All that remains now for a Tipp provincial clean sweep is to win the U-21 final in two weeks in Limerick, again against Clare.
None of the Tipp team that played here will be involved in that match, an internal county board ruling confining selection on the intermediate panel to those aged between 21 and 27. In stark contrast, 10 of those who started for Clare last night are still U-21 with another three (Conor Ryan, Niall Arthur and Mikey O’Neill) making an appearance off the subs’ bench.
It told too, that difference in age, not so much physically as mentally. Clare were flying, well up to the physical battle, and did more than enough to win this title. Their decision-making with posts in sight was poor, however, their shooting in the second-half especially, when the game was there to be won, very much astray.
Five wides to start the half, four more before the final whistle — oh how they’ll rue those missed opportunities!
Played in front of a small but vocal crowd of 2,236, near-perfect conditions, the opening five minutes were even-steven, two points apiece when the feeling-out process was over. Tellingly, it was corner-forwards David Butler (from play) and Kieran Morris (free) with the Tipp points and these two would go on to dominate the scoreboard for the home side, while midfielder Pa Sheehan (play) and centre-forward Cathal O’Connell (65) replied for Clare, again the two who would go on to top-score for the visitors.
Tipp then went on a bit of a gallop, four straight points in three minutes, but Clare had it back level by the 21st minute at 0-7 each, Morris and Butler continuing to do all the scoring for Tipperary, wing-forward Cathal Malone, Fergal Kennedy and Davy O’Halloran joining O’Connell on the mark for Clare.
It remained tight to the break, only a goal in it (1-10 to 0-10), that goal coming in the 29th minute, powered over by the giant Butler after Clare keeper Niall Woods had come under pressure from a long James Barry delivery.
Clare took a long time to reappear for the second-half but when they did they were instantly on the attack. Instantly astray also, two wides and an underhit free that fell short, three more wides to follow; Tipperary meanwhile were all efficiency, two softly conceded pointed frees by the deadly accurate Kieran Morris and a lovely combination point from play (keeper James Logan to midfielder Michael Gleeson to Mikey Heffernan) helping them to extend their lead to six points by the 42nd minute (1-13 to 0-10).
Eventually — after yet another wide — Clare did find the range, Pa Sheehan pointing the way, followed by an inspirational long-range score from centre-back Cillian Duggan, and suddenly they were back in the game. Two more from the new settled O’Connell, another from rangy wing-forward Peter Duggan, and with five minutes to go it was back to a two-point game, 1-14 to 0-15.
Former senior midfielder Michael Gleeson had been showing touches of class all through, however, and in those final five minutes he was the main man for Tipperary. Wing-forward Sean Carey was another who showed up at this vital stage, two scoring passes to Gleeson and Heffernan, freetaker Morris with the final say.
A deserved win for Tipp, their first intermediate title since 2002, straight through now to an All-Ireland final meeting on September 1st against either Kilkenny or Galway. For Clare, some wounds to heal before that U-21 final in two weeks.
Scorers for Tipperary: K Morris 0-8 (8f); D Butler 1-4; M Heffernan 0-2; D O’Brien 0-2; M Gleeson, P White, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Clare: C O’Connell 0-7 (5f, 1 65); P Sheehan 0-3; P Duggan 0-2; C Malone 0-2; C Duggan, F Kennedy, D O’Halloran, 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: J Logue; C Coughlan, K O’Gorman, G Walsh; J Barry, E Connolly, R Sherlock; M Gleeson, P White; M Heffernan, J Gallagher, S Carey; K Morris, D O’Brien, D Butler.
Subs: E Sweeney (Gallagher 36); R Ruth (White 51); N Teehan (Barry 61).
CLARE: N Woods; P Flanagan, D McInerney, C O’Doherty (c); S O’Halloran, C Duggan, C Chaplin; J Colleran, P Sheehan; C Malone, C O’Connell, P Duggan; F Kennedy, A Lynch, D
Subs: N Arthur (Lynch 43); C Ryan (Malone 51); M O’Neill (D O’Halloran 54); B Donnellan (Colleran 59).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).