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O’Brien turns tide as Tipp reign

TIPPERARY deservedly won the Munster hurling championship title at the Gaelic Grounds because they were far more efficient in their use of the ball, through a first half in which Clare, in sharp contrast, were quite wasteful.

The second of their goals, scored by John O’Brien in the 58th minute was equally critical, as it killed off what had been shaping up as a promising recovery from the Banner.

Overall, the first final to be played at the venue in 12 years was a disappointment as it looked close to being decided by the break, when the league champions led 1-11 to 0-6. And, while Clare’s early second half resurgence — which saw them hit seven points without reply in a 12-minute period — did liven up the contest, it died almost as quickly soon afterwards. That was after O’Brien, one of five (playing) links with their last successful team of 2001, went through for a superb score.

Tipperary, unbeaten all year, settled quickly with three unanswered points inside the first five minutes. And, even in their early attacks, there were hints of promise from a half-forward line which has been questioned — but which was to deliver a significant scoring return of 2-7 from O’Brien and Seamus Callinan.

Clare were encouraged by the early form of captain Brian O’Connell at midfield (against Shane McGrath, who took a while to find his best form) and over the course of the opening 25 minutes they were to win almost as much possession. Tony Griffin started well in the right corner and Tony Carmody later showed up well on the wing and the forwards were getting a good service from midfield.

However, the big difference was that the Banner were not putting away their scoring chances — and some of their efforts were quite poor, two in particular from Niall Gilligan, who made little or no headway until the second half.

After the teams were level at 0-4 each in the 11th minute, Tipperary started to pull away and Clare were to be restricted to just two more scores before the break — in the 21st and 34th minutes.

However, while Tipperary didn’t really look comfortable until Callinan got his goal (another excellent solo effort) until the 26th, it would have to be acknowledged that Clare had two reasonable goal chances, both thwarted by Brendan Cummins. The first of these came three minutes earlier, when he ran off his line to beat Jonathan Clancy to a ball hit into open space by Diarmuid McMahon. The other was in injury time — when again he sprinted out to beat Carmody to a ground ball — at the expense of a’65, from which Clare hit their 10th of 15 wides.

On the other hand, Tipp could point to a goal miss from Lar Corbett — who showed some great skill at times but lacked consistency. That was in the 28th minute, when he failed from close range after a shot from Callinan broke loose. But, really it didn’t matter because of the advantage they were enjoying in general play, starting at the back where Declan Fanning was to maintain the dominance achieved by Paul Curran before he was forced off injured. Likewise, they were strong at half-back, where Eamonn Corcoran showed the value of his considerable experience and Conor O’Mahony was comfortable all through, except for a period after half-time when Gilligan did damage after moving out from full-forward.

Interestingly, the trend of the play didn’t alter much in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, with Tipperary stretching their lead to 12 points before the Banner produced their best hurling of the 70 minutes. And, their recovery might have started even earlier, had Carmody not failed to contact with a cross from sub Declan O’Rourke.

A 45th minute point from Gerry Quinn signalled the start of the Clare effort which, 10 minutes later, was to generate realistic hopes from their supporters of a rally. It was to be seen in the way they took over almost completely at half-back, where Patrick Donnellan hit a superb patch on the left flank and substitute Gary O’Connell was also to make his mark after replacing Conor Plunkett.

Colin Lynch came into his own for a spell, adding two excellent scores to the one he got earlier on, Gilligan threatened for the first time and was unerring in his free-taking and Clancy was also seen to good effect in the half-forward line. However, after having waited 15 minutes for their next score, Tipperary gained a huge psychological boost from O’Brien’s goal, which put eight points between the sides — and effectively ended the Clare rally.

In remaining time, Tipp captain Eoin Kelly (well marked earlier by Gerry O’Grady, but given little enough clean possession) was seen to good effect, Shane McGrath was much more involved. Additionally, John O’Brien’s huge work-rate, allied to Callinan’s industry and Corbett’s nuisance value, sustained their effort as they eased their way to an impressive victory.

* Diarmuid Kirwan had a relatively simple job of refereeing and performed it with his usual efficiency.