Tipperary 0-28 Clare 0-21: “I’m not joking, we’re doing nothing different,” insisted Michael Ryan after this latest piece of evidence that the crown weighs lighter on Tipperary’s heads than previous times.
But applying the same standards as the victorious 2016 season may just be the exact reason why the All-Ireland champions sit pretty at the top of Division 1A with three wins from three games. Tipperary are playing like they still have plenty to prove.
Here, they began with just seven of the side that started the All-Ireland final. Hurler of the year candidate Seamus Callanan and All-Star James Barry, who were named on the bench, were forced out with bugs but it didn’t matter as their team-mates had enough to see off Clare in an entertaining clash.
Ryan gave some insight into his ruthlessness following the final whistle when he referred to the head injuries picked up by Niall O’Meara and Donagh Maher in the second half and the shoulder problem which forced his 2016 captain Brendan Maher to retire in the first half.
“You hate to see that happen to the lads because they’ve clawed their way into a position to get jerseys here and if you’re out for a few weeks you could lose the last two games of the league. But look, the panel will be delighted to get an opportunity if they’re out.”
Where there’s disappointment for one player there’s hope for another and Tipperary are once again illustrating their whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
Admittedly, John McGrath was the star turn with 10 points but there were a handful of individual performances that will have pleased Ryan no end, like those of Steven O’Brien, Tomás Hamill and Paul Flynn, who came off the bench to slot over two points.
In a game where neither goalkeeper had to make a stop on a sod so good it could have easily accommodated the footballers whose scheduled curtain-raiser against Longford was postponed, Tipperary’s superior stick-work and score-taking proved the difference.
Clare, backed by the wind, were 0-11 to 0-10 up at the break but found themselves in arrears three minutes into the second half and were six behind when just seconds separated John O’Dwyer and O’Brien strikes in the 58th minute. Flynn’s first on the hour mark pushed Tipperary seven up and seemingly out of sight.
But a sticky Clare side, who admittedly had to rely heavily on John Conlon and Podge Collins for scores, rallied with three points on the bounce, two of them coming from substitute Ian Galvin who put his hand up for inclusion from the outset against Dublin next weekend.
Seadna Morey followed up that brace with a point and while O’Dwyer cancelled it out soon after, Clare responded with David Reidy’s sixth free of the afternoon and Galvin’s third point.
The travelling support in the 7,254 crowd sensed the initiative had been grasped by Clare but Galvin’s score only served to shift Tipperary into a higher gear.
O’Dwyer found his range twice in the space of a minute, John McGrath jumped into double figures, and Flynn added his second to restore the home side’s seven-point advantage.
Substitutes Jason McCarthy and Sean Curran then exchanged points to finish out a game which will have proved useful to both management teams.
“That was a real game of hurling, in excess of 40 scores,” said Ryan. “How many times did Clare come at us in the first half and completely switched around momentum and again in the second half?
They came at least three different times with a real effort to try and win the match. The wind favoured us and gave us a little bit of a cushion to hit some of those longer-range shots over the bar. I thought it was a great game.”
Clare co-manager Donal Moloney took positives too: “We made substitutions and got it back to three points but irrespective of the substitutions Tipp pulled away in the last four or five minutes. In terms of the forwards, some of them put in huge shifts and huge workrate.
"If you look at it over the course of the two games, some of those players have produced outstanding performances — Cathal Malone and Aaron Shanagher against Kilkenny. It may not have worked as well for them today but John Conlon stepped up to the plate today so we’ll take that in the balance.”
Tipperary had blasted into the game and led 0-5 to no score after seven minutes with John McGrath and O’Brien each registering early braces. With Conlon giving Seamus Kennedy almost as many problems as McGrath gave Cian Dillon at the other end, Clare grew into the game and went ahead in the 28th minute.
They led 0-11 to 0-8 in the 34th minute but Tipperary finished out the half the stronger with O’Meara and John McGrath scores. It turned out to be a portent of things to come.
Scorers for Tipperary:
J. McGrath (0-10, 5 frees); J. O’Dwyer (0-5); N. McGrath, S. O’Brien (0-3 each); P. Flynn (0-2); B. Maher, N. O’Meara, R. Maher (free), D. McCormack, S. Curran (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clare:
D. Reidy (0-6, frees); J. Conlon, P. Collins (0-4 each); I.Galvin (0-3); A. Cunningham, C. McInerney, S. Morey, J. McCarthy (0-1 each).
D. Mooney; D. Maher, J. O’Dwyer, T. Hamill; S. Kennedy, R. Maher, P. Maher (c); B. Maher, B. Heffernan; S. O’Brien, N. O’Meara, N. McGrath; J. O’Dwyer, J. McGrath, A. McCormack.
Subs for Tipperary:
W. Ryan for S. Kennedy (31); M. Breen for B. Maher (inj, 34); D. McCormack for N. O’Meara (inj 40); P. Flynn for A. McCormack (56); S. Curran for B. Heffernan (67).
P. Kelly; S. Morey, C. Dillon (c), O. O’Brien; B. Bugler, C. Cleary, J. Shanahan; D. Fitzgerald, D. Reidy; P. Collins, C. Malone, J. Conlon; A. Shanagher, A. Cunningham, C. McInerney.
Subs for Clare:
S. McNamara for O. O’Brien (inj 52); I. Galvin for A. Cunningham (59); J. McCarthy for J. Shanahan (60); P. Duggan for A. Shanagher (67); P. Donnellan for D. Reidy (69).
B. Kelly (Westmeath).
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