Flanagan sparkles as Limerick complete four in a row after epic contest

Munster Senior Hurling Championship Final
By Matt O’Callaghan

The moment of magic – Declan Hannon raises the Mick Mackey Cup for the first time. – Photo Den O’Brien. – Munster Senior Hurling Final Limerick v Clare

It was fitting that the hurling temple that is Semple Stadium should host a game that will rank up there with one of the greatest finals in the history of the province’s Blue Riband hurling competition. Limerick had to pull out all the stops before seeing off a vibrant challenge from near neighbours and arch-rivals Clare in an unforgettable Munster Senior Hurling final on Sunday.
The sacred turf was dotted with manly combat ants who served up a spellbinding contest for 90 minutes including two periods of extra time before Limerick finally prevailed to complete four in a row and get their hands on the trophy dedicated to one of the game’s all-time greats Mick Mackey for a historic first time.
It was a day when men stood up and none more so than the Man of the Match, Séamus Flanagan.
The Feohanagh man hit all the high spots in a Roy of the Rovers styale performance that yielded eight precious points from play, an extraordinary achievement in the cauldron that is Munster final day.
On a day of memorable performances on both sides, Flanagan was not alone in lighting up the final. Seán Finn, Barry Nash, Gearóid Hegarty and Aaron Gillane put in super shifts on day when Limerick captain Declan Hannon was imperious and majestic in everything he did.
The Adare maestro hit a point in the 72nd minute which appeared to be a winner until Tony Kelly struck late to level. It would have capped yet another consummate performance by the Limerick captain had it been a winner on day when Hannon made records in being the first man to lift the Mick Mackey Cup and the first man to captain four Munster Senior Hurling Championship final winn ing teams in a row.
Clare had their heroes; in Tony Kelly they have a very special player and one worthy to rank among the all-time greats. David Fitzgerald has evolved into being a midfield powerhouse and the Inagh-Kilnamona clubman ended the contest with five excellent points to his name.
It is easy and probably wrong to over emphasise individual performances as every player from one to fifteen on both sides and those who came off the bench more than played their part in a very special occasion.
Clare were out of the blocks fast and deriving oxygen from the cacophony of noise made by the huge Banner following in the capacity crowd who had come to see their heroes end almost a quarter of a century drought without a provincial title, had Limerick on the back foot for the first quarter.
A lot of pointers in those opening exchanges were that it was going to be Brian Lohan and his men’s day before Limerick gradually matched the intensity and enthusiasm that Clare had brought to the hallowed Semple Stadium turf.
Part of Clare’s downfall was failure to convert early supremacy into a meaningful lead as by half time, John Kiely’s men had restored parity.
It is indicative of the type of game that over the regulation 70 minutes, the sides were level on fourteen occasions on a day when every score and every possession had to be earned such was the intensity of the exchanges.
In a game of memorable feats and deeds by both sides embellished with two scores for the ages. Gearóid Hegarty’s first half goal will go down as one of all time three pointers of a Munster final in its creation and execution. Likewise, Tony Kelly’s leveller from a line ball at the death was simply sublime in execution and importance.
It was a day when the gallant wielders of the camán of Limerick and Clare issued a strong rebuff to the proponents for the abolition of the provincial championships.
Clare raced into a 0-3 to 0-0 lead after eieght minutes courtesy of a Tony Kelly free, Peter Duggan from a line ball and Ryan Taylor from place.
Aaron Gillane opened Limerick’s account and he was quickly followed by white flags raised by Séamus Flanagan, Tom Morrissey and Flanagan again as the lead changed hands.
Back-to-back points from play by Tony Kelly were offset by two in a row for Limerick from Séamus Flanagan and Diarmaid Byrnes free.
Three in a row from Ryan Taylor, Tony Kelly and David Fitzgerald edged the Banner 0-8 to 0-6 clear by the 20th minute.
Cathal O’Neill and David Fitzgerald traded points as did Aaron Gillane free and Tony Kelly before Ryan Taylor edged Clare three clear.
