TIPPERARY 1-18 ; CLARE 2-13 WHEN the vital questions were posed in the closing stages at Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday, All-Ireland champions Tipperary certainly found the right response.
Drawing on their vast repertoire of skills when they needed to most the Tipp men saw off the sticky challenge of Clare in a wonderful first round Guinness Munster Hurling Championship encounter which illuminated the Leeside venue.
There were times when Clare had the All-Ireland champions reeling but each time they came back with conviction to stem the tide with match-winning scores which left them a drained but happy squad at the final whistle.
Having come into this game without five of their All-Ireland winning team through injury and retirement, it was a measure of Tipperary's fortitude, self-belief and new found confidence that they managed to find the inspiration for the scores they needed at crucial stages.
The victory sets up another mouth-watering clash between the champions and Limerick in the semi-final on the same pitch on Sunday week, while Clare must lick their wounds and try and gather themselves the new All-Ireland qualifier series.
Both teams were exhausted at the end but that was understandable in light of the relentless pace at which the exchanges were executed. The game was fiercely contested in every yard of the pristine pitch and left supporters from both sides in the 27,531 crowd with frayed nerves before the final whistle brought relief to the Tipp camp.
Clare tested every fibre and ever ounce of character in the Tipperary ranks, not least when David Forde rocketed home his second goal five minutes from the end to leave them trailing by just a point as the tension mounted.
That goal seemed to come at a perfect psychological moment for Clare but instead of capitulating the champions kept their nerve like men of steel and within 35 seconds Tommy Dunne raced into the heart of the action to collect a breaking ball as two Clare defenders got in each other's way and the team captain duly split the uprights.
That was a crucial point as almost immediately Eugene O'Neill somehow got the ball into the path of substitute Benny Dunne and the Toomevara man, brother of Tommy, guided it as straight as a gun barrel between the posts.
Once more Clare needed a goal to survive and seemed to be encouraged when Eoin Kelly uncharacteristically missed a simple free but when the Banner's last chance came, Jamesie O'Connor decided to take the point instead of attempting to find the net.
That signalled the end of a contest that was brimful of thrilling movement and end-to-end exchanges that were often fierce and uncompromising with Tipperary emerging richly deserved victors over a team which came well prepared for an old-fashioned, toe-to-toe battle.
And Clare came close to bringing it off. John Reddan, who started at midfield, and Tony Griffin, who started at centre forward, drove over early points from all angles while Colin Lynch showed what a great championship player he is as he won consistent ball at centrefield.
The rub of the green was not always with Clare either, not least when Eoin Kelly electrified the arena with his goal after 22 minutes which put Tipp in front for the first time as it came following a wonder save at the other end by Brendan Cummins from Niall Gilligan with Noel Morris collecting the rebound and driving it a 100 yards into Kelly's path. Frank Lohan stumbled as the ball approached and Kelly capitalised to the full.
The new faces in the Tipp ranks certainly rose to the occasion in style, not least Noel Morris at midfield, Donnacha Fahey at corner-back and Conor Gleeson at centre-forward, all three performing admirably throughout.
Morris had the game of his life, winning ball all over the park, skilfully stroking over a point from a sideline and adding another from play during a second half spell when the champions were really riding high.
But when Tipp look back on this game they will also marvel at outstanding performances from their full-back line of Tom Costelloe, Philip Maher and Fahey. Admittedly, Forde got in for two goals but this trio got in an amount of clearances, especially Maher, who gave a towering, breathtaking performance festooned with one-handed fetches, clearances and blocks.
The half-back line were also effective, especially wingers Eamonn Corcoran and the stylish Paul Kelly; and if David Kennedy had his problems against a resurgent Griffin, he still made some timely clearances.
Brian O'Meara made a fine return to action after suspension and injury. He got in trojan work and scored a key point but it was Eoin Kelly who broke Clare hearts with a tally of 1-8.
Five of the points came from frees but his goal was magic as were his other three points He had good support from Eugene O'Neill, who seemed to come of age with his work rate and support play.
For Clare, no one played better than full-back Brian Lohan as he repeatedly closed off many dangerous routes with his stick work and sense of position. His 'rob' on John O'Brien in the final quarter was classic.
There was little he or the best efforts from David Hoey, Brian Quinn or Frank Lohan could do as Tipperary picked off the points in a workmanlike fashion to lead 1-8 to 1-5 at the interval before Kelly (two frees) and O'Meara made it 1-11 to 1-6 just eight minutes into the second period.
Then came a rich period for Clare when Reddan, Griffin, after a great ball from Brian Lohan, and Tony Carmody both pointed to reduce the deficit to two points but again Tipp responded with Gleeson and Morris cutting through for scores which went a long way to cementing the confidence which seemed to be growing through the ranks.
The Clare selectors surprisingly took off Reddan at a time when they needed scores when they might have moved him into the full-forward line but Tipp always had that extra magic up their sleeves and it will take an inspired Limerick performance to lower their colours.
SCORERS Tipperary: E Kelly 1-8 (5f), C Gleeson 0-2, N Morris 0-2 (1 sideline), T Dunne 0-2, B O'Meara, J O'Brien, E O'Neill, B Dunne 0-1 each. Clare: D Forde 2-0, T Griffin 0-6, J Reddan 0-3, J O'Connor 0-2f, T Carmody and N Gilligan 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY B Cummins 8; T Costelloe 8, P Maher 9, D Fahey 8; E Corcoran 8, D Kennedy 7, P Kelly 7; T Dunne 7, N Morris 9; B O'Meara 7, C Gleeson 8, L Corbett 6; E Kelly 9, J O'Brien 6, E O'Neill 7. Subs: M O'Leary 6 for Corbett (36th min); B Dunne 7 for O'Brien (50); M Ryan (not on long enough) for O'Leary (62).
CLARE D Fitzgerald 7; B Quinn 6, B Lohan 8, F Lohan 6; D Hoey 7, S McMahon 6, G Quinn 6; C Lynch 8, J Reddan 8; J O'Connor 6, T Griffin 8, A Markham 6; N Gilligan 7, T Carmody 6, D Forde 8. Subs: O Baker 6 for Reddan (53), C Clancy 6 for Carmody (58).
REF P Horan (Offaly).