Lucky to win their opening round game against Waterford, they then went down to Kilkenny, Clare and Galway in rapid succession, leaking a bucketful of goals in the process, before recovering to beat Dublin in the final round and pip them for a quarter-final place on scoring difference, by just a single point.
That was just four weeks ago but oh, how quickly it all changes. Two games later, a quarter-final win over Cork and now this, bettering All-Ireland champions Clare in a shoot-out in summer-like conditions at the Gaelic Grounds yesterday, and Tipperary are in the league final.
On this form, who would bet against them toppling holders Kilkenny on May 4? Because this wasn’t shadow-boxing yesterday, this was the real McCoy. A very different game to the opening Kilkenny/Galway semi-final admittedly, far more open, but this is now a Tipperary team that has got its house in order just in time; they will test Cody’s Cats.
The first half laid the foundations for the win. A point within six seconds of the throw-in set Tipp on their way, wing-forward John O’Dwyer firing over from the left wing after a neat pass from Killenaule clubmate Kieran Bergin. Clare’s Podge Collins (a late call-up) replied almost immediately, two points within the a minute, and the tit-for-tat tone was set.
The outstanding Seamus Callanan (surely the player of the league) then pointed a brace for Tipperary but in the fourth minute, a body blow, hallmark Clare goal. Set up with deft stickwork by Conor McGrath and Colin Ryan, Darren Gleeson did superbly to save Cathal McInerney’s first effort but couldn’t do anything with the rebound and now it was the All-Ireland champions in front, 1-1 to 0-3.
Given that they were playing with the aid of a strong wind, Tipp needed to build a decent half-time lead but right through the first quarter that goal was the score keeping Clare in touch, just a point behind in the 17m (0-7 to 1-3).
Enter Patrick Bonner Maher. With his strength and awkward style (collects the ball so low to the ground), Lorrha/Dorrha’s finest was already causing problems for no less a defender than Patrick O’Connor.
In the 19th minute, Patrick Donnellan having only half-cleared a long Padraic Maher delivery, Bonner raced onto the break, soloed clear of all defenders, then unleashed a searing shot past Donal Touhy.
That goal lifted Tipperary and from there to half-time they built the cushion they would need, a seven-point lead as they headed for the dressing rooms (1-14 to 1-7), Callanan doing most of the scoring.
Two points just before the break however (Tony Kelly and McInerney) had given Clare hope, and less than five minutes after the restart that hope became optimism, a point from Colin Ryan quickly followed by their second goal, Patrick Donnellan in the right spot and with a perfect strike after Gleeson had saved superbly from Conor McGrath.
Now just three points behind (1-14 to 2-11), it was time for the Clare voices in the 20,452 crowd to be heard. Not for long, and again it was that man Bonner Maher with the silencer, again a long solo, again a perfectly-placed rocket beating Touhy and again, lifting Tipperary at a critical time. Clare would again come back to within three points, corner-back David McInerney with an inspirational point among several others as the strong wind began to tell.
On the 58th minute it was Tipp holding on, 2-16 to 2-13; three times in the next six minutes the teams exchanged points (one of those a Seamus Callanan penalty that he opted to tap over) so that with the clock winding down it was still just that one goal between them.
Then came the final surge and it came from Tipp, outscoring Clare five points to one in the final five minutes (including two from sub Shane Bourke, one from another replacement, Gearoid Ryan). Not a Clare side at their scintillating best, admittedly, but still, 12 of the All-Ireland starting 15, they were gung-ho for this.
Big win then for Tipperary, big turnaround in their league form also — a pointer, perhaps, to later in the season? Who knows.
Scorers for Tipperary: S Callanan 0-12 (6f, 1pen, 0-2 65s); Patrick Maher 2-0; N O’Meara 0-3; S Bourke 0-2; J O’Dwyer 0-2 (1f); N McGrath, D Maher, J Woodlock, J Barry, G Ryan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Clare: Colin Ryan 0-5 (4f); P Donnellan 1-1; C McInerney 1-1; C McGrath, P Collins, T Kelly, C Galvin, 0-2 each; J Conlon, D McInerney, 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson; C Barrett, Padraic Maher, M Cahill; J Barry, B Maher (c), C O’Mahony; K Bergin, J Woodlock; D Maher, Patrick Maher, J O’Dwyer; N McGrath, S Callanan, N O’Meara. Subs for Tipp: G Ryan for D Maher (46); S McGrath for N McGrath (inj. 49); S Bourke for O’Dwyer (62); M Breen for Woodlock (68).
Clare: D Touhy; J Browne, C Dillon, D McInerney; B Bugler, P O’Connor, Conor Ryan; P Donnellan (c), C Galvin; J Conlon, T Kelly, Colin Ryan; P Collins, C McGrath, C McInerney. Subs for Clare: P Duggan for McInerney (35); S Collins for Galvin (62); A Cunningham for Conlon (67); blood sub — A Cunningham for McGrath (5/7).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).