Kelly pounces to keep Tipp in cruise control
Panic is not a state of mind you should associate with All-Ireland champions and so it was in the Gaelic Grounds where the spin-offs from last September were clearly in evidence for Tipperary.
Hit by just about everything an eager and fearless Clare team could throw at them in the opening quarter, Tipperary calmly absorbed it with the mark of a team that knew how far they could allow their opponents to stray before calling them back to order.
Like a champion boxer they leaned against the ropes, sized up the best shots that came at them and picked off their own measured responses with ruthless efficiency to book a Munster final against Waterford in three weeks' time, along expected form lines.
Six points down at two different stages of that first quarter, Tipperary knew that when chances presented themselves they had the class in the attack to make them count.
And so when Eoin Kelly seized upon a break off a Padraic Maher delivery in the 16th minute -- and found that Philip Brennan had over committed by needlessly coming off his line when he had a colleague under the dropping ball anyway -- for Tipperary's opening goal, this Munster semi-final took on a completely different complexion.
Goals have become the currency of this Tipperary team and in a five-minute spell they had Brennan reaching to pick the ball from his net three times to smother any early hope that Clare might have harboured of an upset.
To their credit, Clare never allowed matters to spiral too much out of control and it was only when Seamus Callanan rammed in a fourth goal late on that it really ran away from them.
It will be disappointing then for them to learn that this was their heaviest championship defeat to Tipperary since the infamous 1993 game at the same venue. It certainly won't have felt like it.
They came into this match very much under the radar. Old soldiers feared that if Tipperary really cut loose it could become embarrassing and the lack of faith was underlined by the paucity of the crowd that made the short journey to Limerick to watch them.
But they got a pleasant surprise in that opening quarter as Clare took the fight impressively to the favourites, spurred on by a wonderful goal by Conor McGrath after only 42 seconds.
One thing Clare teams could always muster for this fixture was raw passion and it carried them so far here as they threw themselves into tackles with careless abandon.
They were 1-3 to 0-0 clear before Tipperary registered a meaningful response and were 1-5 to 0-2 clear when Kelly produced his moment of opportunism.
Conor McGrath, making his first championship start, showed electrifying pace to burn John O'Keeffe after taking Nicky O'Connell's delivery and with a sublime finish had Clare a goal ahead before the All-Ireland champions had time to draw breath.
Conor McGrath was a real livewire in the Clare attack and the Tipperary management didn't waste time in switching their corner-backs, O'Keeffe and Mickey Cahill, to prevent further leakage.
Elsewhere, Conor Cooney and Cian Dillon were dominant against their direct opponents John O'Brien, who has caused so much heartbreak for Clare in this fixture in the past, and Kelly, while Cathal McInerney, Diarmuid McMahon and O'Connell were all productive outlets for them.
That lack of faith in Clare was based on sporadic league form and a sense that they were weighed down by inexperience. It was too much, too soon for too many who were too young, it seemed.
Whatever experience was provided came from McMahon, captain Pat Vaughan, Jonathan Clancy and Pat Donnellan who were there from Anthony Daly's days in charge.
Six of the Clare's starting 15 played some part in the All-Ireland U-21 final two years ago, while eight of their replacements were also involved in some way in that victory over Kilkenny.
But once Kelly's goal went in it was the cue for Tipperary to step up and flex their collective muscle.
Within five minutes, Patrick 'Bonnar' Maher had surged onto another break and past Pat Vaughan to give Brennan no chance for the second goal before Lar Corbett also got in behind an increasingly stretched defence and struck for a third with Brennan a little unsighted by the presence of Vaughan and Patrick O'Connor in front of him.
From six points down Tipperary were now 3-3 to 1-7 clear and in control 20 minutes in. Overtaking had been effortless.
Clare had yet to win a free from a tolerant James Owens who was prepared from an early stage to let the game flow. Such a policy benefited the flow of the game -- only 14 frees were awarded -- but irked the Clare manager Ger O'Loughlin. He had his accounts neatly prepared afterwards.
"For 23 or 24 minutes we were entitled to three frees and we got none and we were well on top," he reflected.
"I'd be very disappointed. I just felt that we didn't get the rub of the green from the referee. We were only looking for what we thought on the sideline were frees to Clare."
But he was pragmatic enough to appreciate that it was the goals more than the missed frees that swung it most. "Like most hurling matches goals win them and we paid the price of giving away two soft goals to bring them back into it. Against All-Ireland champions like Tipperary there is never a panic button pressed."
Tipperary built steadily -- they led by 3-7 to 1-10 at the break -- and Seamus Callanan was again resurgent, finishing with 1-5, while Noel McGrath also chipped in with so many subtle passes. He is now the established leader of the attack.
Kelly and Corbett had quiet games by their standards, while David Young and O'Keeffe didn't get beyond half-time before Declan Ryan applied necessary surgery. Padraic Maher was majestic throughout, particularly during Tipperary's trouble spots when he exemplified their calmness. Beside him Conor O'Mahony justified his recall, while Paul Curran was dominant on an out-of-sorts Darach Honan.
Clare were persistent for most of the second half without ever really making an impression. They survived when Lar Corbett booted a goal from close range but Owens recalled it for a penalty which Kelly took and Donnellan blocked on 40 minutes.
Shane McGrath improved as time went on, Pa Bourke fared better than O'Brien when he replaced him and Callanan capped a fine afternoon when he finished from close range in injury-time after Corbett had struck the woodwork from a good position.
As much as you would expect from a team in their position.
Scorers -- Tipperary: S Callanan 1-5, E Kelly 1-3 (2f), N McGrath 0-3, Patrick Maher, L Corbett 1-0 each, Padraic Maher, G Ryan, S McGrath, P Bourke all 0-2 each. Clare: C McGrath 1-6 (4f), J Conlon 0-3, C McInerney, D McMahon, J Clancy all 0-2 each, J McInerney (f), N O'Connell, F Lynch, D Honan all 0-1 each.
Tipperary -- B Cummins 8; J O'Keeffe 5, P Curran 8, M Cahill 7; D Young 5, C O'Mahony 7, Padraic Maher 8; G Ryan 7, S McGrath 7; S Callanan 9, N McGrath 8, Patrick Maher 6; E Kelly 6, J O'Brien 5, L Corbett 6. Subs: S Lillis for Young (h-t), P Stapleton 6 for O'Keeffe (h-t), P Bourke 7 for O'Brien, J Woodlock for Ryan (62), J Coughlan for Curran (70).
Clare -- P Brennan 5; P Vaughan 6, C Cooney 8, C Dillon 7; P O'Connor 6, J McInerney 6, P Donnellan 7; N O'Connell 7, J Clancy 8; J Conlon 7, F Lynch 7, C McInerney 7; D McMahon 7, D Honan 5, C McGrath 8. Subs: C O'Donovan 6 for O'Connell (54), C Ryan for Honan (68), C Morey for McMahon (72).
Ref -- J Owens (Wexford).