Classic draw your only conclusion to a thriller
TIPPERARY 0-18 CLARE 2-12 ANOTHER difficult day on the roads, beaches and bogs as the plain people of Ireland found themselves hanging by a thread to a Guinness Munster hurling championship clash.
Radio sets crackled and the nation's sanity was threatened. Days like this take an incredible toll on all who watch a rare adrenalin insulates the players as they reach the furthest frontiers imaginable in an amateur game.
We've visited their territory so often before that the only wonder is that we wonder. Sport's ultimate bouquet, the rapturous attention of the onlookers, poured down off the Páirc Uí Chaoimh terraces and willed this near-epic of a match to an entirely epic conclusion.
Tipperary had Clare speared. The clock said 71 minutes and the scoreboard roared 0-18 to 1-12. It wasn't so much a match coming to an end as an era.
Niall Gilligan collected near the middle of the field and a mis-placed shot luckily fell to Conor Clancy. His marker Fergal Heaney wrestled him to the ground: referee Dickie Murphy spread his arms wide for a penalty.
David Fitzgerald travelled slowly up from the Clare goalmouth to take it. Fitzgerald had his hand on the wheel of history and he was equal to the demands when firing a low shot that passed between Brendan Cummins and Liam Sheedy and into the net.
Clare celebrated the draw and while Tipperary found the positive sentiments in time for the microphones, their day was coloured with a very real sadness that they hadn't finished Clare off.
It was quite a day in Cork and the prospect of more, next Saturday, at 3.30pm.
Straws in the wind the fancied and experienced team, Clare played poorly and still didn't lose; Tipperary played magnificently for a team with five championship novices and still didn't win.
The statistics illustrate Tipperary's dominance for long periods. They led for 30 minutes, a staggering 23 of them in the second-half. Clare only led for ten minutes in the entire match the rest of the time, they were level, ten times in all.
At no time since winning the 1995 Munster championship have Clare been so lacking in conviction in a Munster championship match. Tipp played better for longer yesterday than Limerick did in 1996 when inflicting on Clare their only defeat within the province in five seasons.
Tipperary played the game on their terms, pushing Clare as relentlessly against the wind in the first-half as with it in the second.
Ollie Baker did not start for Clare, but midfield was the one sector where Clare fared better than average: the forwards lived down to their reputation and the backs didn't live up to theirs.
Fitzgerald's saving of the day was not confined to the penalty. When, in the 67th minute, Eamonn Corcoran gave Paul Shelley an inch on Frank Lohan, the gap widened and only for a magnificent save by Fitzgerald, Tipp would have been as good as out the gate.
Forget your south-facing gardens, the best schools and access to the road network the prime location this week is the inside of Cusack Park, where the talking will be straight and the resolutions grim.
Of the defence, the two Lohans and Seanie McMahon will be expected to improve. Brian Lohan swopped with his brother Frank in the 50th minute. Neither had much success as the threat of Shelley continued to grow, and Liam Cahill remained elusive.
McMahon looked jaded from his exertions with St Joseph's, Doora-Barefield. Twice Brian O'Meara raced through the Tipperary defence and both times McMahon couldn't catch him.
The Clare attack had no bite to it until Clancy arrived in the 62nd minute. Niall Gilligan and David Forde lived well off the scraps. Barry Murphy was author of his own fate, winning an amount of good ball in the corner but failing to deliver to the same degree. Jamesie O'Connor was subdued.
``I think David Kennedy,'' said a knowing Tipp fan before the game, ``is the best centre-back we've had for years.'' One big day doesn't a prince make, but this was some start: Kennedy read the game perfectly, and marshalled a remarkably accomplished defence.
The return to form of Cahill was another plus for Tipperary and, this, after a dreadful start. Frank Lohan, his marker, was directly involved in setting up three Clare points in the first 11 minutes and intercepted O'Meara on a goalbound run.
Cahill avoided an early trip to the bench by coming out of his shell to rotate between tidy corner-forward play and intelligent setting-up further out the field.
Tipperary led by 0-8 to 0-7 at half-time, Dunne's serial accuracy accounting for four of the points. Stephen McNamara contested one ball half-heartedly the big Tipp backs sent it upfield and Cahill had a point within seconds. Flannery pucked a wide and Cahill caught the puck-out and pointed.
Lynch rode two heavy tackles from Corcoran and Kennedy and placed Forde his wide was almost unforgivable given the circumstances of its creation.
Five minutes into the second-half, Tipperary opened up a three-point lead for the first time in the match. They were to go three ahead twice more and yet they couldn't shake off a Clare team relying on persistence and good old-fashioned doggedness.
In the 44th minute, O'Meara's poor finishing again manifested itself. Frank Lohan dispossessed him and in a flowing movement Gilligan placed Jamesie O'Connor for his first-ever championship goal.
Forde added another point within seconds, but these scores bucked, not dictated, the trend. Tipperary just settled back into their stride and over the next 15 minutes, they out-scored Tipperary by five points to one to leave them 0-15 to 1-9 going into the final ten minutes.
Leahy was taken off and Paul Kelly gave another dimension to their attack. He scored a great point; Clare replied with points from Gilligan and Clancy; and then another blinding streak by Tipperary, yielding up points from Dunne (65) and Shelley.
Fitzgerald's penalty won the right to appeal for Clare this sort of intrigue isn't available from any of the great novelists.