CLARE took care of their house while Limerick’s fell down.
The Treaty had ratcheted up as many wides in the first 10 minutes as the Banner did in the entire 70-plus minutes. That number was five.
And in their 10-minutes of madness, Limerick also missed a goal chance through the one forward who looked dangerous for more than a fleeting moment throughout this game: Graeme Mulcahy.
Declan Hannon, who sadly never did, missed four placed balls in the first half – each more important than the last as Clare pulled away – but Seanie Tobin thrice, James Ryan, Donal O’Grady, Paul Browne, David Breen, Conor Allis and substitute Shane Dowling all contributed to the fog that fell upon the Treaty and their challenge.
One week earlier, Cork and Dublin couldn’t miss – this was the antithesis.
And as much as people will laud the Banner for a sumptuous display and make them favourites for the final, the truth is that the Rebels –- and the Dubs, who they put down – both reached a higher level of performance in the other semi-final.
It’s just that the more recent win is always easier to appreciate.
Manager John Allen said afterwards that his team showed no worrying signs of nerves but they gifted this game to Clare in a number of ways. Players were dropping easy passes, missing sideline cuts, running the ball into traffic and hitting it at spare man Pat Donnellan.
It wasn’t just the things under their control that went wrong. Seamus Hickey had to go off after 15 minutes and that robbed Allen of the hardest-working one-man band in town.
Hannon’s frees were something his boss couldn’t account for and, for those who said Dowling should have started for this alone, the manager countered by saying the statistics in training showed he had the best man on the job at the start.
The goal that Limerick conceded was a fluke too, and with three-pointers slip momentum and belief.
Limerick created enough to win the game. They put away just 18/37 chances to Clare’s 23/33. That’s a 49% return to a whopping 70%, with Clare actually improving on their 65% conversion rate against Galway in the quarter-final. (In case you’re wondering, Cork managed 60% against Dublin.)
The Banner always create enough chances but finding the flags has been the worry – now their ability to do so to an ever higher degree will be Cork’s.
As Davy Fitzgerald said afterwards: “Jesus that’s a change for us, only to have five wides, I’ll tell you that. Normally you’re looking at 15 or 16, that’s our average most weeks, so I don’t know what the story is! I hope we didn’t use it all up today.”
For every bum note that Limerick hit, you have to credit Clare for staying in key from the start. Donnellan was used as the spare man but in the third minute, he crept up the right wing into acres of space, received a crossfield free from Colin Ryan, and lashed it over for the opener. They just seemed more tuned in.
As they did to danger at the back.
Again it was Donnellan acting as the spare man, foiling here as he had against Galway in the quarter-final. The O’Callaghan Mills man was the insurance policy at the back for Clare and did something of a subtle Sean Cavanagh job for this team.
On seven minutes, Mulcahy was bursting through on goal but, by the time he sent a shot at Patrick Kelly, both of Donnellan’s arms were around him.
Then on 66 minutes, Mulcahy looked like he might finally get another chance to bear down on goal as he picked the ball up 35 metres out, but seconds later Donnellan again snared him with a bear hug. Cynical, indeed; tuned in, of course.
Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin dominated midfield while Colin Ryan was unerring with the placed balls. Nine from nine to Limerick’s seven from 12, albeit Dowling went for a goal late in the game with one.
David McInerney dominated in defence and the Limerick half-forward line struggled to make an impact as they were crowded out.
Limerick’s half-back line of Gavin O’Mahony, Wayne McNamara and Paudie O’Brien – who eventually swapped with midfielder Donal O’Grady – were under pressure too and were caught in possession more than once.
Three times McNamara tried to run the ball out but was hooked or dispossessed.
On two occasions in the first half, corner-back Tom Condon came out with the ball for Limerick. Both times he hit a 50-50 ball when he had time, and both ended up as scores conceded at his own end.
The first a goal for Darach Honan after David McInerney collected a hopeful ball in the Clare defence; the other a point for Kelly after Domhnall O’Donovan beat Seanie Tobin to another poor ball from Condon.
The other corner-back, Stephen Walsh, needlessly soloed a ball out on 29 minutes and put himself under pressure – Honan knocked the ball away for a Limerick line ball, which they then gifted to Clare for a Colin Ryan point.
It was one of the thousand little self-inflicted cuts that gave the Banner the impetus.