Munster league champions but no All-Ireland club hurling final date for Clare in 2016. Thats the story at the end of a busy January Saturday for Clare hurling as the county side overcame neighbours Limerick in the Provincial senior league final but county intermediate champions Wolfe Tones bowed out of the race for the All-Ireland title when going under to Bennettsbridge from Kilkenny at St. Rynaghs grounds in Banagher,Co. Offaly.
An official attendance of 4,583 turned up at the Gaelic grounds for the meeting of arch rivals and Shannonside neighbours Clare and Limerick in the Munster hurling league final at the end of which Clare were ahead by the minimum margin, 0-18 to 0-17. Indeed the big attendance surprised officials and the start time was delayed by ten minutes to give patrons an opportunity to get into the stadium.
It was a hard fought contest which produced plenty of talking points and at the end of it all the visitors just about deserved their victory. Limerick, however, will point to a number of missed chances from placed balls while Clare will have some concerns about the performance of their midfield and defence.
The teams were level six times in the first half before Clare edged two clear, 0-12 to 0-10, at the break. Seven players had shared in the visitors first half tally with Colin Ryan leading the way with 0-3 to his credit.
Limerick cut the margin back to one inside the first minute of the new half but then Clare hit three n a row to go four clear. Limerick hit back with three in a row and it was clear going into the final quarter that there would be little between them come the final whistle.
Extra time beckoned when the impressive Barry Nash, scorer of four points on the evening, levelled the tie three minutes from time. Enter Cathal ‘Tots’ O’Connell who had been introduced for his Clonlara clubmate Darach Honan with six minutes remaining and he fired over two superb points to ensure victory for Clare.
After the game Munster council chairman Robert Frost from O’Callaghans Mills presented the cup to the joint Clare captains, Cian Dillon and Tony Kelly.
Earlier in the day the news wasn’t as good for Clare hurling as Wolfe Tones lost out in their bid to reach the All-Ireland intermediate hurling championship final. They can have no compaints as they went under to a stronger, sharper and more evenly balanced Bennettsbridge from Kilkenny, last year’s All-Ireland junior champions.
In very difficult weather conditions and on a very heavy pitch that got worse as the game progressed, they struggled from an early stage.
At the end of the first quarter they trailed by three points and the Claremen had missed a few good opportunities at this stage. They battled on but the writing was on the wall when they went to the break trailing by two points (0-8 to 0-6) after playing with the aid of the breeze. They only managed one score from play in the first half and that came in the opening minute from their captain Aaron Cuningham.
The Kilkenny and Leinster champions dominated the third quarter and extended their lead with four unanswered points. The Wolfe Tones men battled on but when the final whistle sounded they were seven points adrift, 0-8 to 0-15.
By Seamus Hayes