Gillane masterclass inspires Limerick to complete five in-a-row in the Munster Senior Hurling Championship Final

Declan Hannon raises the Cup! – Photo Den O’Brien. – Munster Hurling Final

By Matt O’Callaghan

A masterclass by Aaron Gillane played a major part in Limerick completing five Munster Senior Hurling Championship titles in-a-row following a narrow victory over Clare at TUS Gaelic Grounds on Sunday.
The Patrickswell ace was unplayable as he racked up a whopping 1-11 as Limerick join an exclusive group in the province with Cork, the only counties to win five provincial finals in a row.
Benchmarking the final against last year’s showdown between the counties in terms of excitement, colour, build up and the outcome being in doubt right up to the final whistle, it measures up while in terms of quality it falls a little short of last year’s nail biter. It was all played out before an excited attendance of 43,756.
Limerick matched the performance against Cork and went up a marginal notch but it was enough to see off another dogged performance by Clare who are still waiting for a first success in the competition since 1998.
Limerick made two late changes to the named side, Graeme Mulcahy and David Reidy coming in for Cathal O’Neill and Peter Casey. The two that missed out came off the bench and played their part in Limerick, clinching a 24th provincial crown.
As had been widely speculated in the week leading up to the final, Conor Cleary who sustained a shoulder injury in the win over Cork was not fit enough to make it and Brian Lohan called up Cian Nolan. The Smith O’Brien’s clubman was handed the daunting task of putting the shackles on bang in form Aaron Gillane. Nolan had a torrid time with the Patrickswell man on an afternoon when it is doubtful if anyone could cope with the four times All-Ireland medal winner.
The decisive period in the game as has been so often in the past for Limerick was the third quarter when smarting from the half time team talk, the Shannonsiders outscored the Banner 1-8 to 0-3 to transform a three points half time deficit into a healthy five points lead.
Clare fought back gallantly and had the margin back down to the minimum going down the home straight. Trailing by a point in the dying embers of the game, Clare protests that Tony Kelly had been fouled to their dismay were waved away by referee Liam Gordon who blew the final whistle. In all likelihood had it been awarded Kelly would have forced the game to extra time.
Tom Morrissey and Aaron Gillane from a free got Limerick off to good start but the lead soon changed hands as Clare hit back with four in a row from two Aidan McCarthy frees, Shane O’Donnell and Ryan Taylor.
Aaron Gillane closed the gap to the minimum only for the Banner to stretch the lead to three following points from Tony Kelly and Diarmuid Ryan. Gillane and McCarthy traded frees before Gillane again, Darragh O’Donovan and Gearóid Hegarty slotted over to tie up the scores 0-7 each after 22 minutes.
The sides shared the next six points, Cathal Malone, Mark Rogers and Tony Kelly on the mark for Brian Lohan’s side with Aaron Gillane two and Kyle Hayes on the mark for the champions.
On 31 minutes, Clare received a major fillip when a Tony Kelly effort on goal rebounded off an upright kindly into the path of Mark Rogers who turned and gave Nickie Quaid no chance from close range.
Aidan McCarthy made it a four points game before on the 34th minute, a fine save by Nickie Quaid denied Ryan Taylor a second Clare goal. A late Aaron Gillane free closed the scoring with the Banner in the ascendency 1-11 to 0-11 at the change of ends.
David Reidy and Aaron Gillane closed the gap to the minimum soon after the restart, Kelly and Gillane traded points before Mark Rogers restored a two points advantage for Brian Lohan’s men.
On 44 minutes, the lead changed hands in dramatic fashion, David Reidy delivered long into the danger area, Gillane plucked the ball off the air before making space and planting the sliothar in Éibhear Quilligan’s net.
Tony Kelly from a free levelled matters and it drew an emphatic response from Limerick in the shape of five unanswered points from Tom Morrissey, Aaron Gillane, David Reidy, Gillane and Morrissey again to open up a five points lead 1-19 to 1-14 with fifteen minutes of regulation time remaining. During that points scoring sequence, Éibhear Quilligan had to be at his best to deny Gillane a second goal in the 48th minute.
Shane O’Donnell arrested the Limerick mini blitz and points from David Fitzgerald sandwiching one for Limerick from Adam English closed the gap. It was closed further courtesy of substitute Aron Shanagher and Tony Kelly, 1-20 to 1-19 with four minutes of normal time remaining.
Cathal O’Neill’s point restored some breathing space for Limerick but his effort was quickly cancelled out by substitute Ian Galvin as was David Reidy’s by the same Clare man and just one point separated the sides deep in time added on.
Cathal O’Neill’s second point doubled Limerick’s lead and it looked as if the deal was sealed but a very late point from Tony Kelly forced Limerick fans to sweat until Liam Gordon sounded the final blast.
Scorers: Limerick: Aaron Gillane 1-11, 8fs; Tom Morrissey, David Reidy 0-3 each; Cathal O’Neill 0-2; Darragh O’Donovan Gearóid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes, Adam English 0-1 each.
Clare: Tony Kelly 0-6, 2fs; Mark Rodgers 1-2; Aidan McCarthy 0-4, 3fs; Shane O’Donnell, David Fitzgerald, Ian Galvin 0-2 each; Ryan Taylor, Diarmuid Ryan, Cathal Malone, Aron Shanagher 0-1 each.
Limerick: Nickie Quaid; Mike Casey, Dan Morrissey, Barry Nash; Diarmaid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Kyle Hayes; Darragh O’Donovan, William O’Donoghue; Gearóid Hegarty, David Reidy, Tom Morrissey; Aaron Gillane, Séamus Flanagan, Graeme Mulcahy.
Subs: Peter Casey for Graeme Mulcahy (47), Colin Coughlan for Declan Hannon (55), Richie English for Mike Casey (57), Cathal O’Neill for Tom Morrissey (57), Adam English for Séamus Flanagan (65).
Clare: Éibhear Quilligan; Adam Hogan, Rory Hayes, Cian Nolan; Diarmuid Ryan, John Conlon, David McInerney; David Fitzgerald, Cathal Malone; Shane O’Donnell, Tony Kelly, Aidan McCarthy; Ryan Taylor, Peter Duggan, Mark Rodgers.
Subs: Shane Meehan for Aidan McCarthy (45), Seadna Morey for Cian Nolan (50), Aron Shanagher for Peter Duggan (57), Ian Galvin for Shane Meehan (65), Paul Flanagan for Rory Hayes (68).
Referee: Liam Gordon, Galway.