Limerick star Niall Moran answered the critics with a stunning display in this evening’s 3-18 to 1-15 All-Ireland SHC qualifier win over Clare in Thurles.
Moran has often found himself on the receiving end of stinging criticism from Limerick fans but responded in magnificent fashion with five points from play.
And teen sensation Shane Dowling added 0-08 from frees as Limerick advanced to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
It was Limerick’s first victory over Clare in five competitive matches between the teams this year.
Clare had won a Waterford Crystal Cup quarter-final and claimed two victories in Division 1B of the National League, including the divisional decider.
And the worry was that Limerick were not tested before this evening, having come through facile qualifiers against Laois and Antrim.
But the extra week’s rest would prove invaluable as Clare had come through a ding-dong battle with Dublin last Saturday.
And the seven-day turnaround left Clare looking leaden-footed in the second half against a fresher Limerick.
Moran called the tune from full-forward and posted three points posted by the sixth minute, before adding two more in the second half.
Both goalkeepers excelled too with some excellent saves. Limerick’s Nickie Quaid blocked two Tony Kelly 20-metre frees at crucial times, while Patrick Kelly pulled off two fine first-half saves in the Clare goal.
Quaid’s net was finally rattled two minutes from time when Kelly finally goaled from a 20-metre free.
That score cut the gap back to just three points – Clare trailed by 1-19 to 3-16 – but Limerick had the wherewithal to close the game out.
And first-half goals would prove crucial for the Shannonsiders in front of 20,142 spectators at Semple Stadium.
Wayne McNamara bagged the first in the fourth minute, bursting forward from the half-back line to crack home a super effort at the Town End.
And two minutes before the break, Seanie Tobin flicked home a booming Gavin O’Mahony free for Limerick’s second goal.
The Treatymen led by just a point at half-time - 2-09 to 0-14 – but would lead by seven points on three occasions during the second half.
Clare looked to be in a good position approaching the break, having reeled off seven unanswered points following a melee that saw full-back Cian Dillon and Moran booked.
But Limerick responded with an unanswered run of 1-03 to regain the lead, having fallen 1-07 to 0-13 behind.
Scorers for Limerick: S Dowling 0-8f, N Moran 0-5, S Tobin 1-1, W McNamara & D Hannon 1-0 each, G Mulcahy 0-2, G O’Mahony 0-1f, K Downes 0-1.
Scorers for Clare: C McGrath 0-6 (4f), T Kelly 1-2 (1-1f), N O’Connell 0-4 (3f, 1 65) C Galvin 0-3, J Conlon 0-2, B Bugler, P Donnellan & A Cunningham 0-1 each.
Limerick: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; W McNamara, D O’Grady, G O’Mahony; P O’Brien, J Ryan; S Dowling, B Geary, D Breen; G Mulcahy, N Moran, S Tobin.
Subs used: D Hannon for Geary (29), K Downes for Tobin (59), S O’Neill for Condon (inj, 60), S Hickey for J Ryan (62), T Ryan for Mulcahy (70).
Clare: P Kelly; D O’Donovan, C Dillon, S Morey; B Bugler, P Donnellan, N O’Connell; C Galvin, S Collins; F Lynch, J Conlon, T Kelly; A Cunningham, D Honan, C McGrath.
Subs used: L Markham for Collins (50), C Ryan for Cunningham (64), J Clancy for Honan (64).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).