By Noel Dundon
How quickly the complexion of a game can change.
Clare’s senior hurlers rattled the daylights out of Declan Ryan’s men in the early stages of the Munster senior hurling championship semi-final on Sunday at Pairc na nGael, Limerick, but saw all their fine work undone in four, fast and furious, minutes.
Tipperary’s three goals from the usual sources of Kelly and Corbett, and the provider turned taker, Patrick Maher, between the 17th and 21st minutes, stumped Clare who seemed to have pressed the self-destruct button by allowing far too much room to the Tipperary attack between the full and half back lines. Corbett and Maher’s goals both came off breaks, while Kelly’s materialised after Banner keeper Philip Brennan went walkabout under a long delivery from Padraic Maher, and was left in no man’s land when the Tipp captain pounced on the loose ball. Therein was the winning and losing of the game – when you ship three goals in a game it’s always a big challenge to win; give them away in four minutes and it’s virtually impossible to recover from the nine point belting.
Clare did what was expected of them from the off – they showed Tipperary no respect at all and horsed into them with such verve and intensity as to knock the All-Ireland champions back on their collective backsides. Conor McGrath’s superb goal after just 40 seconds was just the start Ger O’Loughlin wanted and Clare went on to lead by 1-5 to 0-2 by the end of the first quarter – Eoin Kelly’s opening for Tipp in the 10th minute from a free being a very welcome response. Interestingly, this free flowing, fast and hard hitting game saw no free awarded to either side until the 10th minute, and that for a pick-up by Clare’s Cooney at full back.
It would be unfair to suggest though that Clare’s start was fashioned solely from sheer spirit and will to win – it wasn’t. Clare showed tremendous hurling quality and the pace and skill with which they attacked Tipperary was quite impressive. The big question though – could they maintain it for the entire 70 minutes?
Padraic Maher and Shane McGrath did much to stem the Clare tide during Clare’s purple patch. Maher – Man of the Match – was superb all the way through, while McGrath had his best outing for some time and hurled a huge amount of ball from the danger zone in the first 20 minutes or so.
You always sensed that once Tipp got to grips with the game, the scores would come. But, one could hardly have predicted that three goals would follow so quickly after one another – it was almost like watching Kilkenny at the height of their powers.
So, from being 1-5 to 0-2 in front in the 16th minute, Clare descended to arrears of 3-3 to 1-7 in the 21st. It was some shock to the system for them but in fairness they still continued to take the game to Tipp and fired over a series of points with debutant Conor McGrath continuing to torment the Premier rearguard. Clare’s six forwards were on the scoresheet by the 18th minute – all scores from play. It was quite amazing that Tipp went in six ahead considering what had unfolded. But, the situation could have been different had Brendan Cummins, playing in his 64th championship game, not managed to beat away a Cathal McInerney effort right before the break.
The Tipp management had been credited with making successful switches in the previous outing against Cork – they again get the kudos this time out for their astuteness on the line. Into the fray at the break came championship debutant Stephen Lillis and Paddy Stapleton to help shore up what had been a porous first half defence – they managed to do just that and the arrival of Pa Bourke on the scene was also a major fillip to Tipp.
Eight points in 16 minutes upon resumption from Tipp, one as good as the next -the quality and flair of the attack was now beginning to show and Clare didn’t have an answer to it. In fairness, not too many defences could withstand the offenses from the blue and gold attack with Callanan, who landed 1-5 on the day, Noel McGrath, Kelly, and Pa Bourke all raising flags. But, while Tipp’s white flags were being raised, Clare were not surrendering just yet. They retaliated with seven against Tipp’s three to leave five in it in the final minute – a Clare goal would have made for a grandstand finish. Wasn’t to come though – Tipp’s backs were in no mood to damage their reputations any further. So, did Clare’s intensity levels drop? Or, should Tipp be credited with managing to quell the storm and ride the waves to victory? The answer actually probably exists in both questions.
Clare’s intensity did drop but it had as much to do with Tipperary getting a grip on the game and starting to dictate the pace as anything else.
At half back, Padraic Maher dominated and the supply of ball from Shane McGrath and Gearoid Ryan meant that Tipp’s accurate scoring artisans would get plenty of opportunities – in fact, Tipp had a whopping 36 shots at goal; Clare had 11 less.
Looking at the stats – Tipp served up 4-17 from play and while they managed to cut down on the number of frees they gave away, particularly in defence, Clare also managed to snatch 1-14 from play. Tipp need to find a happy medium in defence between giving away frees and giving away scores – plenty to work on there.
All in all, Declan Ryan will be happy enough with the performance of his lads. Clare, as they did in the Munster U-21 Final last year, blazed into the match, but Tipp’s character and resilience helped them to survive the assault; overcome the damage; and sprint clear to meet Waterford in the Munster Final.
Clare asked questions of Tipp. Among them: Considering we have had three defensive debutants already this season, what is the best defensive formation? Why did we concede 1-14 from play? How can this be addressed? In attack, which Tipperary line-up is proving most potent? Considering the wide tally of 13, could shot selection be better?
No doubt, Declan Ryan, Tommy Dunne and Michael Gleeson will have much discussion in the coming weeks to try and find the answers to these, and many more, questions. Davy Fitz’ and defending champions Waterford are waiting in the long grass.