It was rather fitting that Gary Brennan and David Tubridy should deliver the scores which rescued Clare from relegation to Division 3.
Both men have given well over a decade of service to Clare football and, along with long-serving defender Gordon Kelly, are far more acquainted with life in the league’s lower tiers than their teammates.
They’ve served their time in the basement divisions and were the two men yesterday who made absolutely certain that Clare did not slip one rung on the league ladder.
Mind you, despite Clare being the only one of the three relegation-threatened counties to be in control of their own destiny ahead of the final round of games, the spectre of Division 3 football loomed large for the Banner throughout much of this contest.
While the visitors to Thurles were unable to mine a score between the 43rd and 70th minutes, Tipperary were busy positioning themselves for a shot at safety as six unanswered points from Conor Sweeney (two frees and a mark), Liam McGrath (0-2, one free) and Steven O’Brien moved them from three behind to three clear (1-19 to 2-13). Dispatches from Armagh told of the home side having snuck in front of Cork. Were the scoreboards to hold, then it would be injury-hit Tipperary who’d stay up.
Of course, there were a few twists and turns yet to play out. Clare had now committed themselves to chasing a third green flag and almost had the net shaking but for a superb Evan Comerford save to deny sub Kieran Malone.
Twenty seconds from the end of regulation time, the equalising score was found. Cian O’Dea deserves most of the credit for holding onto possession when swarmed by blue-and-gold jerseys close to the opposition posts. The ball was worked to Keelan Sexton, the sub keeping his cool when the opening presented itself. Level game in Thurles.
Tipperary’s Jimmy Feehan blocked a Sexton point effort in the subsequent action, this passage of play ending with a Conor Sweeney free directly in front of the Clare posts which the Tipperary captain sent wide. Cork’s victory in Armagh meant it was a miss which did not come back to haunt him or his team.
With four of the allotted six minutes of injury-time elapsed and the sides still deadlocked, Brennan and Tubridy stepped forward to take back control of Clare’s destiny. Brennan, firstly, curled over the lead point and two minutes later, Tubridy, from an audacious angle in front of the Ryan Stand, landed the clincher.
The result from Armagh was now immaterial. Clare were safe, a fourth spring in Division 2 secured.
Their path to survival had a far more straightforward look about it eight minutes into the second-half, Colm Collins’ side having shifted through the gears upon the restart to clock 1-5 without reply.
Tubridy kicked the opening point of this sequence. The second, delivered by Sexton, was set-up by Brennan. Eoin Cleary chipped in with a pair of white flags before Brennan tied matters on 42 minutes. Clare were rampant by this juncture, and yet another flowing move ended with Tubridy rolling the ball into the opposition goal to shove them 2-13 to 1-13 clear.
With the wind behind them, Clare should have pushed on. That they didn’t — failing to score in 27 minutes — is a worry, even if their primary aim of preserving their Division 2 status was achieved.
That the pendulum shifted so dramatically back in Tipperary’s favour followed the first-half pattern, where both sides enjoyed extensive spells of dominance. Conor Sweeney was Tipperary’s sole contributor on the scoreboard for the opening 26 minutes, tallying 1-6 (1-5 from play). A cohort of his teammates, including Liam Casey, Kevin Fahey, O’Brien, and McGrath, got in on the act approaching the break, Tipperary’s outscoring of Clare by 0-8 to 0-1 from the 25th minute onwards leaving them 1-13 to 1-8 clear at the interval. Six second-half scores was never going to prove sufficient, either for the win or safety.
“Even if we won here, we would have gone down, but I’m disappointed we didn’t win, because we were in a winning position,” said Tipperary manager Liam Kearns.
“We need to concentrate now on our main aim this year, which is the championship and we are surely due a run of having no injuries. That’s all I want: A team that is fit and healthy for the championship.”
Scorers for Clare: E Cleary (0-4, 0-2 frees); D Tubridy (1-3); G Cooney, K Sexton (1-1 each); J Malone, G Brennan (0-2 each); S O’Donoghue, C O’Connor (0-1 each).
Scorers for Tipperary: C Sweeney (1-9, 0-4 frees); L McGrath (0-4, 0-2 frees); L Casey, S O’Brien, K Fahey (0-2 each).
CLARE: R Eyres; K Harnett, C Brennan, G Kelly; S Collins, D Ryan, C O’Dea; G Brennan, C O’Connor; E Cleary, S O’Donoghue, J Malone; G Cooney, D Tubridy, C Ó hAiniféin.
Subs: K Sexton for Ryan (HT); K Malone for Cooney (63); D Masterson for Ó hAiniféin (69).
TIPPERARY: E Comerford; B Fox, E Moloney, J Meagher; A Campbell, P Maher, D Brennan; S O’Brien, J Kennedy; P Austin, L Casey, L McGrath; M Quinlivan, C Sweeney, K Fahey.
Subs: J Feehan for Maher, L Boland for Austin (both 60); D O’Meara for McGrath (69).
Referee: S Curley (Galway).