CLARE are still the Munster and All-Ireland U-21 hurling champions but they were made battle all the way at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on Wednesday before they emerged as three point winners over the home side.
The victory, achieved in front of an attendance of 5,316, puts them into the final on Wednesday week.
It took Clare a while to get a grip on this semi-final and, for much of the first half, Limerick enjoyed the upper hand. Clare were fortunate to be on level terms at the mid-point but from here on, they improved with each passing minute
“Courage and the experience of having won last year got us over the line,” said selector Cyril Lyons.
There were some great performances on the evening and one of these came from centre-back, Caimin Morey. There may have been some raised eyebrows when he was named in this position, having played in attack in last year’s team but he was magnificent on the night.
“He had played there at underage for the ’Bridge and was very good. Overall, enormous credit must go to Limerick, they really put the game to us and we were very fortunate to go in on level terms at half-time,” said Lyons.
“Limerick didn’t die and when they got the goal, we looked to be in serious trouble but we answered with a goal immediately. We are lucky to get out of it and if it had finished as a draw, we would not have complained.”
Clare struggled to get into the game in the early stages when Limerick were much the sharper outfit. They were three points ahead after just six minutes and it was 0-6 to 0-1 after 21 minutes with Limerick very much in control.
With Morey becoming more influential by the minute at centre-back, Clare came into the game more scoring the last five points of the half in a seven-minute spell before the break to leave the game deadlocked.
It was a scoreline that flattered Clare as they had played second fiddle for most of the opening period.
It was score for score for much of the second half when the teams were level on no less than seven occasions. Clare looked to be up against it when Limerick goaled five minutes from time. Thomas O’Brien’s effort going into the net after a deflection off James Gunning, sent the Shannonsiders two points clear.
From the puck-out Clare captain John Conlon won possession and he broke past a couple of opponents before hand-passing the ball across to his Clonlara clubmate, Darach Honan, who first timed into the back of the net.
Honan quickly added a point after good play by Pat Vaughan before another of the evening’s stars, Conor McGrath sealed victory with the final point.
Caimin Morey and Patrick O’Connor excelled in defence for Clare while up front, Conor McGrath, Darach Honan and Pat Vaughan, when he moved into the attack, caused a lot of problems for Limerick.
Clare will face Tipperary in the Munster final on July 28 in thurles after the Premier County defeated Cork after extra time 0-23 to 0-21.
Clare: Donal Tuohy (Crusheen); Diarmuid Nash (Scariff), Cathal Chaplin (Broadford), James Gunning (Broadford); Nicky O’Connell (Clonlara), Caimin Morey (Sixmilebridge), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber); Pat Vaughan (Smith O’Briens), Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge); Kevin Heagney (Corofin), John Conlon (Clonlara), Seán Collins (Cratloe); Fergus Kennedy (Crusheen), Darach Honan (Clonlara), Conor McGrath (Cratloe).
Subs: Eoin Hayes (Newmarket) for Kennedy (inj, five minutes); Kevin Moynihan (Éire Óg) for Heagney (45 minutes).
Scorers: Conor McGrath (0-9. 04f); Darach Honan (1-3) Nicky O’Connell, Pat Vaughan, Eoin Hayes (0-1) each.
Limerick: Barry Hennessy; Brian Cleary, Patrick Begley, Cian Hayes; Paudie O’Brien, Philip O’Loughlin, Nicky Quaid; Thomas O’Brien, Paul Browne; James O’Brien, Colin Madden,Declan hannon; Michael Kiely, Seán Tobin, Graeme Mulcahy.
Subs: Kevin Downes for Madden (half-time); Seán Madden for Kiely.
Scorers: Tomas O’Brien (1-5); Paul Browne (0-2), Seán Tobin (0-2) Declan Hannon, Michael Kiely, Kevin Downes (0-1) each.
Referee: Cathal McAllister, Cork.