Even the reception that greeted the intermediate team (starring Niall Gilligan and Tony Carmody) as they left the field after their win over Cork in the warm-up game was louder than the tentative smattering of applause, the few raised voices, that greeted the latest inheritors of the famous saffron-and-blue jersey. A Banner whisper if you will.
By the 8th minute, however, we had our answer with the Clare support in a disappointing attendance of 16,700 in full throaty roar as their young side tore into Tipperary and flew into a most unlikely 1-3 to zero lead with youngster Conor McGrath burying the ball in Brendan Cummins’ net inside a minute.
They were full value for that lead too, their forwards leading a clearly discomfited Tipperary defence on a merry dance, midfielders Jonny Clancy (great game all through) and Nicky O’Connell managing the supply lines.
Even in the 16th minute Clare were still six points in front, Tipp with only two points on the board, courtesy of captain Eoin Kelly and centre-forward Seamus Callanan.
There’s only so long that any defence will be able to keep at bay as high-powered an attack as Tipperary’s, but it doesn’t help your own cause when you gift them three goals – that’s what happened yesterday, and that was where Clare’s challenge ultimately faltered.
The first arrived in the 17th minute. In hurling, if a goalkeeper is going to come off his line to contest a high ball then he’d better win it or keep it in front of him at least. The unfortunate Phillip Brennan did neither and Eoin Kelly was perfectly positioned to apply the finish. The second and third Tipp goals were in a quick-fire burst between the 19th and 21st minutes. Twice in two minutes two Clare defenders on the right wing rose to contest a high ball, twice the ball broke behind them, twice a Tipperary player ran onto the break (Patrick Maher, Lar Corbett), twice they were through one-on-one with Brennan. And twice they hit the net.
Three basic errors led to three goals. And from there to the end, Clare, after all their wonderful early work, found themselves playing catch-up.
They did their damnedest, drew level again in the 24th minute (3-3 to 1-10) and continued to play fast-paced top-class hurling yet they could never again get their noses in front.
Three points separated the teams at the break, Tipp ahead 3-7 to 1-10, and though Clare reduced that deficit to two within five minutes, points from the precocious Conor McGrath and the improving John Conlon, the 45th to the 53rd minutes was when Tipp went on their ‘escape to victory’ run with six points on the trot (two from the flying Seamus Callanan, their best forward on the day) taking the game well out of Clare’s reach (3-14 to 1-12).
Inspired by midfielder Jonny Clancy (2) and McGrath (2), Clare did bring it back to five again, and had a chance in the 67th minute to reduce it to three, but a 20m free by James McInerney was blasted over.
Tipp’s next attack saw the ever-alert Lar Corbett (worked his socks off as provider) in glorious isolation inside the last line of defence, picked out by Bonner Maher, and though Phillip Brennan denied the hurler-of-the-year, the shot came back off the post and the in-rushing Callanan applied the finish.
It was rough justice for Clare after what was a very serious challenge.
Tipperary motor on, meet champions Waterford in what should be a memorable Munster final, all that pace and panache against the power and physicality of Waterford.
Meanwhile Clare face Galway in Galway in the qualifiers in two weeks. They should go there in good heart and this time they should bring a few thousand more supporters, really rev up that old roar.
Scorers for Tipperary: S Callanan 1-5; E Kelly 1-3 (0-2f); L Corbett 1-0; Patrick Maher 1-0; N McGrath 0-3; G Ryan 0-2; Padraic Maher 0-2; P Bourke 0-2; S McGrath 0-2.
Scorers for Clare: C McGrath 1-6 (0-4f); J Conlon 0-3; C McInerney 0-2; D McMahon 0-2; J Clancy 0-2; D Honan, F Lynch, N O’Connell, J McInerney (f), 0-1 each.
Subs for Tipperary: P Stapleton for O’Keeffe, S Lillis for Young (both half-time); P Bourke for O’Brien (45); J Woodlock for Ryan (62); J Coughlan for Curran (70).
Subs for Clare: C O’Donovan for O’Connell (54); C Ryan for Honan (68); C Morey for McMahon (72).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).