Sudden death frees were needed to find a winner between Limerick and Clare this afternoon in the Gaelic Grounds.

100 minutes of hurling failed to separate the neighbours.

In the end, Colin Ryan was the Limerick hero.

Ryan, Tom Morrissey, David Reidy, Aaron Gillane and Diarmaid Byrnes were the five free takers for Limerick. Peter Duggan, Niall Deasy, David Reidy, Ian Galvin and Jamie Shanahan for Clare. All 10 scored in round one, leading to sudden death. Peter Duggan and Aaron Gillane scored first in sudden death.

Then Niall Deasy struck his second effort wide, leaving Ryan with the opportunity to win it for Limerick. The midfielder made no mistake and Limerick progressed the League semi-final where they will meet the winners of Tipperary or Dublin. 

The free-taking competition was needed after an epic game of hurling failed to find a winner.

Aaron Gillane scored 2-11 for Limerick

Clare raced from the blocks and were 0-06 to 0-02 ahead by the end of the opening 10 minutes, with Conor McGrath, Tony Kelly, Colm Galvin and David Reidy all on the mark from play.

At the other end, Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey replied but Clare, with the aid of the breeze, had the early foundation.

That advantage was soon out to 0-11 to 0-2 with 22 minutes played - Peter Duggan with four successive points from placed balls.

Finally, Limerick ended their barren spell and it was a goal from the boot of Aaron Gillane. When the same player added frees the lead was down to four points with 10 minutes to the break.

Paul Browne and Gearoid Hegarty points for Limerick helped reduce the lead to just a goal and free takers Peter Duggan and Aaron Gillane exchanged late points to leave it Clare 0-14 Limerick 1-8 at half time.

On the change of ends, Clare went close to goal but Nicky Quaid raced out to deny Shane O’Donnell and a Conor McGrath effort was ruled out for over-carrying.

Three Gillane frees drew a response of two points from play from Tony Kelly in the early minutes of the new half and Clare were still three points ahead.

With his first two touches, substitute Colin Ryan reduced the gap to a single point.

Then Limerick hit the front with two goals inside 10-minutes - Gillane and Pat Ryan.

The Gillane effort, a superb backhanded finish after support play from Tom Morrissey and Seamus Flanagan, had Limerick ahead for the first time but Duggan had worked Clare back in front by the time Ryan had the third Limerick goal.

That left it 3-15 to 0-21 with 62 minutes played.

But Peter Duggan wasn’t finished and would be up to 15-points by the end of 70 minutes. He looked to have won it for Clare until a Colin Ryan lineball forced extra time.

In extra time, Clare held a slender 0-28 to 3-18 lead at half time after points from Tony Kelly and John Conlon while Limerick relied on Gillane frees.

Duggan had moved onto 18 points and looked to have earned Clare the win in the second period of extra time until Diarmaid Byrnes blasted a 21-metre free to the net with the last puck - Limerick 4-18 Clare 0-30.

So more extra time - this time five minutes each way.

Still no winner. John Conlon looked to have won it for Clare until a Gillane free left the teams level after 100 minutes - Limerick 4-21 Clare 0-33 - and the novel drama of a free contest beckoned.

Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, S Hickey, R English; D Byrnes (1-1, all frees), D Hannon, D Morrissey; P Browne (0-1), C Lynch (0-1); G Hegarty (0-2), K Hayes, T Morrissey (0-1); A Gillane (1-11, 11frees), S Flanagan (0-1), B Murphy. Subs: C Ryan (0-3, 1 lineball) for Browne (49), P Ryan (1-0) for Murphy (54), D Reidy for Hayes (62), R McCarthy for Hickey (78), B O’Connell for Hegarty (85), O O’Reilly for Flanagan (86).

Clare: D Tuohy; P O’Connor, C Cleary, J Browne; S Morey, D McInerney, D Fitzgerald (0-1); C Galvin (0-1), T Kelly (0-6); C Malone, J Conlon (0-2), D Reidy (0-2); C McGrath (0-1), P Duggan (0-19, 15f, 2 ‘65), S O’Donnell (0-1). Subs: I Galvin for C Galvin (51), C McInerney for McGrath (57), J McCarthy for Reidy (63), M O’Neill for McInerney (70), R Taylor for Ian Galvin (89), M O’Malley for Kelly (95), N Deasy for Collins (98).

Referee: A Kelly (Galway)