Cathal O'Neill and Adam English steered Limerick into the Munster U20 hurling final as Diarmuid Mullins' side held their Clare counterparts to just eight points from play to win by 13 points in blistering heat at LIT Gaelic Grounds.
Inspired by his fellow county man Kyle Hayes, English’s stunning solo run put the nail in the Clare coffin in the 53rd minute to blast his side into the Munster showdown against either Tipperary or Cork in a third quarter where the Shannonsiders outscored Clare by 1-08 to just four points to seal a win by a 1-27 to 0-17 margin.
Limerick were on top from the very outset, winning all the physical battles and in English and O'Neill, the Treaty men's half-forward line were too hot to handle for an overworked Clare defence.
The hosts lead by seven points – 0-13 to 0-06 at half-time following an opening 30 minutes when Clare scored just one point from play.
Mullin’s charges really pushed on in the second half and scored 1-14 while Clare could just manage 0-11, albeit an improved closing 30 minutes from open play which saw Sean Doyle’s side record seven efforts from play.
Senior duo Cathal O'Neill and Colin Coughlan were both named in Mullins’ starting XV just over 24 hours after they were unused substitutes in the senior side’s historic three-in-a-row Munster SHC final win over Tipperary in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Centre-forward O’Neill featured in three of Limerick’s Allianz League Division 1 games earlier this season, with centre-back Coughlan starting at left half-back for John Kiely’s side in the league win over Cork back in June.
The Limerick side included seven survivors from last year’s Munster U20 semi-final defeat to Cork - Coughlan, O’Neill, Michael Keane, Cormac Ryan, captain Jimmy Quilty, Aidan O’Connor, and Bryan Nix.
Clare boss Sean Doyle made two late changes to the team that defeated Kerry by 11 points in the quarter-final a week previously, with both Robin Mounsey and James Maguire coming into the side in place of William Halpin and Jack Kirwan.
The Banner were already ruing the loss of key attacking duo Mark Rodgers and Shane Meehan for this year's championship campaign. Rodgers was ruled out of any involvement with the Clare U20s after coming on as a substitute in the closing stages of the Banner County's recent SHC provincial quarter-final win over Waterford.
Promising dual player Meehan, meanwhile, was recently sidelined for three months with a wrist injury.
The game was Limerick’s first outing of this year’s Munster Hurling U20 Championship, while Clare had defeated Kerry by 2-20 to 0-15 last week in Tralee to reach the last four.
After a slow start, Limerick had the game’s first two scores with captain Jimmy Quilty and O’Neill (free) raising the white flag within the opening two minutes – a sign of things to come.
Clare fought back with two quickfire efforts from Shane Punch (free) and Paddy Donnellan, however, Limerick restored their two-point lead in the ninth minute with Crecora/Manister man O’Neill making it look easy as he slotted over a free from his own 65-yard line.
Punch – with his second free – made it a one-point game in the 10th minute with a well-taken free from inside his own half.
A minute later, the Ruan forward drew the sides level for the first time to make it 0-04 apiece. This was the second and last time the Shannonside rivals were level.
Limerick outscored Clare in the second quarter with the first four scores after the first water break coming in the shape of the Treaty men where players like Cathal O’Neill, Adam English, Patrick Kirby, and Jimmy Quilty steered the home side into a deserved seven-point lead at half-time.
Limerick recorded six wides in the opening half, compared to four from Clare.
After the resumption, English grabbed his fourth point and by the time he notched his fifth, Limerick were 0-15 to 0-07 ahead.
Limerick maintained the seven-point winning margin they had held at the half-time break at the second water break – 0-19 to 0-12.
However, the best was yet to come - English sliced through the Clare defence for a stunning goal with eight minutes to play for a 1-22 to 0-14 lead.
Both English and O’Neill continued to run Clare ragged, with Aidan O’Connor adding his fourth to put the result beyond any doubt. Limerick now await the outcome of Cork and Tipperary, who face each other on Tuesday evening at Semple Stadium in Thurles, before they know their opponents for the Munster final which takes place on 28 July.
Limerick: Conor O’Neill; Chris Thomas, Pádraig Harnett, Michael Keane; Emmet McEvoy, Colin Coughlan (0-01), Cormac Ryan; Jimmy Quilty (capt.) (0-02), Patrick Kirby (0-01); Diarmuid Hegarty, Cathal O’Neill (0-11, 0-08f), Adam English (1-06); Bryan Nix, Aidan O'Connor (0-04), Donnacha O'Dalaigh
Subs: Cathal Downes (0-02) for Hurley (37 mins), Eddie Stokes for Hegarty, Ronan Fox for O'Dalaigh (both 42), Liam Lynch for Nix (46), Patrick Reale for English (55)
Clare: Cian Broderick; Mike Gough (0-01), Darragh Healy, Adam Hogan; Adam Mungovan, Aidan Moriarty, Dylan McMahon (0-01, 0-01f); Paddy Donnellan (capt.) (0-01), Colm O’Meara; Oisin O’Donnell (0-01), Robin Mounsey, James Maguire; Connor Hegarty (0-03), Shane Punch (0-09, 0-08f), Diarmuid Cahill (0-01)
Subs: Halpin for Maguire (27 mins), Kevin Keane for Mounsey (ht), Kealan Guyler for Halpin (50), Jack Kirwan for O’Meara (57)
Referee: Michael Kennedy (Tipperary)