This Sunday sees the Munster Senior Hurling Championship begin with a bang, as bitter rivals Clare and Limerick do battle in Semple Stadium. While there is still the backdoor available to the loser, there is a view that this game could be do or die for both these sides.
The rivalry has mellowed in recent times due to the fact that these teams have rarely met in the championship. This is in direct comparison to the mid 1990s, when these counties met four years running and produced some remarkable games.
Here’s a throwback to those great four years for Clare and Limerick hurling.
1993: Munster Quarter-Final – Clare 3-16, Limerick 3-12
It’s the game that started off this incredible series of clashes. It’s often forgotten about as a result of what followed in the subsequent years. In front of a passionate home crowd in Ennis, it was the Banner men who dominated for the most part with Cyril Lyons and Ger “Sparrow” O’Loughlin to the fore.
It was just a couple of late goals that put a gloss on the scoreline for Limerick. This was a vital win for Clare as they had been struggling previously in the province.
They followed this win up by defeating Cork in the semi-final but eventually succumbed to Tipperary in the final. This win was the springboard for what Clare hurling would go on to produce in the future.
1994: Munster Final – Limerick 0-25, Clare 2-10
In direct contrast to the previous year, this time it was Limerick who completely dominated their opponents and in the process went on to win the coveted Munster title. A game that was never in doubt as Ciaran Carey, captain Gary Kirby and Mike Galligan all helped their team to victory.
It was to ultimately end up as a disappointing year for the Shannonsiders however, as after defeating Antrim in the semi-final they ended up losing the final to Offaly in a crushing defeat. It was a Limerick team that deserved to win an All-Ireland, but unfortunately for them, that final will be forever remembered as the one that got away.
1995: Munster Final – Clare 1-17, Limerick 0-11
The two teams were back again in 1995 to compete for the Munster title. Unfortunately for Limerick, they ran into a Clare team who were on a mission under their leader Ger Loughnane. It was a game that was very tight until current Clare manager and then-goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald scored a goal. From there it was plain sailing, with the help of the excellent Jamsie O’Connor, who propelled the Banner to Munster glory.
It didn’t end there for Clare, as their journey concluded in Croke Park on the 1st Sunday in September with Anthony Daly lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup. Unfortunately for Limerick, their rivals had achieved something they failed to do a year previously.
1996: Munster Semi-Final – Limerick 1-13, Clare 0-15
It was the final meeting between these bitter rivals in this four-year spell, and it didn’t disappoint. If Limerick ever needed to win a game this was it, with the reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions coming to their own backyard.
It was probably the best game of the lot, with drama a plenty. Gary Kirby and Jamsie O’Connor both had massive games for their respective teams but this match-up was all about Ciaran Carey.
With the game level in injury time, Carey produced one of the greatest scores in the history of the GAA to gift his team a huge win and knock the champions out. However, Limerick again failed to land the holy grail, as they were defeated by Wexford in the All-Ireland final.
A remarkable rivalry that captured the public’s imagination throughout the nineties. It really was the glory days for Clare and Limerick with both winning Munster titles and reaching All-Ireland finals. Some of the greatest players and managers ever involved in the game were all heavily involved. If we see half of that drama and excitement on Sunday, we will be in for a treat.
Over to you Clare and Limerick.
Robert Cribbin, Pundit Arena.