Darach Honan reflects on Clare’s exit from the Munster SHC, a tie which evoked memories of the infamous 2008 Munster U21 hurling final.
At the end of what could have been another classic clash between old rivals, boos rang out from the stands as a result of a dreadful interpretation of a recently introduced rule by James Owens. The rule, which was brought in to combat cynical fouling of attackers when in on goal, was never intended to award penalties for infractions on the sideline, and everyone in Clare will rightly feel aggrieved that we are not advancing to the Munster Final against Limerick.
With a championship game under our belts, Clare started the game much the better as we would have hoped. While Tipperary looked sharp in attack, their defence took time to settle and, in the meantime, the Clare forwards made hay. Tipperary were unable to cope with the dynamism of our forwards, particularly Ian Galvin who capitalised on several defensive errors and hit Tipp for 1-2 in the first half. He was also involved in some positive build-up play and was the standout performer for Clare on the day.
Tipp did settle though, and in the second quarter they got on top by developing a strong foothold through their half forward line. This in turn gave them the platform to run up a big score. Jake Morris came into the game when moved off the tigerish Rory Hayes. Jason Forde and Bubbles Dwyer switched regularly to centre forward and picked off some good scores while Michael Breen’s direct running was causing us problems.
It appeared as though we would be entering half time trailing Tipperary, despite dominating the play. However, a brilliant assist from David Reidy led to a Tony Kelly goal and a massive boost for Clare. The momentum swung back to Clare and supporters applauded them off the field at half time and confidence was high going into the second half.
Cue James Owens intervention. Aidan McCarthy had worked hard to track back and turnover Jake Morris who was ready to pull the trigger and pop the ball over the bar. Having won back possession Aidan found a teammate. Morris brilliantly dispossessed Clare again and was about to regain possession when Aidan came in with a mistimed and tired challenge. A straightforward call for the referee: free in and yellow card. However, the Clare and Tipperary people around me in the crowd were dismayed at the decision to award a penalty and sin bin McCarthy. With numerous covering defenders present and possession not even secured by Morris, it was an embarrassing example of inept refereeing.
Clare were visibly rattled and took the rest of the quarter to recover their composure. Tipperary outscored Clare 2-4 to 2 points in this time and it could have been worse. A freak Callanan goal was a further hammer blow. When shooting for a point he mishit the ball, and the flight deceived Eibhear in goals. Clare now had a huge deficit to surmount in order to claw their way back into the game.
While many will point to the obvious wrongdoing of the referee, Clare will need to focus internally on what they could have done better. Our scoring efficiency was improved from our first outing, but it was not as clinical as Tipperary’s. While our wide count was far lower, we dropped five balls into the grateful hands of Barry Hogan.
Long range shooting does not suit Clare, and a better use of possession is to play quality ball to our inside line. These inside forwards need to be more clinical too though, and perhaps the return of Shane O’Donnell would improve this aspect of our game. Returning John Conlon to the edge of the square should not be ruled out either. I believe he would carry more of a threat in there and it is a move that should be considered.
We seemed vulnerable when Tipperary ran the ball from midfield and half forward line. They regularly scythed through the middle of our defence and created goal scoring opportunities. We might counter this by introducing David McInerney to shore up our defence here. He made a huge impact when he came on at the weekend and placing him at the centre of the defence could improve things drastically.
Our puckouts will also need to evolve. John regularly dropped back to our 21-yard line to create an overlap for Eibhear to pick out. This worked well initially as Clare worked the ball effectively. However, Tipperary quickly adapted and forced less confident defenders to collect them. This allowed them to pressure the Clare clearance with just five forwards, and create a sweeping defender further back the field when Clare did deliver it. Clare will have to work out how to develop a medium length puckout to take advantage when opposition do withdraw players back the field to cover off the long option.
Finally, I think our game management let us down at the weekend. The sin binning was the turning point of the game, but our reaction allowed Tipperary to capitalise so strongly. Clare should have slowed the pace of the game to a snail’s pace during these ten minutes. Puckouts, sidelines and frees should have been stretched out to an eternity. Numerous players should have requested medical attention to take time off the clock and shore things up while down to 14.
While disappointment will have been palpable from management, players and supporters alike, Clare remain in the All Ireland championship and should be bullish of their chances when going into the draw. Few counties perform as well as us when there is a sense of injustice and given the way in which we were beaten by Tipperary, there will be a huge drive within the group to right the wrongs of the weekend.
In the 2008 Munster U21 final Clare were robbed similarly by a horrible refereeing decision and the motivation from this defeat drove us to success the following year. The great thing about the qualifier system is that this time Clare will not have to wait a full year to put this injustice right.