Clare are back with hell-for-leather hurling

THE first question I have to ask this morning: Where was this Clare performance all year?

Why did we have to wait until yesterday to get a display of this calibre from this Clare team? And believe me, this was a display of the very highest calibre.

Twice Clare had Limerick in Ennis in the league this year, twice they lost, and lost playing very poorly.

Yesterday we saw a different Clare. We were treated to fantastic spirit, passion, courage and intensity coupled with skill and intelligence. We also saw great touches, great awareness of space, but also great physicality — it brought back very happy memories of the Clare teams of old and I’m not talking about just the 1990s.

This was Clare hurling as it should always be played, tearing into it from the start with no respect for any opposition, hell-for-leather hurling, full tilt from the first ball.

You have to ask, have the Clare management team been hiding something from us?

Because there is no doubt about it, Ger O’Loughlin and his sideline had this team right for what was always going to be a huge challenge.

The only place where Clare weren’t maybe as drilled as they could have been — and this has been a long-standing problem — was in their defence, and one of the reasons was too much ball-watching at critical times.

As a defender, as a member of the full-back line especially, you’ve always got to be aware that you’ve got to be a man-marker first and foremost, minding the house.

Twice Clare were caught for goals with two men (Pat Vaughan and Patrick O’Connor) contesting the same ball, allowing it to drop behind them for the Tipp player breaking through. That was inexperience, but these guys have time.

Another error was with goalkeeper Phillip Brennan coming off his line to contest a ball that was falling between the full-back and full-forward. He should have stayed put and he would have easily picked up the break; instead it fell to Eoin Kelly, who converted.

Those three goals brought Tipp back into a game they were losing, and those three goals were the margin at the end.

However, when you’re facing forwards of the talent of Tipperary, with the likes of Kelly, Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher, Lar Corbett and the outstanding Seamus Callanan, you’re going to concede scores.

On the Clare side, a man to match any of these in the next few years will be corner-forward Conor McGrath.

He made his championship debut yesterday and announced himself with a goal inside a minute. I think this guy is as fine a hurling prospect as is in the country. Young Cathal McInerney also did well and the veteran Diarmuid McMahon showed great leadership until eventually running out of steam.

Jonathon Clancy also ran himself into the ground in what was his best game in the county colours. I have to mention John Conlan too; he was on my man of the match, Pádraic Maher, but ended up with three points and contributed hugely. So much then that was positive for Clare.

But, look at Tipperary, look at that scoreline, and you can see why they are All-Ireland champions. In the puckaround their athleticism was so obvious as was their conditioning, and that showed as the game gathered momentum, they finished strongly.

Credit to their new management team also for the changes they made at half time.

The introduction of Paddy Stapleton and Stephen Lillis shored up a shaky defence with Stapleton especially effective in the full-back line.

But God help Tipperary the day Pádraic Maher can’t take the field! He was colossal here, as defender first and foremost, but also as an attacker, with two fantastic points.

All in all a great weekend for Munster hurling and, as I sit here now high in the Gaelic Grounds media gantry looking over the sun-splashed Cratloe hills, I wonder — will the sun now shine again on Clare hurling and give us a long year?

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