By Eoin Brennan
Clare 2-15 Limerick 1-19
Limerick set up a Munster semi-final against Tipperary after a John Fitzgibbon score two minutes from time beat Clare by a point at Semple Stadium.
The 2013 provincial winners weathered a significant second-half Banner fightback that included a brace of Aaron Cunningham goals to book their place in the last four against Tipperary for the third successive year.
Clare started without four All Stars and would lose a fifth right on the stroke of half-time when Patrick Donnellan was dismissed for a straight red.
And while the numerical advantage was eventually cancelled out when substitute Seanie Tobin was sent off at the end of the third quarter, Limerick held their nerve with fellow replacement Fitzgibbon firing over a 68th-minute winner.
In an incident-packed, stop-start Munster championship tie, a low-scoring opening period made way for a typically frenetic second-half derby that was in the balance right up to the final whistle, which in itself was in question as the board showed four minutes of additional time but only one was announced.
With the wind at their backs, Limerick started the brighter, with targetman Shane Dowling and debutant Cian Lynch providing most of the early damage on their way to a 0-06 to 0-03 advantage by the 13th minute.
With the Clare forwards constantly rotating, Shane O’Donnell proving a particular thorn in Limerick’s side and Colin Ryan unerring from placed balls, Clare soon found their feet, however, with three Ryan frees getting the Banner to within one of their opponents by the 24th minute.
That margin would remain until the break at 0-09 to 0-08 and while it would have been a hugely satisfactory score for Clare who had the breeze to come, a strike on Limerick captain Donal O’Grady by his counterpart Patrick Donnellan saw the Banner reduced to 14 right on the stroke of half-time.
Clare nullified that sending off with a determined display on the restart as a John Conlon brace of points actually put his side in front for the first time by the 40th minute.
However, as the half developed, Limerick began to make the difference show with Dowling’s freetaking pushing them three clear before his 53rd-minute delivery caused a defensive mix-up that Graeme Mulcahy punished by pulling to the net to double their advantage at 1-16 to 0-13.
Remarkably, it would be cancelled out in the next passage of play as Clare substitute Cunningham weaved his way around three defenders before nestling the ball into the right corner of the net.
And in a seesaw tie, the momentum shifted further when Limerick replacement Seanie Tobin lasted only seconds as he tangled with marker Pat O’Connor in front of referee Colm Lyons who issued another straight red card.
A second Cunningham goal in the 64th minute ensured a nervy finish as he slashed the deficit to just one.
And while O’Donnell levelled up the tie for the fifth time two minutes later, any notions of a replay were soon quashed as Fitzgibbon struck over his shoulder for what would prove a dramatic winning point that sets up a semi-final rematch with Tipperary, and in the process subjected Clare to the qualifiers for yet another year.
Limerick: B Hennessy; S Walsh, R McCarthy, S Hickey; T Condon (0-01), G O’Mahony, S O’Brien (0-01); J Ryan, P O’Brien (0-01); D O’Grady, D Hannon, P Browne; G Mulcahy (1-01), S Dowling (0-11, 0-10f, 0-01'65), C Lynch (0-03)
Subs: S Tobin for O’Grady (55), D Morrissey for Walsh (62, inj), W McNamara for Hickey (66, inj), J Fitzgibbon (0-01) for Ryan (66), K Downes for Browne (71)
Clare: P Kelly; D O’Donovan, C Dillon, D McInerney; J Browne, Conor Ryan, P Donnellan; G O'Connell, Colin Ryan (0-07, 0-05f); J Conlon (0-02), T Kelly (0-02), S Golden (0-01); D Reidy (0-01), S O’Donnell (0-01), P O’Connor
Subs: A Cunningham (2-01) for Reidy (48), S Morey for O’Donovan (54), B Duggan for O’Connell (57), D Honan for Golden (67), N O’Connell for Kelly (68, inj)
Referee: C Lyons (Cork)