A yet untested Tipperary travelled to Cusack Park, Ennis last Sunday knowing their unbeaten run of two victories might come to an end but instead they threw caution to the wind and inflicted a thirteen point win over Clare with flair and skill and above all a signal to other counties they intend to stake a big claim in the destination of this year’s championship.
Not every team comes to Ennis and comes away with a victory like this. Cusack Park is seen as a cauldron and visiting teams fare poorly and Tipp have been one of those teams. In recent years, they have struggled in the Allianz Hurling League and underage teams have fared poorly as well.
The venue had held three championship games involving both counties, the first in 1912 which resulted in a Tipp win while the next encounter was in 1985 which resulted in a draw with Clare claiming victory the following year, a result that gives Tipp supporters nightmares to this day.
That game was nothing similar to the high scoring encounters of present day hurling and Sunday’s thirteen point win was the biggest by Tipp since the Munster final win in 1993.
It was a game that had a lot going for it in the opening half. Scores were level five times in the opening nine minutes where some terrific scores thrilled the 18,000 patrons but as soon as Noel McGrath scored Tipp’s first goal in the 21st minute a doubt began to creep into the Clare outfit.
Tipp went eight points clear but they squandered nine wides in the opening moiety and as a result their six point lead at the interval didn’t match their dominance.
The concession of needless frees didn’t help either and Peter Duggan punished them and brought Clare back into contention – six points adrift at half time and the knowledge they had the stiff breeze to help them in the second half.
From goalkeeper Brian Hogan to Seamus Callanan at full forward Tipp possess hurlers of real skill and once Seamus Callanan grabbed Tipp’s second goal in the 35th minute to make it 2-14 to 0-12 there was no way they were going to let this game go.
Five minutes later another star in Patrick Maher had the third goal and at that stage Clare were playing second fiddle and one wonders if their management’s decision to whip off Shane O’Donnell, Peter Duggan and John Conlon was a plan to rest the bodies with an eye to next Sunday’s game against Limerick which Clare have to win.
Liam Sheedy’s men didn’t rest as the McGrath brothers, Noel and John contributed 1-8 of Tipperary’s total to the victory with John scoring six points from play, four in the first half – and added two more in the second one of which was the score of the game.
And while the Loughmore men played a major part in the win I feel that the real man of the match award has to go to Patrick Maher.
The Lorrha man scored 1-2 from play and had an assist in at least three other scores not to mention the number of dispossessions a skill that goes unknown at times.
There were others too who won their battles especially Cathal Barrett who snuffed Shane O’Donnell out of the game. Brendan Maher kept Tony Kelly under his leash while Barry Heffernan enjoyed his new role at full back and kept John Conlon scoreless over the sixty minutes the Clonlara man stayed on the field.
Others like Ronan Maher, Padraic Maher and Alan Flynn were immense and Michael Breen put in a great day's work despite failing to score.
Up front the forward line was sublime with everyone bar the tireless Dan McCormack getting on the scoreboard.
Clare had solid displays from David
McInerney, Patrick O’Connor, David Fitzgerald and Shane Golden behind a forward line that was curtailed and as a result The Banner had to depend of Peter Duggan to keep Clare in the frame from placed balls.
With scores level five times in the opening nine minutes the game began on a high note. The hits were heavy and playing with the breeze, Tipp had scores from John O’Dwyer, Seamus Callanan (two) and John McGrath. Jason Forde’s opening free after 28 seconds helped settle the Mines man.
The Clare defence had their moments too when David McInerney shone and Patrick O’Connor, Jack Browne and David Fitzgerald carried the game to Tipp with Podge Collins and Diarmuid Ryan escaping the clutches of their markers to score.
When David Fitzgerald scored unmarked in the middle of the field Clare held a 0-3 to 0-2 lead and we wondered if it was a sign of things to come.
With no signs of panic, Tipp regrouped as their forwards switched positions and caused the Clare defence to panic.
At the other end Tony Kelly, Shane
O’Donnell and John Conlon found little leeway against a tight marking Tipp defence.
Noel McGrath mastered the threat of Shane Golden and Colm Galvin at midfield.
Possessing the greater amount of chances the stiff breeze enticed the Premier to shoot very often and Ronan Maher registered Tipp’s sixth wide in the 13th minute just after Brendan Maher scored a super point to give Tipp a lead they never lost.
Jason Forde doubled Tipp’s lead with a free four minutes later. Shane Golden narrowed the gap a minute later. Then between the 21st and 25th minute period the game entered a period of total Tipp domination.
First there was the goal which began with John O’Dwyer commencing a run. He switched play to Noel McGrath who carried on the move. McGrath then passed to his brother John whose attempt to shoot was deflected into Noel McGrath’s path and he steered a ground shot to the net from close in.
Points from John McGrath and Bonner Maher followed as Tipp reduced Donal Tuohy’s puckout to mush. At the other end, Noel McGrath was found unmarked from Brian Hogan’s puckout to score from over half way and stretch the lead to seven at 1-11 to 0-7.
Clare were really rattled. Alan Flynn blocked down Peter Duggan but in the remaining minutes to half time Tipp appeared to have let their mask slip as they conceded far too many frees and allowed Clare back into the game with Peter Duggan’s accuracy bringing Clare within sight of Tipp as half time arrived and Tipp just six points in front 1-14 to 0-11, a lead that didn’t match their dominance.
In the opening minutes of the second half Clare caught the Tipp defence off guard as Tony Kelly escaped the clutches of Brendan Maher and scored his only point from play.
Two minutes later the game was over when Seamus Callanan rattled the net for Tipp’s second goal – a goal that arrived following Jason Forde’s sixty metre free came back off the upright and fell into the hands of the Drom Inch man – and helped Callanan to become Tipp’s highest goal scorer.
In the 40th minute, John O’Dwyer almost grabbed another goal but Clare averted the danger and the outcome resulted in a close in free to Tipp which Forde converted.
Minutes later Forde increased Tipp’s lead with another free before the victory was signed sealed and delivered when Patrick Maher raced on to a quick sideline ball by John O’Dwyer and using excellent touch he rounded two Clare defenders and finished to the net past and advancing Donal Tuohy.
Clare’s only manner of scoring were placed balls from Peter Duggan and Tony Kelly in the midst of brilliantly executed scores by Tipp with John McGrath and Callanan sharing responsibility with John McGrath’s brilliant score from the right wing in the 57th minute the pick of the scores.
It was 3-18 to 0-14 by then and in the remaining minutes both sides added three points each and it was befitting that the final score of the game fell to Patrick Maher bang on seventy minutes.
The win made it three wins from three for Tipp and the game against Limerick on Sunday week will be worth waiting for.