Tipperary 2-19 Clare 0-20
For Eamon O’Shea, there was little to see here.
His team might have won, on the road — only the second time they ever have in the league on his beat — but by his own admission he wasn’t going to view what had just transpired as a “battle won” or even fought.
His tone afterwards to reporters was as flippant as it was stoical. When you reach a league final in your first year, then don’t win a championship game that summer; or when you, the following year, within an injury-time puck of a ball of facing a relegation playoff and still end up almost winning the same league and the All-Ireland, the league and life can make you that way.
“Look, yeah, a good win. But three matches, you win two, you lose one. I’d say we might nearly lose another before the league is over, so you just have to be cautious with everything.
“It [was] just a league match. No more than the last time when I spoke to you after we lost one [to Dublin]. You take it for what it is on the day but don’t read much into it, either for the next day or three months or six months time. So [games like these] say nothing about anything.”
He may be right. When it comes to a competition where a team can be 14 points up against the All-Ireland champions one week, then 13 points down at half-time the next game, it is hard to come to any hunches let alone conclusions in the league.
Yet that’s what the league is about too. Developing a hunch about a player, finding one if you’re a manager. And detecting trends that you want to either continue or cut out, certainly by championship.
Yesterday offered up both, for either side.
Last year’s league hinted that Cathal Barrett could be a tidy corner back for championship.
The way he marshalled Conor McGrath yesterday suggested that the find – and Young Player – of 2014 was no one-season wonder, and that the follow-up album won’t be as difficult as it is for so many other standout debut acts.
Tipp may unearth a few new gems in this league too. Yesterday certainly hinted at it. Michael Breen was hugely assured at left wing back, striking over two points a couple of minutes either side of half-time; the one just before the interval was a particularly delightful effort, off his left side out by the touchline on the run from distance.
Up front, John McGrath, Noel’s younger brother, popped up with five points from play and created scores for others with his ability to win ball and lay it off.
Clare, in contrast, struggled to win ball inside. As much as their shape did stymie Tipp for much of the opening half hour, at which juncture there was only a point between the sides, the tactic of playing Shane O’Donnell alone inside had limited impact.
Davy Fitzgerald may have to review his template, or at least key aspects of it. Yesterday was not an isolated game. They’re not creating or taking enough goal chances. Some of their best ball-playing forwards are not being brought into the game or getting into the game; think Podge Collins in Thurles last May against Cork, or Conor McGrath yesterday, playing closer to midfield than goal for considerable periods.
Nor are they winning enough ball in the air.
Yet there is no need to panic either. As a measured Fitzgerald alluded to in his post-match comments, his team have played quite well in five of their six halves of hurling so far in this league. Their full-back line was the most solid it has been in a year; Cian Dillon and David McInerney repeatedly emerged with the ball with admirable aggression. Conor Ryan was magnificent at centre back, knocking over three points by half time and notching two more in the final quarter to bring his team back to within a goal of Tipp.
In the closing minutes though, they didn’t quite use the ball as well as Tipp, exemplified by the hugely game Patrick O’Connor going for a low percentage shot from his own wing instead of looking to play the ball in.
In truth, Tipp used the ball that bit better throughout the game. Seamie Callanan may only have chipped in with a couple of points from play but the rest of his performance underlined his status within this team.
On a day when Tipp were without Brendan and Bonner Maher and Shane McGrath was only a sub, he led vocally and by example, not least when brilliantly playing James Woodlock through for the game’s decisive goal with five minutes to go.
There was something to read in that too.
Scorers for Clare: Colin Ryan 0-8 (all frees), Conor Ryan 0-5, T Kelly (0-1 free) and J Conlon 0-2 each, C Galvin, C McGrath and S O’Donnell 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: S Callanan 0-7 (0-2 frees), J McGrath 0-5, J O’Dwyer 0-4 (2 frees), N McGrath and J Woodlock 1-0 each, M Breen 0-2, J Forde 0-1.
CLARE: P Kelly; P Flanagan, C Dillon, D McInerney; B Bugler, Conor Ryan, P O’Connor; P Donnellan, C Galvin; T Kelly, Colin Ryan, S Golden; C McGrath, S O’Donnell, J Conlon.
Subs: A Cunningham for Golden (halftime), J Browne for Flanagan (blood, 45; return in 51) , S Morey for Donnellan (63), C Cleary for Bugler (65).
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson; C Barrett, C O’Mahony, C O’Brien; M Breen, P Maher, R Maher; K Bergin, J Woodlock; C Kenny, J O’Dwyer, N O’Meara; N McGrath, S Callanan, J McGrath.
Subs: J Forde for Kenny (49 mins), G Ryan for O’Meara (57), T Stapleton for P Maher (blood, 59; Maher returns on 64); S McGrath for N McGrath (60), S Bourke for J McGrath (66), T Stapleton for P Maher (blood, 68; Maher returns again on 71); T Stapleton for Woodlock (73)
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly)
Darren Gleeson’s full-length diving save from a Tony Kelly bullet with eight minutes to go — and Conor McGrath failing to get a shot off when the rebound broke to him.
Talk of the town
The extension of Clare’s losing streak. That’s seven competitive games without a win.
Did that just happen?
In Seanie McMahon, Clare would often have had a centre back who scored five points in a game but never all from play. Conor Ryan managed to do that yesterday, repeatedly storming through the middle in the safety and knowledge Pat Donnellan was sweeping.
Best on show
Conor Ryan for his scoring return, though Cathal Barrett was exceptionally tight and tidy at the back for Tipp.
Clare’s sweeper-one-man full-forward line setup in the first half against the breeze might have stemmed Tipp for the first 33 minutes of the game, but with that allowing Eamon O’Shea to let Paudie Maher sweep up, Clare didn’t — and don’t — carry enough of a goal threat.
The man in black
Both camps might have had the odd quibble here and there — Noel McGrath was blown for fouling when he simply stood his ground against Cian Dillon — but in general Brian Gavin did well.
Clare host Dublin next Saturday, a game they have to win if they’re to have any chance of avoiding a relegation playoff. The following day Tipp have a particular tasty one in Thurles as they get a chance to beat Kilkenny, something they’ve only done once in the last 10 clashes between the counties.
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