Clare v Limerick: A modern Munster hurling classic:

By Tom Stakelum

With Clare and Limerick preparing to do battle in a third consecutive Munster Senior Hurling showpiece, the Banner men will be hoping their flag is flying highest come six o’clock Sunday evening, while a record sixth Munster title on the bounce lies in store should the Treaty county be victorious once more.

To paint a modern picture of this classic rivalry, let’s take a look back on three clashes of particular significance, which have taken place in the past three years between these two eternal rivals.

MSHC Final 2022: Limerick 1-29 Clare 0-29

The Munster Final of 2022 will be spoken about amongst hurling fanatics until the end of time. FBD Semple stadium was the stage, Tony Kelly provided the drama. Last play of the game, Limerick leading by a point, on the cusp of a fourth provincial title in a row, Barry Nash gets driven fairly over the sideline on Limerick’s own 21-yard line by a disciplined yet desperate Shane O’Donnell.

Up steps the 2013 Hurler & Young Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly. With the hopes of his county on his back once more, he proved this pressure to be a privilege rather than a burden as he split the posts with a laser-like sideline cut to ensure extra-time.

However, in typical Limerick fashion, they were unnerved, outscoring their combative contenders by three points to one in the opening period of extra time. Seamus Flanagan was Limerick’s leading light on the day, finishing with eight points, seven of which were from play, including a crucial score in the second half of extra time to tighten his county’s grasp on the newly named Mick Mackey Cup.

MSHC Round Robin 2023: Clare 1-24 Limerick 2-20

The next instalment in this electric rivalry took place in the TUS Gaelic Grounds. However, there were no home comforts for Limerick, as the challengers put their conquerors to the sword in another all-time classic. A dramatic one point victory for Clare proved that they are not just a team that loses epic encounters, they are a team that can win them.

In a game for the ages, much like the previous year’s Munster Final, there were exceptional scores from the likes of Gillane, Kelly, O’Donnell, and Flanagan. However, the story of the day, and arguably the year, involved Clare colossus, John Conlon.

An imperious Man of the Match display in the white heat of Munster Championship hurling wasn’t even the highlight on that day for the Conlon family. It was John’s brother Pa’s wedding day! The best man on the field of play was also the ‘Best Man’, which meant he had to make a swift exit through the adoring crowd, with scenes of celebration and jubilation in store.

MSHC Final 2023: Limerick 1-23 Clare 1-22

The records have begun to tumble for this all-conquering, performance peaking, Limerick side. An historic fifth Munster title in a row, joining the great Cork teams of old, was achieved on the 11th of June 2023. In a similar, remarkable fashion to the aforementioned ties, this was another contest of mind-bending drama and skill.

A defining period of the game was the much talked about ‘third quarter’ in which Limerick outscored their rivals by eight points, overturning a three-point deficit to lead by five with fifteen minutes remaining. Within this prolific purple patch, the ruthless Aaron Gilane from ‘The Well’, went to the well once more, clinically dispatching a low bullet into Eibhear Quilligan’s net. If Flanagan was the star in the 2022 final, there is no doubt that Gillane was the man in the 2023 edition, as Limerick made history, completing their quest for a Munster five-in-a-row.

This era-defining Limerick team have had the upper hand in this classic modern rivalry and will without doubt be remembered as one of, if not, the greatest hurling team of all time. Should they do the unthinkable and accomplish the Munster six-in-a-row and the All-Ireland ‘Drive for Five’, there can be no debate. However, if there’s one team that would enjoy thwarting them more than all the rest, who have the required tools to do so, it’s…well, I’ll leave that up to you.