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Monday 5 December 2016

Treaty march on but Davy's defiant

Two men off but just one extra minute as Clare run out of time in a Thurles tempest

FOR the fourth year running, Davy Fitzgerald must seek redemption via the 'back door' after his Clare hurlers were pipped at the finishing post by Limerick in Thurles yesterday.

Substitute John Fitzgibbon emerged as an unlikely match-winner for TJ Ryan's men, landing an inspirational point from midfield with 68 minutes on the clock.

There was still time for more late controversy - not enough of it, mind you, for the crestfallen Banner. Confusion reigned late on, with Clare convinced there would be four minutes of injury time after this number went up on the board (some time after Limerick No 4 Séamus Hickey had departed) even though one additional minute was announced over the PA system.

Limerick were attacking when the final whistle sounded, bringing a contentious Munster SHC quarter-final marred by two straight red cards to a suitably chaotic end.

"The players thought four and I thought four," Fitzgerald confirmed. "That's why I wasn't worried. I thought we'd definitely get a leveller."

GRIPE

He also thought Limerick had overplayed the ball in that final play - a specific complaint in keeping with a more generalised gripe about free counts going against Clare in the scoring zone. "In saying that, I thought Limerick's character was phenomenal," he added, more generously.

It had been a typically madcap introduction to this year's Munster championship. A first half illuminated by the audacity of teenage SHC debutant Cian Lynch but otherwise blighted by too many errors on both sides was marginally tilted in Limerick's favour (0-9 to 0-8) when tensions erupted deep in injury-time.

Clare captain Patrick Donnellan was identified as the chief culprit (correctly, TV replays confirmed) for striking Donal O'Grady. When peace was restored after an unseemly melee, Colm Lyons blew for half-time but also brandished red to Donnellan.

Even with an extra man, Limerick struggled to break free until a 1-2 salvo inside 120 seconds - crowned by Graeme Mulcahy's 52nd minute goal - pushed them six clear.

The goal resulted from Patrick Kelly's failure to deal with Shane Dowling's high delivery, Mulcahy feasting on the inviting scraps. Within a minute, though, Clare sub Aaron Cunningham had finished off his run with a clinical riposte.

As the drama ramped up, so too did the temperature and Seán Tobin auditioned for entry into the Guinness Book of Records when he came off the Limerick bench and, during the ensuing 'get-to-know-you' formalities with Pat O'Connor, lashed out at his marker. Another straight red. Back to numerical parity.

Lynch, nephew of Limerick legend Ciarán Carey, then re-entered centre stage with a soaring catch and his third point. Soon after, Dowling scored his 11th placed ball and tenth free. The Clare backs were adamant it was wide; post-match comments from Dowling seemed to concur, although TV evidence pointed to the effort being on target.

SUMPTUOUS

The score stood and the gap was back out to four when Cunningham accelerated through the middle for a sumptuous second goal, on 64 minutes. Shane O'Donnell's first point brought parity only for Fitzgibbon to break Banner hearts and set up a June 21 semi-final with Tipperary.

Afterwards, a defiant Davy Fitz was adamant that a draw would have been "100 percent" the right result. "We went six points down in the second half - we did not throw in the towel," he proclaimed. "I don't know when it will turn for us but myself and the lads, we'll stay with it.

"Whether it is this year, next year or the year after, we will stick to our principles that we've had from day one."

MUNSTER SHC

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