By Michael O Connor.
The spectre of rebel revenge ending with relegation back to Division 1B is now looming on the horizon for the Clare hurlers as they face Cork on the 13th April as a consequence of defeat in this round 5 clash in bitterly cold Thurles.
Failure to qualify for the league semi final after a poor start to the league, with the round 2 and 3 wins linked to the narrow loss to Kilkenny would be seen as lacklustre. Throw in a possible relegation battle and this was the nightmare scenario wanted by no one connected to Clare. The unspoken financial windfall of a league semi final would also be a welcoming addition to hard pressed coffers of Clare GAA.
Clare replaced Fergal Lynch with the returning Sean Collins coming in to the normal slot of centre forward. From the throw in Tipperary were in the ascendancy as Clare rarely threatened. However, Tipp goalkeeper Darren Gleeson did well in the 23rd minute as the Portroe man pulled off a fine double save. Gleeson kept out Colm Galvin’s shot before he got up smartly to scoop the ball to safety as Shane O’Donnell threatened to put away the rebound. Eamonn O Shea has surely an abundance of wealth in the goalkeeping department to pick from. Apart from that, Tipp were in cruise control as corner back Paddy Stapleton, midfielder Brendan Maher and forward Shane Bourke impressed.
Eamonn O Shea picked what many would suggest constitute close to a starting 15 with six changes from the team which started against Waterford in round 4. In a continuation of the goalkeeper rotation policy, Darren Gleeson takes over from Brendan Cummins and the other changes see Paddy Stapleton, Conor O’Mahony, Brendan Maher, John O’Dwyer and Eoin Kelly come into the team instead of Donagh Maher, Thomas Stapleton, James Woodlock, Brian O’Meara and Adrian Ryan.
In one of the coldest days for sport this year allied to piercing cold rain conditions for everyone in Thurles were just about tolerable and made hurling extremely difficult belittling the importance of the game for everyone involved.
With an eye on other scores in the two games but still in charge of their own destiny Clare started out against the strong wind crowding midfield but failing in puckout control for most of the first half and on at least six occasions carried the ball into trouble losing it and conceding scores.
Tipperary hit first and Eoin Kelly had the game’s first scores from a free as Paddy Stapleton and Tony Kelly got to know each other in the early exchanges as Colm Galvin was wide of the mark with the first Clare effort in the third minute. Shane Bourke and Colin Ryan swopped scores. Shane O Donnell was the only Clare often within the Tipperary 65 as Clare attempted to defend with little success in depth losing the ball in the tackle as they had no target to hit it upfield. Lar Corbett set up Eoin Kelly for a close range goal giving Patrick Kelly no chance. A number of players from both sides enterd the referee’s notepad during the game that was played in good spirits. Colin Ryan with his second point after ten minutes left a goal between the sides but even at this stage Clare supporters were sitting uneasily and that was not because of the artic chill.
Tipperary anticipating errors from Clare defenders and allowing two to sit back marshalling the lone Clare marksman Shane O Donnell added 6 points in 15 minutes as opposed to a brace from Colin Ryan and Tony Kelly as the Clare half back line were under immense pressure. Brendan Maher (2), Eoin Kelly (2), Lar Corbett and corner back Michael Cahill were the sharpshooters with the Clare midfield and half forwards incapable of contesting their own puckout. Shane Bourke, Noel McGrath and Eoin Kelly rounded off the first half score from the home side and John Conlon and Ryan once again from a free kept the visitors within 8 points of Tipperary,( 1-11) to (0-6) but at least with the hope of a strong wind in the favour of David Fitzgerald’s men in the second half.
Clare brought on Fergal Lynch for the second half and six minutes later Conor McGrath was in the action as Nicky O Connell and Sean Collins made way. There was an element of surprise in the Clare support that Darach Honan was not introduced at the beginning of the second half. Clare needed at least a half a dozen scores in the third quarter to stay in contact with their stronger opponents, yet managed only four points with Tipperary adding 1-3 to race clear by double scores on the 50th minute mark. John Conlon, Conor Ryan, Colin Ryan (2) hit over for Clare as Noel McGrath and Eoin Kelly responded likewise for Tipperary before a calamity of error in the Clare goal allowed two chances for Lar Corbett to strike home the goal that ended the game officially as a contest as the attendance of 5,459 were more concerned with the biting cold than the bite of the Clare attack
Eoin Kelly who struck for a lightening fast (1-3) in a six minute period saw Clare go 16 points in arrears with six minutes remaining in the game. The only real firebrand in the Clare side at this stage was Seadna Morey who now at outfield and quite honestly I, for one could never understand why he is not used as an attacking midfielder at senior level more regularly scored a wonderful point. Darach Honan eventually entered the fray as spectators were racing to the company of their car heaters.
Best for Tipperary who face the winners of the Division 1B final on the 21st April included Darren Gleeson, Michael Cahill, Padraic Maher who ruled the roost on the wing, Lar Corbett, John O Dwyer, Eoin Kelly who controlled the Tipperary forward movement with ease and Brendan Maher. Clare, due to crowding the pitch condensed the space, allowing Tipperary to attack with ease. The Clare half back line had not space and were constantly hit hard trying to clear. The Clare possession game broke down and cost scores but even so Tipperary were the better side outside of tactics. Clare’s best performers were Seadna Morey, Pat O Connor, John Conlon, tried hard with little support as did Shane O Donnell who ploughed a lone furrow and badly needed at least one other player to share the duties upfield in the first half.
TIPPERARY: Darren Gleeson, Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill (0-1), Conor O’Brien, Conor O’Mahony, Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher (0-2), Shane McGrath, Shane Bourke (0-4), Lar Corbett (1-1), John O’Dwyer, Eoin Kelly(2-8), Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath (0-3). Subs: Patrick Maher for O Dwyer, John O Brien for Callanan, James Woodlock for McGrath, Thomas Stapleton for O Mahony,
CLARE: Patrick Kelly, Domhnall O Donovan, David McInerney, Seadna Morey (0-1), Brendan Bugler, Pat Donnellan, Pat O Connor, Conor Ryan (0-1), Nicky O Connell, Colin Ryan (0-8), Sean Collins, John Conlon (0-2), Tony Kelly (1-1), Shane O Donnell, Colm Galvin. Subs: Fergal Lynch (0-1) for O Connell, Conor McGrath for Collins, Enda Barrett for Conor Ryan, Darach Honan for O Donnell.
Referee: James Owens (Wexford).