Flashback: 1996 Munster SHC semi-final - Limerick v Clare
By John Harrington
The 1990s was a rock ‘n’ roll decade for hurling, and no match electrified more than the 1996 Munster SHC semi-final between Clare and Limerick.
The mercury soared on a sizzling day on Shannon-side, and the always heated rivalry between the neighbouring counties was arguably at its modern-day zenith.
Clare were reigning All-Ireland champions which really struck in Limerick’s craw after they themselves had lost the 1994 All-Ireland Final to Offaly in such heart-breaking circumstances.
They’d been beaten in the ’95 Munster Final by Clare so this was very much a revenge mission, but Clare had no problems themselves viewing it as a grudge match.
In his autobiography, Clare’s Anthony Daly wrote “the most memorable match I ever played was a game we lost”, and recalled how team-manager Ger Loughnane used comments by his Limerick counterpart, Tom Ryan, they had been ‘timbered’ in the previous year’s Munster Final as a source of motivation.
“Before we left the dressingroom, Loughnane held up a Clare jersey and spoke about how Tom Ryan had disrespected it,” wrote Daly.
“The hairs were standing on the back of my neck like spikes. The atmosphere was like nothing I’d experienced before. The heat was ridiculous. The pitch was like a cauldron.”
Limerick’s Ciaran Carey would ultimately be the game’s biggest personality, and his recollection of the day is very similar to Daly’s.
“My memories were, it was a scorcher of a day,” he told GAA.ie “It was definitely one of these hot summer days, one of them hot summer Sundays that you get. The ground was like a rock.
“Leading into it to be fair, both teams fancied themselves. Both teams knew they had really good squads. It was fairly 50/50 and as it turned out on the day that’s how close it was.”
It was an epic battle from the throw-in. The frenzied nature of the action meant that it wasn’t the most technically skilful game at times, but it was utterly absorbing.
Clare were marginally the better match for most of the contest, with Brian Lohan especially outstanding.
So defiant and dominant was the display he produced from full-back, that he’d win an All-Star on the strength of his solitary championship performance of the year.
Clare led by three points coming into the final few minutes of normal time, but then Limerick summoned a dramatic late charge by landing the last four points of the match.
“We had chances that we didn’t convert and didn’t take and that came back to haunt us and Ciaran Carey got the famous, memorable point to win it so there was nothing in it,” Clare’s Jamesie O’Connor told GAA.ie
“Carey was a brilliant player and I suppose he got the type of score that deserves to win a match like that”, said O’Connor.
Carey’s winning point remains one of the most iconic scores in the history of the game.
Barry Foley had just equalised for Limerick when Carey fielded Davy Fitzgerald’s subsequent puck-out and set off on a jet-heeled run.
Leaving Fergal Hegarty in his wake with a beautifully executed body-swerve, he galloped deep into Clare territory before driving the ball over the bar to seal a famous 1-13 to 0-15 victory for Limerick.
“I’ll be honest, I thought I was going to be taken out”, Carey admitted to GAA.ie. “I thought I was going to be floored or flattened for a free. That would have been my initial thought process.
“It just opened up and I kept going and kept going and I suppose I was saying ‘God there’s no hit coming’ and obviously they were aware they weren’t going to be giving away a free for a cheap score.
“The further I was going on, the opportunity inevitably presented itself in front of me and luckily enough, thank God I put it over.”