HL 1B final: Banner comeback floors Treaty

April 07, 2012

Limerick's Tommy Quaid and Cian Dillon of Clare battle it out in the Allianz HL Division 1B final ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
Clare staged a remarkable revival to beat Limerick by 0-21 to 1-16 at the Gaelic Grounds.

A crowd of 9,897 were kept enraptured throughout as these two rivals produced an astonishing match, which Limerick must have thought they had all but won when they led by 1-14 to 0-9 ten minutes after the restart.

But, with Conor McGrath (who bagged 0-12 in total) on fire, the Banner notched twelve of the next 14 scores to claim a truly remarkable victory and promotion to Division 1A.

With Shane Dowling (scorer of 0-7 in the opening 35 minutes), Graeme Mulcahy and Tommy Quaid prominent, Limerick tore into a 0-11 to 0-8 lead at the end of a frenetic first half.

For a league game, the stakes could hardly have been higher as these Munster neighbours came face to face in competitive fare for the fourth time already in the current calendar year.

Clare - who topped the 1B table with a 100% record from their five outings - had won by 14 points when the sides met in the first round of the national hurling league but a much-closer match was expected this time around as John Allen's side had improved gradually as the competition progressed, winning three and drawing one of their remaining four games to finish second. And so it proved!

The Treaty men had of course won the corresponding fixture last year, to clinch promotion to the old Division One, but a subsequent league restructure meant that ultimately that victory was to no avail as Clare and Limerick ended up in the same division anyway!

Davy Fitzgerald made a late tweak to his starting XV with Clarecastle's Jonathan Clancy coming in and it was the Banner men - who won the toss and opted to play against the breeze - who settled quickest with a Conor McGrath free splitting the posts inside the opening minute. Points were then swapped by two men who have been in superb form of late - Shane Dowling and Colin Ryan.

Wing forward Dowling - the match-winner against Antrim in Casement Park last weekend - followed up with the levelling score and corner man Graeme Mulcahy banged over a quickfire brace as the hosts moved ahead by double scores, 0-4 to 0-2.

It was all Limerick in the early stages and Dowling was on hand to strike his third point of the evening, stretching the gap to three.

Dowling ('65') and McGrath (free) landed placed balls at either end before Niall Moran and Dowling (2) propelled the Treaty men into a commanding 0-9 to 0-3 lead. McGrath's third free narrowed the gap to five but that man Dowling (free) made it double scores: 0-10 to 0-5. Nicky O'Connell was the scorer as Clare ate further into the shock deficit.

McGrath added a brace of frees either side of Tommy Quaid's first point of the match and the short whistle sounded with three between them.

There had been a bizarre incident during the opening period when Limerick's James Ryan picked up a yellow card for colliding with the opposing manager on the sideline.

Before the end of the first half, the hosts lost their captain David Breen to injury.

Clare made a good start to the second half with a McGrath point but Kevin Downes replied for Limerick. Six minutes into the second half, Sean Tobin brilliantly won a penalty, which Dowling blasted to the net.

Mulcahy and Seanie O'Brien added points as the hosts assumed a massive eight-point lead, 1-14 to 0-9. McGrath pulled one back a brace of frees for the Clare men, who had further points from Pat Donnellan and John Conlon as they halved the arrears to four, 1-14 to 0-13.

The Banner had the bit between their teeth and Ryan knocked over their fifth point in as many minutes and suddenly there was just a score between them…

With 15 minutes to go, the match could hardly have been more delicately poised: 1-14 to 0-14 in Limerick's favour but Clare had the momentum and wind advantage.

The Banner brought their run of scores to seven in a row - with McGrath scoring a free and another from open play - before Ryan responded for the Treaty 13 minutes from the end.

Nicky Quaid made a vital save from Sean Conlon to keep the Treaty in front but O'Connell pointed from the resultant '65' and Aaron Cunningham floated over the levelling score with eight minutes left - 0-18 to 1-15. What a comeback! And what a game!

Astonishing, the unerring McGrath completed the Clare comeback with the lead point. But Seanie O'Brien proved that Limerick were not dead and buried yet as he equalised with three minutes left. Since O'Brien's previous score, Clare had outscored the once runaway leaders by 0-10 to 0-2.

In injury time, O'Connell whacked over his second '65' to make it 0-20 to 1-16 and Man of the Match McGrath added a free to confirm promotion for Clare and send them marching through to a league semi-final meeting with All-Ireland champions Kilkenny at Semple Stadium on April 22nd.

Clare - P Kelly; D O'Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney; B Bugler, J McInerney, P O'Connor; N O'Connell (0-3, 2'65's, 1f), P Donnellan (0-1); C Morey, S Collins, E Barrett; C Ryan (0-3), C McGrath (0-12, 0-10f), J Conlon (0-1). Sub: A Cunningham (0-1) for C Morey.

Limerick - N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; W McNamara, D O'Grady, G O'Mahony; P Browne, J Ryan (0-1); S Dowling (1-7, 1pen, 4f, '65) D Breen, C Allis; G Mulcahy (0-3), N Moran (0-1), T Quaid (0-1). Subs: S O'Brien (0-2) for D Breen, K Downes (0-1) for N Moran, S Tobin for T Quaid, M Ryan for C Allis.

Referee - B Gavin (Offaly)

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