TIPPERARY set up another “old firm” Munster U21 hurling final with Cork at Semple Stadium last night but were made to work hard for their victory over a tenacious Clare side that put in a storming second-half rally that only marginally fell short.
It wasn’t the greatest of games before a surprisingly small attendance of less than 3,000, but Clare’s second-half resurgence made for an exciting spectacle as the battling Banner came within a whisker of bringing the game to a replay.
Tipp just about held on and while one couldn’t seriously argue with the merits of their win they are going to have to step up several notches on this mediocre performance if they hope to dethrone the defending champions in the final.
Three times in a lively opening quarter the sides were level, and with county senior star Jonathan Clancy particularly impressive in the middle of the field for Clare it was they who looked the sharper side despite playing into a stiff breeze.
Quality points by Tyrone Kearse and Damien O’Halloran eased Clare into an unflattering two-point lead midway through the half before Tipp made the master move of switching midfielder James Woodlock over on Clancy. Almost immediately, Woodlock began to curb his dominance, and with their half back trio also shutting up shop on the Clare attack, Tipp ruled supreme for the remainder of the half.
Senior county panellist Darragh Egan and Richie Ruth presented a twin threat in their full forward line and the pair combined for Tipp’s 19th-minute goal when Egan finished Ruth’s pinpoint pass to the net.
That gave Tipp the cushion of a three-point lead, 1-6 to 0-6, and they remained firmly in control to the interval adding on half a dozen points to Clare’s solitary replay from a Mark Flaherty free.
Those Tipp points including a prodigious effort from a free from all of 120 yards by their outstanding goalkeeper, Gerry Kennedy, and they looked comfortably poised with a 1-12 to 0-7 lead at the break.
But full marks to Clare, who reemerged with all guns blazing and throwing down the firmest of gauntlets to Tipp. The introduction of Ger Arthur at midfield worked a treat for them and he was one of their early second-half scorers as they began to eat into the winner’s lead.
The accurate free taking of full forward Flaherty was also a major plus and within eight minutes of the restart the deficit had been slashed to a solitary goal.
Kearse, Flaherty and Cathal Lafferty all found the range as Clare continued to press forward but Tipp concern was eased when the superb Niall Teehan and the industrious Stephen Lillis rifled over invaluable points.
In a tension-charged finish, Clare came forward in waves and laid siege to the Tipperary goal. However, a solid defence stood defiant and with goalkeeper Kennedy twice effecting timely clearances they just about held on for their narrow but deserved win.
They owe much to the excellence of Kennedy, Paddy Stapleton, Conor O’Brien and David Young in defence, Woodlock and Lillis at midfield and Teehan, Egan, and Ruth up front.
On a Clare side that battled bravely right to the end James McInerney and Pat Donnellan excelled in defence, Clancy was tireless in the middle of the field while Kearse, and Flaherty shared the honours in a hardworking, though limited, attack.
Scorers: Tipperary: D. Egan (1-5, 0-5 frees), S. Lillis (0-3, 0-1 free), N. Teehan (0-3), R. Ruth (0-2), J. Woodlock, R. O’Dwyer, R. McLoughney, G. Kennedy (0-1 each). Clare: M. Flaherty (0-7, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65), T. Kearse (0-3), J. Clancy (0-2), Damien O’Halloran (0-2), M. Gaffney, G. Arthur, C. Lafferty (0-1 each).
TIPPERARY: G. Kennedy, P. Stapleton, A. Burns, C. O’Brien, D. Young, J. ‘Bob’ McCarthy, S. Horan, J. Woodlock, S. Lillis, R. O’Dwyer, N. Teehan, D. Sheppard, R. Ruth, D. Egan, R. McLoughney.
Subs: K. Lanigan for Horan, D. Hickey for Sheppard.
CLARE: K. Davitt, B. Bugler, E. Collins, A. Kilmartin, J. McInerney, P. Donnellan, M. Hawes, M. O’Hanlon, J. Clancy, S. O’Brien, C. Rafferty, T. Kearse, B. Gaffney, M. Flaherty, Damien O’Halloran.
Subs: G. Arthur for O’Hanlon, Danny O’Halloran for Gaffney, C. Ryan for O’Brien.
Referee: D. Richardson (Limerick).
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