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Michael Moynihan: 'A great Munster hurling final even by the standards of the Munster hurling final'

Look, Shakespeare is only appropriate for this one because this was a great Munster hurling final even by the standards of the Munster hurling final.

A ferocious beginning was bookended by a sensational ending with quality on offer all through. Limerick won by a goal, but that’s just a starting point for this epic.

The conditions deserve a mention, particularly if early June becomes the part of the calendar we ink in as the anointed time for the Munster hurling final. Yesterday was more gloomy springtime than scalding summer, with early showers greasing the pitch.

In itself this need not be a disqualification. The proposal of an All-Ireland winner of the nineteen-twenties holds true a century later: the good hurlers come out in the rain.

This was certainly true in Thurles , where the quality on show provided an unfair comparison with the Leinster final the previous evening. Unfair, we freely admit - as if considerations of fairness ever stopped any journalist anywhere - but thoughts that it might provide a basic metric of comparison for the All-Ireland series were banished by the detonation of the contest from the throw-in.

The opening ten minutes of competition alone in Thurles showed an intensity in the exchanges that would do credit to any season in any decade.

As a rough indication of the stresses in place, at one point Diarmaid Byrnes, one of Limerick’s Imperturbables at the back, mis-hit a free. When was the last time you saw something like that?

Clare came to Semple Stadium displaying what every manager looks for, a cold aggression. The confrontations were contested with relish but not recklessness, and Tony Kelly’s involvement set the benchmark.

You can see elsewhere in the paper a more detailed breakdown of Kelly’s contribution, but the fact that he was the man taking the shot for Clare so often was itself the significant element that put the Banner effort on a different level. Having Kelly as a central rather than a peripheral figure has been one of Brian Lohan’s key moves as manager.

Limerick have seen tempests before, of course (stop mixing your Shakespeare - ed) and can accommodate a cataract or hurricane or two. They got to the pitch of the game and hit the significant score of the half on 26 minutes.

They had given fair warning of their interest in goals at the very start - Seamus Flanagan butchered an early chance but Gearoid Hegarty was clinical when released on 26 minutes for the only goal of the 70 minutes.

The temptation is always to isolate a score like that as emblematic of a team’s efforts, but this is one occasion that that isolation is warranted. Limerick were acclimatising themselves to Clare’s level but still sourced the goal: the Showtime Lakers would have purred at Tom Morrissey’s clever handpass to release Hegarty, but the St Patrick’s man still had a lot to do; his finish, across Eibhear Quilligan and low to the left corner, would adorn a textbook on finishing.

Fittingly, Kelly ended the first half scoring with a free (in accordance with the preceding quality, of course, it was from his own half of the field): 0-14 to 1-11 seemed a slightly deflating score if you were from Clare, given how they had carried the fight for most of the first 35 minutes.

Some of the score taking in the second half was absolutely top drawer - and defending, witness Declan Hannon’s sumptuous block on David Reidy - but neither side could establish a significant lead as the game wore on. Diamond on diamond.

Credit where it’s due, referee John Keenan’s approach contributed to the spectacle. Enforcement was light-touch - too light-touch at times, or are we having our cake and eating it by saying that? - and both sides played to his specifications.

Neither could manage the crucial second-half goal, though. Take the burst by Kyle Hayes and Gearoid Hegarty through the middle like a deleted scene from Jurassic Park: Cathal O’Neill got a point out of the move, but a goal would have been significant.

In the Banner corner Shane O’Donnell, finally free, wound up the tomahawk on 47 minutes but Mike Casey threw himself in front of the shot: the ball was cleared down for a Gillane free to nudge Limerick one up on 47 minutes.

Level at 35 minutes, level at 65. Peter Duggan’s there frees levelled the game with over seventy minutes gone, at which point the game was anybody’s until Declan Hannon found the range. Tony Kelly was asked for an outrageous leveller with time up: a sideline cut from a tight angle with the Limerick crowd baying advice on his striking just behind him.

Was it ever in doubt?

Extra time.

With the mist descending and the floodlights on we were in a new phase and Limerick were sharper and more accurate, hitting three points to Clare’s one in the first period of extra time. The champions’ experience in tight corners began to tell at last as Clare’s shooting frayed at the edges, and Limerick had three to spare at the finish, 1-29 to 0-29..

Clare never really got to grips with Flanagan, who was practically unmarkable all through and contributed hugely in extra time, but Will O’Donoghue’s calm distribution was another key weapon for the champions. O’Donogue should really wear a number nine jersey like any good scrum-half, given his metronomic passing, but his last-gasp point was a fair reward for all the hard work.

(A quick word on the pleasantries, by the way: after the focus on formalities in Croke Park the previous evening - possibly the most discussed salutation of its kind since Thomas Kinsella wrote Handclasp At Euston - etiquette wasn’t a headline in Thurles. For which much thanks all round, says you.) 

A full crowd in Thurles contributed to the effect in spades - partisan, loud, colourful, bolshy in the best possible sense of the word, it was enough to make you lament the occasions lost to cover - and they certainly got their money’s worth, because this was a great, great game.

Scholars of Elizabethan drama among you may recognise the next part of our opening salvo, which suggests the houses mentioned from ancient grudge break to new mutiny.

If yesterday was an indicator of that new mutiny, keep it coming.