena) for Guyler (23), Conor Leen (Corofin) for Collins (38, inj), Oisin O’Donnell (Crusheen) for Kirwan (52), Keelan Hartigan (Scariff) for O’Meara (58)
Scorers: Shane Punch (0-6, 5f); Patrick Crotty, Keith Smyth (0-2 each); Colm O’Meara, Jack Kirwan, Diarmuid Cahill, Conner Hegarty, Cian Galvin (0-1 each)
Referee: Nathan Wall (Cork)