Clare went out on their shields, producing a storming second-half rally with six points on the bounce, cutting Tipp’s lead to one, but they found scores hard to come by all through, and the winner’s accuracy from long range was the difference in the game, watched by 28,567 spectators.
“The wides are a regret,” said Clare joint manager Donal Moloney.
“We probably missed goal chances as well, we probably made some mistakes at the back which probably handed them some points as well. Those are some of the regrets, but we have a lot to be positive about as well, we had some outstanding performances today.”
So did Tipperary, with manager Michael Ryan paying tribute to his charges: “Even when we got off to a reasonably good start there in the first half, Clare hit us with two super goals. They showed us exactly the kind of ability they have got in that squad.
“But look, I was very happy with our fellas too. We were doing lots of things well, I thought we got into the game from the off. We put up an overall decent tally of points. But look, the overriding feeling here is one of total relief to have got through.”
Early on Clare had obviously decided to go for goals, with Podge Collins getting a half-sight of goal in the opening minutes. He had to be content with a point, but the pattern was established early — Clare had possession but shot wides, while a clinical Tipp kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Conor McGrath goaled for Clare but was called back —correctly on first viewing — by referee Colm Lyons for over-carrying.
Seamus Callanan frees and John McGrath from play helped Tipp to a 0-8 to 0-3 at the end of the first quarter.
With Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher causing problems for Clare with his charging runs, Clare needed a boost, and Aaron Cunningham provided it with a fine goal from close range. Within a minute the same player had another goal, having rounded Tipp ‘keeper Daragh Mooney after a sharp Shane O’Donnell pass: 2-3 to 0-9 on 20 minutes.
Clare put the ball wide four times in a row after that, however, with Michael Breen, ‘Bonner’ Maher and Callanan (free) restoring the lead for Tipp with three points. Significantly, Callanan, John O’Dwyer, John McGrath and Michael Breen secured a five-point lead, 0-16 to 2-5, for Tipperary at half-time with a late rattle of points.
Clare continued to struggle with their restarts on the resumption but troubled their opponents’ full-back line when they got upfield, as shown by three close-in frees Kelly pointed.
By the 50th-minute Clare had edged within four, 2-9 to 0-19, though Tipp didn’t have to work as hard to get scores, picking points from range, such as Noel McGrath’s to stretch their lead to five. He and Patrick Maher made it a seven-point game before sub David Reidy replied for Clare with a free, but Tipp looked comfortable turning into the final quarter.
Clare hit those six points on the spin, however, punctuated by two Tipperary wides, to make it a one-point game. They had the opportunity to go ahead, too, when Aaron Cunningham missed a difficult goal chance.
There was one in it with five on the clock but Callanan won a free John O’Dwyer pointed, and Brendan Maher blasted over a long range free just afterwards. There was still time for John McGrath and subs Steven O’Brien and Jason Forde to add insurance points, though Conor McInerney got a late, late consolation goal for Clare.
“It is frustrating,” said Moloney. “We’ve changed some things in how we’re trying to play. Maybe we’re more open at the back to point-scoring, but we’re trying to attack more and create more goal chances.
“Some of that is coming right but it’s about getting the balance right, and in the last two games we haven’t gotten the balance right, but we’re not too far away either.”
Michael Ryan pointed out that whoever lost the game, their season was over. “Nobody wants their season to be over in July. So the prize was massive. The workrate was very good, even at the end when the third goal was conceded, the boys were out on their feet.
“There was some heroic defending. I think both teams deserve a huge amount of credit, it was a really good game of hurling.”
A. Cunningham (2-0), T. Kelly (0-4 frees)(0-6); C. McInerney (1-1); C. McGrath, D. Reidy (frees), S. O’Donnell (0-2 each); P. Duggan, C. Galvin, J. Shanahan (0-1 each).
S. Callanan (0-3 frees)(0-7); J. McGrath (0-6); J. O’Dwyer (0-1 free, N. McGrath (0-4 each); P. Maher, M. Breen (0-2 each); B. Maher (free), S. O’Brien, J. Forde (0-1 each).
A. Fahy, S. Morey, P. O’Connor (c), C. Dillon, D. Fitzgerald, C. Cleary, J. Shanahan, C. Galvin, T. Kelly, C. Malone, P. Collins, J. Conlon, S. O’Donnell, A. Cunningham, C. McGrath.
P. Duggan for Conlon (32); D. Reidy for Collins (52); C. McInerney for Malone (56); J. McCarthy for Kelly (66).
D. Mooney, D Maher, T. Hamill, J. Barry, S. Kennedy, R Maher, P Maher (c), B. Maher, M. Breen, N. McGrath, Patrick Maher, D. McCormack, J. O’Dwyer, S. Callanan, J. McGrath.
S. O’Brien for Barry (44); J. Forde for Breen (60); N O’Meara for O’Dwyer (66); S. O’Brien for Callanan (inj, 68).
C. Lyons (Cork).