Tipperary 2-24 Clare 2-17
Tipperary made a big statement at the Gaelic Grounds with a seven points win over All-Ireland champions Clare to reach the NHL final.
Eamon O’Shea’s evolving project took a significant step forward on a day when his players tested their progress and came through with flying colours.
Seamus Callanan delivered a stunning display of finishing, helping himself to a dozen points as the Premier men set up a meeting with Kilkenny in the league decider.
Seamus Callanan got Tipp off to a flyer with a couple of early scores, but Clare struck for a goal in the third minute.
Conor McGrath created the opening for Cathal McInerney, whose initial shot was saved by Darren Gleeson, but scrambled over the line at the second attempt.
That was the spark for a Tipp flourish which saw them seize control of the contest, with Kieran Bergin and James Woodlock providing the midfield platform, and James Barry and Brendan Maher solid and dependable at the back.
And in full forward Callanan they had the supreme marksman who was able to score almost at will, from frees and open play.
Callanan had eight points on the board by the interval, punishing any signs of weakness in a hesitant Banner attack.
John O’Dwyer and Denis Maher were on target as the Premier men eased into a three points klead by the 14th minute.
And when Conor McGrath and Colin Ryan responded for the Banner, Tipperary rocked them back on their heels with a 19th minute goal from Patrick ‘Bonar’ Maher, who sprinted clear of Cian Dillon and Patrick O’Connor into open space before rifling his shot past a helpless Donal Tuohy.
Clare were sloppy in their approach, wasteful in attacking possession and unable to inject any fluency into their game, chiefly due to Tipp’s ability to stifle Tony Kelly’s creative influence.
Dillon denied Callanan a goal with a superb block, but the in-form front man converted the resultant ’65, sparking another run of Tipp points, and now they led by nine.
Kelly and McInerney did pull back points, but at the break, the All-Ireland champions had it all to do, trailing by 1-14 to 1-7.
But Tipp’s lead was cut back to three points within three minutes of the restart when Patrick Donnellan punished their failure to clear the danger, drilling to the net for Clare’s second goal.
However, they were never to get any closer to their opponents. Four minutes later Bonar Maher scythed through the Clare defence to finish superbly to the bottom corner of Tuohy’s net, and Eamon O’Shea’s men were back in business.
Davy Fitzgerald endured a frustrating time on the sideline as he watched his side pick off points through defender David McInerney, Kelly and Tony Galvin, only to be pegged back by James Woodlock and Callanan, who regained his composure after missing a couple of frees.
Strangely, he opted to settle for a point from a 61st minute penalty, after Patrick Maher had been fouled by Cian Dillon, moments after Tuohy had pulled off a wonderful save from Callanan.
Discipline at the back helped Tipp see out the game, restricting their opponents to sporadic scores from Conor McGrath and Patrick Donnellan, and as confidence grew, the Premier men stretched out into a seven points lead, Callanan and Geraroid Ryan hitting the target, before substitute Shane Bourke chipped in with a couple of late points, becoming the tenth Tipp player to score.
Tipperary: D Gleeson, C Barrett, Padraic Maher, M Cahill, J Barry (0-1), B Maher, C O’Mahony, K Bergin, J Woodlock (0-1), D Maher (0-1), Patrick Maher (2-0), J O’Dwyer (0-2, 1f), N McGrath (0-1), S Callanan (0-12, 5f, 1 pen, 2 ’65), N O’Meara (0-3).
Subs: G Ryan (0-1) for D Maher, S McGrath for N McGrath, S Bourke (0-2) for O’Dwyer, M Breen for Woodlock
Clare: D Tuohy, J Browne, C Dillon, D McInerney (0-1), B Bugler, Conor Ryan, P O’Connor, P Donnellan (1-1), C Galvin (0-2), J Conlon (0-1), T Kelly (0-2), Colin Ryan (0-5, 4f), C McGrath (0-2), P Collins (0-2), C McInerney (1-1).
Subs: P Duggan for C McInerney, S Collins for Galvin, A Cunningham for Conlon
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).