Aaron Gillane’s 25th minute free was quickly cancelled out by Ian Galvin. On 27th minutes one of the key moments, a memorable score in a memorable final. Barry Nash was fouled coming out of defence, the free was delivered long and spectacularly fielded by Tom Morrisey amongst tow Clare defenders. The Ahane man timely offloaded to in in running Gearóid Hegarty and the 2020 Hurler of the Year showed extraordinary skill in rounding a Banner defender and blasting to Éibhear Quilligan’s net.
Séamus Flanagan nosed Limerick back in front and on the run in to the change of ends, points by Tony Kelly sandwiching Tom Morrissey’s second of the half left the sides deadlocked at half time, 1-11 to 0-14.
David Fitzgerald put Clare into the lead immediately after half time as Limerick restarted sluggishly hit three wides in as many minutes.
Cathal O’Neill levelled eight minutes after the restart and Aaron Gillane from a free eased Limerick back in front.
Tony Kelly levelled before Tom Morrissey and David Fitzgerald exchanged points ahead of Kelly and Gillane swapping frees that left the sides still deadlocked at the three quarters mark 1-15 to 0-18.
Points from Darragh O’Donovan and Séamus Flanagan saw Limerick go two clear, but Clare were quickly back on parity through Tony Kelly and substitute Shane Meehan and ahead from a Peter Duggan free.
Two from Aaron Gillane and one from Séamus Flanagan saw Limerick grab a two-point lead with three minutes remaining. Clare were going nowhere, and two Peter Duggan frees had the sides level again as the clock ticked up to the 70 minutes mark and extra time was looming.
Time added on brough high drama in the shape of a Declan Hannon point worthy of winning any provincial decider and it looked as if it did until Clare were awarded a line ball 21 metres out from goal out on the left in the dying seconds of the action.
Up stepped Tony Kelly to nonchalantly and skilfully bisect the uprights and now extra time was confirmed, Limerick 1-21, Clare 0-24.
Limerick flew out of the traps at the start of extra time positing a trio of quick-fire points from Aaron Gillane, Séamus Flanagan and Gillane again f before a Tony Kelly point closed the gap, 1-24 to 0-25 at half time in extra time.
Tired minds and bodies were now the order as the second period of extra time commenced with David Fitzgerald landing a point to close the gap to the minimum and ensure the outcome remained on a knife edge.
Séamus Flanagan and Tony Kelly swapped points before Limerick made a dash for home that yielded three in a row from an Aaron Gillane free and a brace of superb efforts from substitutes Conor Boylan and David Reidy and now for the first time in the game there was four points and daylight between the sides with just three minutes remaining.
Clare substitute Mark Rodgers fuelled the flame again with an excellent point to make it a one score game again only for Willian O’Donoghue to put Limerick back in the comfort zone with his first flag of the afternoon.
Clare still refused to succumb and late point from Rodgers proved to be nothing more than a consolation and the final action of a final for the ages.
Scorers: Limerick: Aaron Gillane 0-10, 7fs; Séamus Flanagan 0-8; Tom Morrissey 0-3; Gearóid Hegarty 1-0; Cathal O’Neill 0-2; Diarmaid Byrnes free, Darragh O’Donovan, Declan Hannon, Conor Boylan, David Reidy, William O’Donoghue 0-1 each.
Clare: Tony Kelly 0-13, 5fs, 1s; David Fitzgerald 0-5; Peter Duggan 0-4, 3fs, 1s; Ryan Taylor 0-3; Mark Rodgers 0-2; Ian Galvin, Shane Meehan 0-1 each
Limerick: Nickie Quaid (Effin); Seán Finn (Bruff), Mike Casey (Na Piarsaigh), Barry Nash (South Liberties); Diarmaid Byrnes (Patrickswell), Declan Hannon (Adare) – Captain, Dan Morrissey (Ahane; William O’Donoghue (Na Piarsaigh), Darragh O’Donovan (Doon); Gearóid Hegarty (St. Patrick’s), Cathal O’Neill (Crecora-Manister), Tom Morrissey (Ahane); Aaron Gillane (Patrickswell), Séamus Flanagan (Feohanagh), Kyle Hayes (Kildimo-Pallaskenry).
Sub: Richie English for Mike Casey (57), David Reidy for Cathal O’Neill (58), Graeme Mulcahy for Darragh O’Donovan (63), Conor Boylan for Tom Morrissey (65), Oisin O’Reilly for Gearóid Hegarty (17ET).
Clare: Éibhear Quilligan (Feakle); Rory Hayes (Wolfe Tones), Conor Cleary (Kilmaley), Paul Flanagan (Ballyea); Diarmuid Ryan ((Cratloe), John Conlon (Clonlara), David McInerney (Tulla); David Reidy (Éire Óg, Ennis), David Fitzgerald (Inagh-Kilnamona); Cathal Malone (Sixmilebridge), Tony Kelly (Ballyea) – Captain, Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg, Ennis); Ian Glavin (Clonlara), Peter Duggan (Clooney-Quin), Ryan Taylor (Clooney-Quin).
Subs: Shane Meehan for Ian Galvin (55), Robin Mounsey for David Reidy (63), Cian Nolan for Paul Flanagan (69), Mark Rodgers for Diarmuid Ryan (ET), David Reidy for Shane O’Donnell (13 ET), Patrick Crotty for Peter Duggan (16ET).
Referee: John Keenan, Wicklow.