A bright start and a driving finish ensured Tipperary took the Waterford Crystal Cup home with them from Sixmilebridge yesterday, beating Clare by six points in the end thanks to their greater accuracy.
"It was a good workout for us," said Tipp boss Declan Ryan. "After the game against Kilkenny the last day we were looking for a good performance, and it was a tough battle today."
Tipperary had three points on the board before Caimin Morey got Clare’s opener, but on ten minutes Aaron Cunningham collected a loose ball and goaled well for Clare.
Tipp’s response was a run of five points before powerful full-forward Brian O’Meara crashed through the Clare cover for a goal – 1-8 to 1-2 on 20 minutes.
Clare were winning plenty of ball around the middle but their shooting was often wayward. They ended the first half with 11 wides, five of those coming in a dreary sequence responding to O’Meara’s goal.
Nicky O’Connell and Pat Donnellan stopped the rot with Banner points but Noel McGrath rattled off three points in three minutes – two from frees – to leave Tipp five ahead at the break, 1-12 to 1-7.
Clare were better on the resumption. Donnellan and Colin Ryan (free) exchanged points with Conor O’Mahony (free), James Woodlock and John O’Neill, but then O’Connell and Ryan repeated the dose, and Daire Keane got Clare’s second goal on 48 minutes. The Clareman picked up possession deep in the opposition half, made ground and shot home coolly, giving Brendan Cummins no chance in the Tipp goal: 2-11 to 1-15 entering the final quarter.
Declan Ryan wasn’t taking any chances, however, and put on Eoin Kelly and John O’Brien. Kelly soon pointed, as did Gearoid Ryan, to give Tipp breathing space, and the Premier County reeled off four consecutive points in the last three minutes to ensure victory.
"In the second half there was a strong breeze and the Clare boys were coming hard," said Ryan.
"But our boys, in fairness, they stuck it out well.
"John O’Brien’s had a lot of games since the start of the year but it was good to see him coming off the bench. We’re delighted with the win particularly after last weekend – with the rest of the league hopefully that’s a kick-start for us."
That ‘last weekend’ reference was to Kilkenny’s comprehensive Allianz HL win over Tipp. Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare had the opposite experience in the league, with a big win over Limerick, so the dynamic for him was different, and he dropped some hints that the Banner had put down a heavy week’s training coming up to yesterday.
"We were a bit dead today, I accept that," he said.
"But the fact they kept fighting was unreal, we’re very happy with that.
"The fact that Tipp had all their big guys on at the end... that’s a good compliment to us. They must be worried when they bring on those big names.
"Do we know we made a lot of mistakes? We do. You hear the crowd getting on the guys about the passes and you hope they’re not listening to them, because they’re not at training. I was happy with them for the amount of work we did in the last week."
Fitzgerald’s reference to the passes was a nod to Clare’s noticeable focus on support play with a lot of handpassing, a tactic which didn’t always draw the crowd’s support.
As for their opponents, it was another chance for Brian O’Meara to stake a claim to the jersey vacated by Lar Corbett, and the powerful Kilruane McDonaghs player was heavily involved in most of Tipperary’s attacks.
A different player to Corbett, obviously, but can he nail down the Tipp full-forward slot? Interesting choices ahead for Declan Ryan. Interesting times ahead for full-backs opposing Tipperary.
Scorers for Clare: D Keane 1-1, C Ryan 0-4fs, A Cunningham 1-0, P Donnellan, N O’Connell (3fs) 0-3 each, C Morey 0-1.
Scorers for Tipperary: J Woodlock 0-5, N McGrath (2fs) 0-4, B O’Meara 1-0, C O’Mahony (2fs, 1 65), J O’Neill 0-3 each, G Ryan, E Kelly 0-2 each, T Hammersley, A Ryan 0-1 each.
CLARE: D Tuohy; D O’Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney; S Morey, J McInerney, E Barrett; N O’Connell, P Donnellan (c); C Morey, D Keane, F Lynch; J Clancy, C Ryan, A Cunningham.
Subs: J Conlon, EHayes for J Clancy and A Cunningham (62).
TIPPERARY: B Cummins (c); C O’Brien, J Coghlan, M Cahill; D Maher, C O’Mahony, S Maher; D Young, J Woodlock; G Ryan, N McGrath, A Ryan; J O’Neill, B O’Meara, T Hammersley.
Subs: S McGrath for A Ryan (48), E Kelly for D Young (56), J O’Brien for J O’Neill (59).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).