Tipperary 4-19 Clare 1-19
All-Ireland champions Tipperary survived an early fright from Clare before eventually sweeping to victory in today's rip-roaring Munster SHC semi-final.
For the second match in a row they had to prove that winning last year’s All-Ireland Final hasn’t diminished their appetite because Clare let it be known early that they hadn’t come to Limerick to roll over.
They set the most defiant tone possible in the very first minute when Conor McGrath tore through the Tipp defence and lanced the ball into the top right-hand corner.
Clare men were throwing themselves into tackles all over the field and playing the game at a pace that belied the fact they’d been playing Division 2 hurling all spring.
Points followed in quick succession from Diarmuid McMahon, McGrath and Fergal Lynch, and after just eight minutes Clare were six points to the good.
Tipperary were clearly rattled as they were playing with little of their trademark composure, but they finally got on the score-board when Eoin Kelly guided a free over the bar.
From that first humble toe-hold they gradually got to grips with the considerable challenge Clare were presenting, though the Banner were still hurling with serious fire as points from Conor McInerney and Nicky O’Connell sandwiched a Seamus Callanan effort.
This Tipperary team has the priceless ability to score goals from nothing though, and they turned the game on its head by scoring three of them in just under five minutes.
Eoin Kelly rose the first flag when he let fly on a breaking ball from a tight angle, but Clare were undaunted as John Conolon and Darach Honan responded with two smart points.
They were reeling though when Tipp then shivered the net twice in as many minutes as Patrick Maher and then Lar Corbett put their heads down and blasted through the Clare defence before both finishing in emphatic fashion.
In the twinkling of an eye a four point deficit had been transformed into a two point advantage and they stretched it to three by the break to take a 3-7 to 1-10 lead into the dressing-rooms.
Tipp manager Declan Ryan displayed a ruthless streak by hauling off defenders David Young and John O’Keefe at half-time and replacing them with Paddy Stapleton and Stephen Lillis.
His team came out for the second half in a much more focused unit, and though Clare scored two early points Tipp soon took a firm grip on the match.
Their half-forwards were starting to get far more room than they had in the first half, and Callanan and Noel McGrath were in the mood to make the most of it.
With that duo to the fore Tipp scored a string of six unanswered to move into a commanding 3-14 to 1-12 lead.
They seemed to ease their foot off the gas thereafter, and Clare briefly gave their supporters hopes of a late comeback by scoring four of the next five points as the indefatigable Jonathan Clancy led the charge.
Tipp didn’t waste any time quelling the uprising as Callanan, substitute Pa Bourke and Paudie Maher knocked over three smashing points to stretch the gap again.
There was just time for one last flourish from the Premier County as man of the match Callanan put the icing on a superb individual display by guiding a ground-stroke to the corner of the net after Lar Corbett’s initial shot had come back off the upright.
And so Tipp march on to a Munster final showdown with Waterford. For the second match in a row they were tested, but once again they rose supremely to the challenge to show just why they’re a champion team.
Tipperary: S Callanan 1-5, E Kelly 1-3 (2f), L Corbett, Patrick Maher both 1-0, N McGrath 0-3, S McGrath, G Ryan, Paudie Maher, P Bourke all 0-2,
Clare: C McGrath 1-6 (4f), J Conlon 0-3, J Clancy, C McInerney, D McMahon all 0-2, M O’Connell, D Honan, F Lynch, J McInerney (f),
Tipperary: B Cummins; J O’Keefe, P Curran, M Cahill; D Young, C O’Mahony, P Maher; G Ryan, S McGrath; S Callanan, N McGrath, P Maher; E Kelly, J O’Brien, L Corbett. Subs: S Lillis for D Young, P Stakelum for J O’Keefe (HT), J Woodlock for G Ryan (62), J Coghlan for P Curran (68)
Clare: P Brennan; P Vaughan, C Dillon, C Cooney; P O’Connor, P Donnellan, J McInerney; N O’Connell, J Clancy; J Conlon, F Lynch, D McMahon; C McInerney, D Honan, C McGrath. Subs: C O’Donovan for N O’Connell (54), C Ryan for D Honan (67), C Morey for D McMahon (72)
Ref: J Owens – Wexford