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Magical McGrath the ace for clinical Clare

Tipperary 0-20 Clare 4-15
A comprehensive win for All-Ireland champions Clare in this Allianz Hurling League round three game at chilly Semple Stadium yesterday, a far more decisive result than the final seven-point margin would suggest.

This wasn’t just a loss for Tipperary in their own headquarters, it was a lesson in the art of the new style of hurling being developed by Clare. Preventing goals, making outstanding saves, that was the hallmark of Davy Fitzgerald in his playing days as Clare custodian; creating goals, educating his players on how to open up an opposing defence, that’s become his hallmark as manager.

On the way to winning last year’s All-Ireland, Clare became better and better at doing just that, bringing to game-day the tactics and movement practised and perfected in Cusack Park.

They can and do still score points, by the hatful and that too was a hallmark in 2013. As that year developed, however, there also grew a ruthlessness in the Clare mentality. Goals eschewed for the easy point was no longer acceptable, the soft option no longer an option. So it was that Cork were opened up for five goals in the All-Ireland final replay, so it was that Tipperary were opened up in Thurles yesterday for four, with keeper Darren Gleeson doing brilliantly to deny Peter Duggan and then Shane O’Donnell further Clare green flags, both in the second-half.

It finishes of course with the forwards and where O’Donnell was the hat-trick hero last September, yesterday it was Conor McGrath, rapidly growing into the complete player.

Those Clare goals actually tell the tale of the game. The first came in the 11th minute, a long ball from Patrick O’Connor to the left corner, Conor McGrath using his deceptive strength to fell Paddy Stapleton with a fair shoulder then powering in to goal from close range. That score put Clare 1-3 to 0-1 in front and they never looked back. Their second came in the 30th minute, a different type of score, Colin Ryan (what a worker!) picking out Podge Collins who had stolen in behind the dozy Tipp defence, Podge heading straight for goal and drawing the unfortunate Stapleton before parting to Conor McGrath — no chance for Gleeson in the Tipp goal.

Only another three minutes to the third Clare goal, this time the result of the incessant kind of never-say-die pressure exerted by Clare all over the field, midfielder Colm Galvin winning a ball from Tomas Hamill he had no right to win, setting up the powerful John Conlan for the major.

Those goals helped Clare to a 3-7 to 0-8 half-time advantage, Tipperary having to struggle mightily for each of those points, John O’Dwyer (two), James Woodlock, Paddy Murphy, Noel McGrath and Shane Bourke all having to produce something special to get their scores.

The first 15 minutes of the second-half was when Tipperary enjoyed their most productive period, O’Dwyer with four points, Bourke and young Jason Forde each with a beauty to make it a one-score game in the 50th minute, 3-8 to 0-14. The need greatest, up stepped Conor McGrath again, first with an effortless point from distance, then his goal hat-trick.

All too much for Tipperary, who didn’t help their own cause with some very poor shooting (15 wides) at one end of the field, even poorer marking at the other. Back to this Clare side however and how those big scores are compiled. Yes, finished by such as McGrath, Conlan and O’Donnell, but it starts at the back, at the very back, keeper Donal Touhy pulling so many strings. Outside him, skipper Patrick Donnellan again employed as a sweeper and no-one better, such intelligence on the ball, with yet another creator and play-maker, Colin Ryan, dropping deep from his nominal wing-forward slot.

Oh, a new ball-game, a team that thinks its way to victory, before and during a game. You want further proof? Count how many points Clare score from set-piece situations, from fast sidelines, frees and puckouts, while the opposition are snoozing. They’ll take stopping.

Scorers for Clare: C McGrath 3-1; J Conlon 1-3; Colin Ryan 0-4 (2f, 0-1 65); P Duggan 0-2; D Honan, C Galvin, P Donnellan, S Morey, T Kelly, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Tipperary: J O’Dwyer 0-7 (3f, 0-1 65); S Bourke 0-2; C Kenny 0-2; J Woodlock 0-2; J Forde 0-2 (1f); S McGrath, P Murphy, N McGrath, K Bergin, M Heffernan, 0-1 each.

Clare: D Touhy; D McInerney, C Dillon, S Morey; B Bugler, Conor Ryan, P O’Connor; P Donnellan, C Galvin; Colin Ryan, P Duggan, J Conlon; D Honan, C McGrath, C O’Connell.

Subs for Clare: P Collins for Honan (inj. 26); T Kelly for Galvin (inj. 50); S O’Donnell for O’Connell (51); C McInerney for Duggan (65); P Flanagan for Morey (inj. 70+1).

Tipperary: D Gleeson; C Barrett, P Stapleton, M Cahill; S McGrath, T Hamill, T Stapleton; B Maher (c), J Woodlock; P Murphy, N McGrath, K Bergin; S Bourke, J O’Dwyer, J Forde.

Subs for Tipperary: C O’Mahony for Hamill (35); D Maher for Murphy (40); C Kenny for Bourke (57); M Heffernan for Bergin (61); R Maher for Forde (64).

Referee: J Owens (Wexford).