Tipperary 4-19 Clare 1-19
Tipperary’s unrivalled ability to find the back of the net helped the All-Ireland champions to a nine-point win over Clare in the Munster GAA Hurling Championship semi-final at Páirc na nGael, Limerick on Sunday.
It was the fifth successive Championship match that Tipperary had scored three goals or more as first-half efforts from Eoin Kelly, Lar Corbett and Patrick Maher were added to in injury time by Seamus Callanan, who made a strong case for permanent inclusion in Declan Ryan's side with 1-5 from play.
After a heroic first half effort, which saw the Banner go in just 3-7 to 1-10 down despite leaking three goals in four madcap minutes, Clare visibly tired in the second half and were unable to match Tipperary’s intensity, especially in the third quarter when the Premier men built up a healthy lead which they would not surrender.
Clare gave reason to believe that a shock was on the cards in the first minute when their livewire forward Conor McGrath - who finished the game with 1-6 to his name – sped in for a great goal. They led by 1-3 to 0-0 after 10 minutes before Tipperary ruthlessly exposed the fault lines in the Clare defence with a three-goal burst started by Eoin Kelly in the 16th minute.
Although thoroughly tested, Tipperary always had Clare at arm’s length in the second half and they will go into the Munster GAA Championship final against Waterford in confident mood.
No doubt, Ger O’Loughlin sent his players out with the instructions to attack Tipperary from the first whistle, for that is exactly what Conor McGrath did. The debutant picked up a loose ball and ran at the heart of the Tipp defence before cracking a shot past Brendan Cummins.
Diarmuid McMahon, Fergal Lynch and another McGrath point had extended Clare’s lead to 1-3 to 0-0 after just eight minutes, giving them the kind of the start they must have dreamed of against the All-Ireland champions.
Callanan finally got Tipperary off the mark ten minutes in, but Clare continued to dictate the pace of the game until they were dealt a hammer blow at the end of the first quarter, when their goalkeeper came to collect a long ball that was dropping on the edge of the square. However, he failed to make the catch and the ball fell for Eoin Kelly to sweep into the net.
Although Clare responded almost immediately with John Conlon’s first from play – he was tightly marked by the excellent Pádraic Maher in the first half – they were to concede a second goal in the space of three minutes. This time it was Patrick Maher who won a loose ball between the half-back and full-back line and flashed his shot brilliantly past Brennan.
After a brilliant start, all Clare’s hard work was undone when a third Tipperary goal followed almost immediately Player of the Year Corbett again availed of the space afforded him by the Clare defence, ran at Brennan and finished in trademark style. It was Corbett’s 21st Championship goal and it gave his side the lead for the first time, 3-3 to 1-7.
Clare might easily have allowed their heads to drop, but Conor McGrath hit two quickfire frees to restore some confidence. McGrath was certainly playing with a swagger, striking 1-3 in the first half alone.
Shortly before the break, Clare had a wonderful goal chance when McMahon’s long ball was collected by Cathal McInerney, but his shot was expertly saved by Cummins, who spread his body well to block the ball. Tipp went straight up the other end and Noel McGrath scored the point that gave them a 3-7 to 1-10 half-time lead.
John Conlon and Conor McGrath cut the gap for the Banner on the resumption of play, but Tipperary missed a glorious chance of a fourth goal when Eoin Kelly struck a penalty off the crossbar after Noel McGrath had been fouled in the square.
It mattered little, as the Premier men made a bolt for the line with six successive points in the space of eight minutes, giving them a 3-15 to 1-13 lead. The imperious Callanan and Noel McGrath scored two each from play in that period of dominance.
Again, Clare showed their spirit and after a string of wides, found their range to hit three in a row. But Tipperary always appeared to have an extra gear and a stunning effort from man of the match Pádraic Maher restored the gap to six points.
James McInenrey did have a late goal chance for Clare from a 21-yard free, but his shot on goal went over the bar. Indeed, it was Tipperary who added the late grace note when Corbett flashed a shot off a post and Callanan was on hand to mop up from the rebound.
Tipperary Scorers: E Kelly 1-3 (0-2f), S Callanan 1-5, G Ryan 0-2, P Maher 1-0, L Corbett 1-0, Pádraic Maher 0-2, N McGrath 0-3, S McGrath 0-2, P Bourke 0-2.
Clare Scorers: C McGrath 1-6 (0-3f), D McMahon 0-2, F Lynch 0-1, C McInerney 0-2, N O’Connell 0-1, J Conlon 0-3, D Honan 0-1, J Clancy 0-2, J McInerney 0-1 (0-1f).
Tipperary: B Cummins; J O’Keeffe, P Curran, M Cahill; D Young, C O’Mahony Pádraic Maher; G Ryan, S McGrath; S Callanan, N McGrath, Patrick Maher; E Kelly, J O'Brien, L Corbett. Subs: S Lillis for J O’Keeffe (HT), P Stapleton for D Young (HT), P Bourke for J O’Brien (45), J Woodlock for G Ryan (62).
Clare: P Brennan; P Vaughan, C Cooney, C Dillon; P O’Connor; P O’Connor, J McInerney, P Donnellan; N O’Connell, J Clancy; J Conlon, F Lynch, C McInerney; D McMahon, D Honan, C McGrath. Subs: C O’Donovan for N O’Connell (55), C Ryan for D Horan (68), C Morey for McMahon (73).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)