It might be 15 years on from Clare’s last Championship win over Tipperary, but the trauma stays with Brian O’Meara.
Captain at the time, the memory of the helplessness felt at half-time, 11 points back, hasn’t left him.
“There was a sense that there was no way back for us, really. There was a lot of shouting and intensity, but there wasn’t any reality behind it. We were a lame duck.”
That season has parallels with what has transpired in recent months: Tipperary, reeling from a Division 1 final defeat to Kilkenny, stagger into the Munster SHC and are found wanting.
Back then, losing Philip Maher to a cruciate injury and missing suspended Eamonn Corcoran and injured Philip Ormonde meant Tipperary were without half of their 2001 All- Ireland winning back-line. They won the second half by two points but it was trivial.
“Throughout the 90s, Clare had the better of us. When Nicky (English) took over, that was the only game we saw and we beat them in 2000, ’01 and ’02 and then there was a change in management (Michael Doyle), different things were said in the dressing room, that league final and we end up with a few injuries and it fell asunder.
Indeed, 11-point deficits don’t mean as much to Tipperary now, but that is no badge of honour. Michael Ryan’s men have routinely been sluggish in getting to the pitch of games and have just two points from three matches, knowing that even a win over Clare tomorrow guarantees nothing in their quest for ultimate honours. O’Meara feels for the players, given what they have gone through these past three weeks.
“I don’t know how they keep churning it out, week after week, especially given the nature of the games being played. It’s remarkable and, in terms of the emotions, I can only imagine how the Tipp players are, getting beaten and coming back against Cork and Limerick. To focus on work or whatever they’re doing between games… it’s a whole new challenge.”
He’s heard the questions about their mentality, but knows the truth lies somewhere in between the criticism and their potential to challenge Galway for All-Ireland honours; that’s if they get the chance.
“There’s a certain amount of the media that love analysing the Tipp psyche, that there is some sort of weakness there and everybody is just waiting for it to expose itself. Yet, when they’re going well the commentary about how wonderful they are then goes beyond reality. In the Tipp camp, you can be sure they know they’re not world-beaters at the moment, but they also know they’re not a million miles away either.
“The Tipp supporters are just waiting for something to cheer about and, against Cork and Limerick in the second halves, they really got behind the team.
“If the players can put 70 minutes together on Sunday, they will be in a good place going forward but it’s a monumental, knockout game.”
It’s been a whirlwind for followers and the Mullinahone man is no exception, having briefly considered leaving the Cork game at half-time only to stay on and marvel at their resurgence.
“We looked during the league like we were trying to build a team and blood new players, so that we would have options come championship time. We might have overlooked the form of our established players in that time to a certain extent: Brendan Maher was injured, Seamus Callanan was injured, Bonner was injured. They’re key guys, but up to the league final everything looked rosy.
“Confidence then looked low in the league final, but then they didn’t perform in the league final last year and there was a sense that we might come good. There was a real lack of appetite in the Limerick game and I felt for our defence that day, because the forwards didn’t harry, didn’t chase, didn’t tackle. Billy McCarthy was the only guy I could remember turning over a ball in Limerick’s defence and that was a real worry.
“I nearly left at half-time in the Cork game. I wouldn’t, but it was just horrendous. We were getting a runaround. The elation at the end of the game: ‘Wow, where did they get that from?’
“I felt they would kick on against Waterford. The McGraths looked good, Bubbles looked good, It looked like the penny had dropped that it was back to work-rate, but the Waterford game comes and the McGraths don’t perform, Bubbles (O’Dwyer) doesn’t perform. We brought in Bonner (Maher) and he did perform and Brendan Maher performed.”
O’Meara acknowledges that unlike the way it is for other teams, every Munster game is a true derby for Tipperary in that they share borders with all four opponents.
“You build up those rivalries over a period of time. When I was playing, John Carroll had a particular interest in beating Offaly. I had a particular interest in beating Kilkenny. Mick Ryan would have had a particular interest in beating Limerick, because you’re living on those edges of the counties. There is an extra intensity when there are that many rivalries and there’s a player saying ‘we have to beat this crowd’. We’ve had a super rivalry with Clare over the years and that should really inspire players.”
He can see how Tipp can win the game, but he can also envision how Clare could.
“The win is all that matters. Clare, to me, look very dangerous going forward, but I think they can get got at at the back. It could be a very high-scoring game. Tony Kelly, (Conor) McGrath, (Shane) O’Donnell can do a lot of damage. It will be interesting to see how our full-back line cope with their pace.
“Tipp know themselves they need to start well and if the match is level at half-time they can kick on and win it. They can’t leave themselves with another mountain to climb.
“You can’t keep getting away with that. If we give Clare a 10-point lead, we’re going to get caught out. That group of players would have no reservations about playing Clare. They would respect them, but they’ve never been beaten by them.”
Tipp v Clare: The stats
TIPPERARY v CLARE
The counties last met in the championship in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh when Tipperary won by three points.
Clare beat Tipperary by five points in Round 1 of this year’s Allianz League in January.
LAST FIVE CHAMPIONSHIP MEETINGS 2017:
Tipperary 0-28 Clare 3-16 (All-Ireland quarter-final).
2011: Tipperary 4-19 Clare 1-19 (Munster semi-final).
2009: Tipperary 3-28 Clare 1-22 (Munster semi-final).
2008: Tipperary 2-21 Clare 0-19 (Munster final).
2005: Tipperary 2-14 Clare 0-14 (Munster semi-final).
TIPPERARY are still seeking their first win in the Munster round-robin series, having drawn with Cork and Waterford and lost to Limerick.
CLARE make their third round-robin outing. They lost to Cork and beat Waterford.
TIPP have won their last five championship meetings with Clare, leaving the Banner men looking for their first victory since 2003.
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