Tipp are in top shape as Banner fade away
Tipperary 0-28 Clare 0-21
Few things spin more lies in hurling than over-examined winters, but Tipperary appear to have come through theirs without a backward glance.
The All-Ireland champions have now gone 11 months unbeaten and, on this evidence in Thurles, they have arrived into spring with value systems uncorrupted.
Michael Ryan started just seven of the men who began the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny last September and the appetite for a jersey was encapsulated by the distraught reaction of Niall O'Meara at being replaced on medical advice just after half-time.
The Kilruane man threw his helmet to the ground and wheeled away to the dugout, head in hands, after being told that a heavy collision with Séadna Morey would be his last involvement.
Clare offered stern enough resistance before 7,254 fans on a day fluctuating between hissing hail showers and little arguments of blue from a sky heavily stocked with March wickedness.
They were inordinately slow out of the blocks, however, despite having the assistance of the wind and trailed 0-0 to 0-5 after just seven minutes.
It looked then as if Tipp might ease away to a heavy win, but Clare slowly built a foothold, with the likes of Podge Collins and John Conlon taking the battle to their Munster rivals.
Conlon sent over four points from play, a return that led to Tipp hauling their struggling wing-back Seamus Kennedy ashore just after the half-hour.
Ryan had to be concerned at the way Tipp's storming opening petered out and when captain Brendan Maher then had to leave the field with what looked a nasty shoulder injury, a quick shiver ran through the Kinane Stand.
However, injury-time points from O'Meara and the increasingly influential John McGrath eased Tipp to within a point of Clare (0-10 to 0-11) at half-time. Within three minutes of the resumption they had the lead and although Clare never exactly acquiesced, Tipp led all the way home from there.
The sing-song of their hurling was wonderful at times, especially so when the McGrath brothers combined - John with a reverse hand-pass over his shoulder to Noel - for the kind of elegant point you don't expect to see this side of summer.
Padraic Maher, a late inclusion for the ill James Barry, was his usual dominant self at wing-back in a game that, curiously, carried zero goal-threat at either end.
With the wind now behind them, Tipp were content to shoot from distance through the McGraths and an eventually rampant 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer - who scored four points from play in the closing 12 minutes.
Clare, in contrast, found greatest purchase in the slaloming runs of Collins, who had a fine game, and substitute Ian Galvin, whose return of 0-3 in an 11-minute cameo has to have caught the attention of joint managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor.
Their problem was that, without a goal threat, they never looked equipped to out-point Tipp in a game played on these terms.
There were actually just three points between the teams (0-23 to 0-20) in the 70th minute, but Tipp then ran amok in the five minutes of added time, easing away for a comfortable victory.
For Ryan, the breadth of application seemed every bit as pleasing as the outcome.
His charges are now unbeaten since last year's league quarter-final against Clare and seem, if anything, to be strengthening their options.
Steven O'Brien had an outstanding game, as did Tomás Hamill and corner-backs Joe O'Dwyer and Donagh Maher. Add Seamus Callanan (sidelined with a 24-hour bug) to the attacking mix and you have a profoundly healthy looking group.
For Clare, the absence of Tony Kelly is being sorely felt, but they showed enough in defeat to suggest that they can be a factor at the business end of the season.
"We're in a great position, thankfully," agreed Tipp manager Ryan, whose panel currently stretches to 41. "I thought that was a real game of hurling out there today, there was great intensity out there today for very early in March. Both teams went at it to win the match.
"I think the panel is the reason we've gathered up these wins. They really do push each other, the training is really good. And the wins have given us a bit of a cushion to keep trying these guys.
"There's been other years when you need a win and you're just trying to survive and you don't get an opportunity to use your panel."
Next up for Tipp is Kilkenny in Thurles next Saturday night - a contest guaranteed to have an authentic pulse.
"Gathering up points for them is hugely important next week," said Ryan. "But it's always a ding-dong battle so we'll be looking to give up nothing either."
Clare joint manager Donal Moloney was far from downbeat afterwards, stressing: "These games are essentially for us to prepare for the championship.
"Our panel is open, we're trying out a lot of lads and we're quite happy with how a lot of those lads are playing. If it doesn't happen and we end up in a (relegation) play-off, so be it."
SCORERS - Tipperary: J McGrath 0-10 (0-5 frees), J O'Dwyer 0-5, S O'Brien and N McGrath 0-3 each, P Flynn 0-2, B Maher, N O'Meara, R Maher, D McCormack and S Curran 0-1 each.
Clare: D Reidy 0-6 frees, J Conlon and P Collins 0-4 each, I Galvin 0-3, J McCarthy, C McInerney, S Morey and A Cunningham 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: D Mooney 6, Joe O'Dwyer 7, T Hamill 7, D Maher 7, S Kennedy 5, R Maher 7, Padraic Maher 8, B Maher 7, B Heffernan 7, S O'Brien 8, N O'Meara 6, N McGrath 8, John O'Dwyer 8, J McGrath 9, A McCormack 6. Subs: W Ryan 7 for Kennedy (31 mins), M Breen 6 for B Maher (34 mins), D McCormack 6 for O'Meara (39), P Flynn 7 for A McCormack (56)..
CLARE: P Kelly 6, O O'Brien 7, C Dillon 6, S Morey 7, B Bugler 7, C Cleary 7, J Shanahan 6, D Fitzgerald 6, D Reidy 7, A Cunningham 7, C Malone 7, J Conlon 8, P Collins 8, A Shanagher 6, C McInerney 6. Subs: S McNamara 6 for O'Brien (52), I Galvin 8 for Cunningham (59), J McCarthy 6 for Shanahan (59), P Duggan for Shanagher (67), P Donnellan for Reidy (68).
Ref: B Kelly (Westmeath).