For Tipperary, this was the return of that uneasy feeling that has pervaded each of their last three seasons. Since the 2013 Division 1 final, each of their exits from the league, provincial and All-Ireland championships, have come by three points or less.
Eight defeats by the bare minimum or close to it.
Once more, they blinked first when it appeared a semi-final spot was within their grasp.
Worse still, the team they named was closer to what will take the Semple Stadium field against Cork on May 22 than the 15 Clare will field to start against Waterford there two weeks later.
They may have more stand-out performers than their opponents but Clare had more will for the battle.
Tipperary’s 17 wides, three of them attributed to Seamus Callanan from placed balls in the first half, told a sorry tale in contrast to Clare’s seven. The waywardness cost them dearly in the 67th minute when substitute Aaron Shanagher managed to make the most of an advantage rule benefit having been fouled and batted the ball Shane O’Donnell-like to the net.
John Conlon, who had scored Clare’s first goal in the 20th minute, followed up with a point and Clare were two clear. A Padraic Maher point gave Tipperary an excellent chance of forcing extra-time but with their two first-choice free-takers Callanan and John O’Dwyer off the field it was left to Jason Forde to try from distance. His shot tailed wide as did another opportunity that fell his way in open play shortly afterwards.
Clare found themselves three points down with five minutes of regulation time remaining. Tipperary had hit three points on the bounce but Davy Fitzgerald never felt the game was beyond his team. “No, never. I always believed. I told the lads, ‘There will be stages you go down three, four, five points but don’t panic. There will be opportunities. There will be swings and roundabouts in games. You just gotta hold your nerve. The last 10 minutes are where most games are won. Hold that composure, take your chances when you get them.’ The fresh lads coming on was definitely a help.”
Clare’s negation of Tipperary’s goal threat was a primary factor in them giving the 9,038 Cusack Park crowd much to cheer. While John McGrath excelled, Callanan was subdued by the home side’s cover and O’Dwyer moved further away from the opposition goal to pick up ball. McGrath had Tipperary’s one true threat on Patrick Kelly’s goal in the 50th minute, which was easily snuffed out.
“We could have done with raising a green flag,” acknowledged Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. “That would have given us a further impetus. We had to work really hard to get into that lead coming down the straight. That goal they got, I’d be quite disappointed. I’d need to see it again but from my view, my angle of it, the guy that scored it made a very long run. We’ll have to review it and see.”
Clare led 1-7 to 0-8 after a first half when they had dictated the rhythm of the game. Conlon’s goal was similar to the one he scored against Limerick. Collecting a long delivery from Aaron Cunningham, he turned his marker and his strike was low and authoritative.
Clare rode their luck when Ciarán O’Doherty managed to escape a second yellow card for a high foul. Kirwan’s decision to let him off with a warning allowed the sideline to bring him off. But the biggest let-off were Callanan’s misplaced frees from scoreable positions. By the end of the half, all free-taking duties had been assigned to O’Dwyer. “There were certainly two obvious ones,” said Ryan. “We missed a couple of long-range ones too — they’re always high-risk ones. That’s what we’ve got to work on between now and May 22.”
Callanan was withdrawn in the 52nd minute by which stage Tipperary had drawn level. They went ahead for the first time shortly afterwards and although pegged back they were in clover with three consecutive points from John McGrath (two) and Forde.
But then came the crunch. A familiar feeling for Tipperary as Clare proved too clinical.
B Duggan (2 frees), D Honan (0-3 each); J Conlon (1-1); A Shanagher (1-0); C Galvin, C McGrath, C O’Connell (frees) (0-2 each).
J McGrath (0-6); J O’Dwyer (0-3, frees); S Callanan (frees), M Breen, P Maher (0-2 each); R Maher, N McGrath, J Forde (0-1 each).
P Kelly; P Flanagan, P O’Connor, C O’Doherty; C Cleary, C Dillon, B Bugler; D Reidy, C Ryan; C Galvin, B Duggan, C McGrath; A Cunningham, D Honan, J Conlon.
G O’Connell for C O’Doherty (31); C O’Connell for B Duggan (43); Colin Ryan for C Galvin (inj 53); A Shanagher for A Cunningham (55); D Fitzgerald for D Reidy (62);
D Mooney; C Barrett, J Barry, C O’Brien; B Heffernan, R Maher, P Maher; B Maher, M Breen; N McGrath, D McCormack, N O’Meara; J O’Dwyer, S Callanan J McGrath.
K Bergin for N O’Meara (inj h-t); J Forde for S Callanan (52); T Hamill for C O’Brien (59); G Ryan for D McCormack (66).
D Kirwan (Cork)