Last week, in the opening round, a talented Clare side of whom much was expected this year were well beaten in Walsh Park by Waterford and last weekend they began their rehabilitation with a good win over a Kerry team that had impressed in their loss to Limerick.
But this match, playoff round number two, was going to be the real test. On the same evening that Clare were going down so tamely in Waterford, Tipperary lost a rip-roaring contest against Cork, in Cork, 2-31 to 4-22, and then only after extra-time. Common wisdom after that match was that those two would probably meet again, in the Munster final; well, not after the events of yesterday evening. Again Tipperary more than played their part in what was a thoroughly entertaining match, with hurling of the highest quality in the second half especially, but again they were forced to give best, now bow out of the championship.
Clare got off to the better start, 0-4 to 0-1 ahead after 11 minutes, their points coming from Podge Collins (man-of-the-match at centre-forward for Clare), David O’Halloran, free-taker Niall Arthur and outstanding wing-back Enda Boyce (more on Enda later), David Butler with Tipp’s lone score.
By half-time, however, and with scoring contributions from five different players, Tipperary had brought that lead back to one point, 0-7 to 0-6, and it was obvious – this was going to be a battle.
Obvious also, from the scoring, defence was dominating, Clare with strong displays from the aforementioned Enda Boyce, the pacey Seadhna Morey in the left corner, the fluid Stephen O’Halloran on the right wing, with team captain Paul Flanagan (after the injury to Noel Purcell) and Kevin Lynch holding the middle well. Tipperary too had their stars in defence, Joe O’Dwyer and John Meagher doing well down the left flank, high-fielding full-back Andrew Ryan catching the eye, while centre-back Brian Stapleton – despite catching a bit of a tarter in the all-action Podge Collins – also looking strong.
A problem for Tipperary, however, was what to do with Liam McGrath, first cousin of senior star Noel; he started on the left wing of attack, was moved out to midfield when Jason Forde’s injury began acting up, ended up on the edge of the square before the half was over.
The second half began well for Tipp, and in the 37th minute, for the first time in the match, they took the lead. Now was the real test starting for Clare, and how well they responded. Over the next 15 minutes, with Boyce in superb form, their defence came to grips with the Tipp attack, Tony Kelly became master of midfield, and up front, things really began to click.
A run of points, including three each from Collins and Arthur, put Clare five clear in the 54th minute, 0-16 to 0-11, in pole position.
In the meantime, however, Enda Boyce had been sent off, second yellow card offence, and now Tipp came in waves. A brilliant Liam McGrath goal, set up by Dan McCormack and Niall O’Meara, levelled the match in the 59th minute, but midfielder Tony Kelly had the last word, a snap-shot point from distance worthy of winning any game.
Scorers for Clare: N Arthur 0-7 (4f); P Collins 0-4; T Kelly, D O’Halloran, 0-2 each; E Boyce, J Shanahan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: L McGrath 1-3 (3f); A McCormack, M O’Brien, 0-2 each; C Horan, D Butler, D Flynn, J Forde, T Heffernan, J Cahill, 0-1 each.
CLARE: R Taaffe; P Flanagan (capt), N Purcell, S Morey; E Boyce, K Lynch, S O’Halloran; T Kelly, C Galvin; A Cunningham, P Collins, J Shanahan; C O’Connell, N Arthur, D O’Halloran Subs: H Vaughan (Purcell 19); A Mulready (O’Connell 39).
TIPPERARY: D Reddan; C Barrett, A Ryan, J O’Dwyer; L Treacy, B Stapleton (capt), J Meagher; J Forde, D Flynn; D Butler, N O’Meara, L McGrath; M O’Brien, A McCormack, C Horan Subs: T Heffernan (Forde inj 19); J Cahill (Butler 30); D McCormack (Horan 45); P Dalton (Heffernan 52).
Referee: D O’Driscoll (Limerick).