While there were doubts about Clare outside of the group, have no doubt but that they were travelling to Thurles last weekend in full confidence that they could win. One legitimate concern would have been whether Clare’s lack of a championship game may catch them on the hop. However, from the moment the game began, Clare were sharper, stronger, faster and had a clearer idea of how they wanted to play.
This was the best performance from Clare under Brian Lohan’s tenure as manager and, as a veteran of a bitter rivalry between Clare and Tipperary during the ‘90s, I’m sure he took great pleasure in manor of this victory in Tipp’s backyard.
The welcoming of Peter Duggan and Shane O’Donnell back into the fold had Clare supporters feeling optimistic. Not many would have predicted just how prominent both players would have been after such a long layoff. Peter offered a great outlet for Clare puckouts, causing havoc with each one as Eibhear Quilligan was able to target the full forward line in the first half with a strong breeze behind him. Shane and Ian Galvin in particular made hay by running off Peter for these long balls and anticipating the break.
Similarly, SOD showcased his ball winning ability throughout and turned in a great performance on his return earning him man of the match on the day. Shane’s shooting was slightly off in the first half, but he turned over Tipp defenders, created chances for others and was a constant threat for Clare. The scary thing for defenders across the country is he should only improve with games over the next couple of weeks.
While Clare had a constant long puckout option with Peter, they were also more than capable of hitting it short and building the play through the lines. Clare were able to create space in front of Ian and Peter in the full forward line and delivered great ball throughout the first half. This duo formed a brilliant partnership that Tipperary could not handle. Ian loves playing against Tipperary and has scored a goal in each of our last three outings against them. He had another spectacular game and would have been in the running for man of the match had he lasted the full game.
While Clare had short medium and long puckout options, Tipperary looked totally at sea when it came to their own. Clare pushed up on the Tipperary defenders and midfielders leaving long balls the best available option for Brian Hogan. However, Diarmuid Ryan, John Conlon and David McInerney dominated the aerial ball and gave Clare a great platform from halfback. When they went short, our forwards defended them perfectly. Clare generally allowed Tipp to advance the ball to their halfback line where they were promptly swallowed up by a swarm tackle of Clare forwards. Clare turned over ball after ball in this area of the field and were then able to convert these to scores.
Clare played with a strong wind in the first half, and naturally, Tipperary did have a purple patch of their own to start the second. Clare lost their shape slightly as our half backs were dragged too far out the field, leaving an ocean of space in front of Michael Breen and Noel McGrath in the Tipp full forward line. While the lads coped well with this, particularly Rory Hayes who was outstanding again, it was a dangerous approach from Clare. They were punished early when one of Tipp’s few bright sparks on the day, Ger Browne, burst through the middle of the defence and scored a great goal early in the second half.
Tipperary never pushed on though, and until they were gifted a lucky goal, Clare remained the better team. Eibhear uncharacteristically made a handling error and must have been shaken afterwards. Our puckouts afterwards all went long, allowing Tipperary to win most and come back at Clare and eat into the lead.
However, Clare finished far the stronger, structurally we became very solid again as our half backline dropped and played a little closer to our own goals. John Conlon thundered into the game in the last 15 and won everything that came his way. He caught high balls and launched attacks that enabled Clare to put the game to bed.
Clare debutants Robin Mounsey and Patrick Crotty acquitted themselves well on their first day out. This exposure to championship hurling will bring them on leaps and bounds. Brian has done a good job of introducing new players and putting faith in the team as a whole to do their jobs. The team played with a sense of confidence that reflected that. Clare will be targeting a Munster Final this year, and while they still have a long way to go to achieve this, they have done everything that could be asked of them so far. This weekend’s showdown with Cork will be a huge challenge and the Clare fans should travel in numbers to support this team.