THE winning momentum generated by their senior side’s pulsating success last Sunday was maintained by the Tipperary U21 hurlers in Semple Stadium last night as they swept to victory over last year’s All-Ireland champions Clare in the Bord Gáis Energy Munster U21HC final.
The result did not create the ebullient post-match scenes that had greeted Clare’s momentous triumph in last year’s final but it represented an important step forward by Tipperary in front of a crowd of 11,450.
Clare rocketed out of the traps at the start of the game and only required 200 seconds to construct a formidable 1-3 to 0-0 advantage. That opening spell was characterised by some dazzling play by Clare and Tipperary were rocked by the ferocity of the early Banner challenge. John Conlon lofted over a classy point after only 30 seconds and that set the tone for a scoring burst, the centrepiece of which came from Conor McGrath in the 3rd minute as he availed of indecision on the part of Tipperary goalkeeper James Logue to bundle the ball to the net.
But they struggled to maintain the early standards of that play and in retrospect it was a cause for regret that they failed to increase that lead with a flurry of attacking activity in the 8th minute providing them with clear opportunities. Firstly Darach Honan smashed a fierce shot against the body of Tipperary goalkeeper James Logue and although Honan collected the rebound, he was wrestled to the ground by Tipperary full-back John Coghlan. The resultant penalty provided no joy for Clare either with Logue again proving equal to John Conlon’s drive. The Ballingarry netminder atoned for his earlier error decisively during this time and all over the pitch Tipperary regained composure after an opening which had been fraught with nerves.
They never looked back thereafter. Pádraic Maher went on to exert an enormous influence on proceedings at the heart of the Tipperary backline but it was not a night when their marquee names were to the fore as previously peripheral figures occupied the limelight. Injuries have stalled Brian O’Meara’s development since he was parachuted into the senior line-up back in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in May but the Kilruane McDonagh’s man offered a timely reminder of his abilities here.
He inflicted terror on the Clare defence and his final return of a single point masked a display where his aerial prowess was key to creating several scores. Outside him Paddy Murphy was outstanding at centre-forward, proving equally proficient at claiming possession in the air and rifling over five points. That scoring spree included four inside the closing seven minutes as he ensured Tipperary powered for the finishing line.
A six-point deficit after only three minutes would have spooked plenty teams but Tipperary remained calm and trusted the abilities they had to offer. It was critical in the overall context of the game that they had regained equality on the scoreboard by the 21st minute. Attackers Michael Heffernan, Sean Carey and John O’Dwyer buzzed with intent, as Tipperary’s marksmanship was sublime. Their hopes soared in the 25th minute when, despite the suspicion of a throw ball by O’Meara in the build-up, Heffernan struck a fabulous shot in the air for a vital Tipperary goal. Despite suffering a myriad of blows, Clare stayed in the hunt as the magnificent freetaking of Conor McGrath enabled them to only trail 1-12 to 1-9 at the break.
Clare emerged in the second-half to produce another strong start to the action that yielded stylish points by Honan and Sean Collins. But as Clare moved to be only one adrift, Tipperary upped the ante. Noel McGrath, Hennessy, O’Dwyer and Carey all split the posts with points and their lead could have been swelled further when Hennessy lined up a 39th minute penalty, only for his blistering shot to be tipped over by Cathal Chaplin.
Being in arrears by 1-16 to 1-11, the match threatened to move completely away from Clare. But their spirit and resilience never allowed that prospect to materialise. Liam Markham swept up plenty ball in defence while Honan and the excellent Eoin Hayes had their eye in when it came to converting chances. Clare got within three points of Tipperary on a couple of occasions but Murphy’s storming finish saw Tipperary pull clear by five.
Scorers for Tipperary: M Heffernan 1-3, S Hennessy (two frees, one ‘65, one pen), P Murphy 0-5 each, J O’Dwyer, S Carey 0-3 each, N McGrath 0-2, B O’Meara 0-1.
Clare: C McGrath 1-8 (0-7f), E Hayes, D Honan 0-3 each, J Conlon, S Collins, F Kennedy 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: J Logue; M Cahill, J Coghlan, K O’Gorman; J Barry, Padraig Maher, B Maher; S Hennessy, N McGrath; S Carey, Patrick Maher, P Murphy; J O’Dwyer, B O’Meara, M Heffernan. Sub: K Morris for O’Dwyer (60)
CLARE: D Tuohy; D Nash, C Chaplin, J Gunning; P O’Connor, C Morey, L Markham; N O’Connell, S Collins; P Vaughan, J Conlon, E Hayes; F Kennedy, D Honan, C McGrath.
Subs: D O’Halloran for Vaughan (half-time), S Golden for Collins (54)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).