Devastating Premier ransack Banner to put one foot in the Munster final
Munster SHC Round Robin: Tipperary 3-21 Clare 0-17
In the Cusack Park medical-room, Liam Sheedy sits on a table, patting down any yeast of giddiness he can sense expand around his team.
He is a pragmatist without an abstract thought in his head here. A mathematician too. "I don't think so" he replies to the brazen suggestion that Tipperary are already in the Munster final. "There's no team yet guaranteed to be in it," he counsels, his attitude yielding little to the panorama of Tipp's splashy scoring returns.
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In three games, they have now accumulated 7-79. Their confidence, their physical conditioning, the structural clarity of their hurling have all been too much for a Clare team now, suddenly, ambushed by worry.
Tipp still have Limerick to play in two weeks now though. The All-Ireland champions rolling in to Thurles. Honestly think they'll get an equivocal welcome? Not a hope.
"It's everything to play for," Sheedy stresses, repeating himself for effect.
With wind gusts snapping up to 40 kph, conditions were always challenging, yet there was little evidence of it in a Tipp performance carrying serious tumult.
Some of their hurling had what could maybe best be described as muscular grace, winning the physical battles with often shuddering conviction, yet marrying that intensity to sublime lightness of touch.
Fundamental to everything they did, though, was work-rate. This Tipp team's concept of defence starts with number 15, reaching all the way back to goalkeeper, Brian Hogan, who himself wasn't afraid to step outside his 'square' and make himself accessible to a back man under pressure.
It was full-press, total hurling, a pitch-perfect display compressing so many simple but fundamental energies and convictions that, on the day, eluded their hosts.
Surprisingly, Clare chose to hold Colm Galvin as a supplementary defender even when the game was stretching away from them in the second-half, meaning Padraic Maher could be deployed effectively as a free man in the Tipp defence. Worse, too many Clare deliveries became aimless now, allowing Maher stroll out to the ball with the comfort of someone easing off an armchair.
This was in such stark contrast to Tipp's use of possession, always considered, always purposeful. An avowal of faith in 'Babs' Keating's old gospel that every pass should carry "a message".
Clare captain, Patrick O'Connor, won two early balls in his personal duel with Seamus Callanan, but the perpetual movement of Tipp's attack meant that every Banner victory in that area was to prove fleeting, illusory almost.
Callanan ended the day with 1-3, yet was essentially out-shone at that end of the field by the free-scoring McGrath brothers, Noel and John, the rampaging Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and even by John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer who had another outstanding afternoon despite a modest personal return of 0-1.
Clare, on the other hand, just could not get Tony Kelly into the game, the former 'Hurler of the Year' superbly marshalled by Brendan Maher, while John Conlon and Shane O'Donnell were both hauled ashore, scoreless, as the game petered out into a Tipp exhibition.
Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor also saw fit to replace their free-taker before the end, Peter Duggan removed, despite his scores effectively keeping them in contact before the break.
That half ended with Tipp leading 1-14 to 0-11, the goal coming on 21 minutes from Noel McGrath, a snap, pulled finish after smart work by his brother and the flowing 'Bubbles'.
Clare did not score from play from the 19th minute to the break, only Duggan's frees keeping the umpires interested at the town-end goal. Conversely, McGrath's goal triggered a shell-burst of six Tipp scores, all from play, the grumbles of a big home crowd palpable as the teams slipped down the tunnel.
Yet, six points scarcely seemed an un-bridgeable gap, given Clare had the wind to come and Kelly duly raised the first flag of the second-half, hopes of a local comeback finding early traction.
Those hopes duly perished however in the 40th minute, Jason Forde's free rebounding off an upright and the alert Callanan reacting quickest to beat Donal Tuohy with a smart finish. Seconds after that score, a row erupted in the middle of the field, seemingly triggered by Kelly bullocking Brendan Maher onto his backside.
A posse of players from both sides momentarily became entangled in the scuffle before referee, Alan Kelly - with timeless GAA logic - booked both Kelly and Maher.
It all had little impact on the rhythms of the day now, Tipp playing an intelligent, short-passing game into the wind that Clare just could not chain down. The visitors' physical authority was palpable everywhere, crystallised by a juddering 47th minute Ronan Maher shoulder on Cathal Malone that could have loosened the Sixmilebridge man's tooth-fillings.
Just three minutes later, 'Bonner' exploded inside the Clare defensive cover and fired smartly past Tuohy for Tipp's third goal.
The remainder was drawn, 0-5 each, a bare-faced lie in statistic form, Tipp completely on top now, cruising away to their third emphatic win in a row and one that, some bizarre mathematical twist aside, secures them a Munster final place on June 30.
Clare co-manager, O'Connor, suggested that Callanan's goal had a ruinous effect on the hosts' hopes, given they'd been "in a very good place mentally" at half-time. Conceding that their use of the ball had been second-rate, he reflected "No matter how disappointing it is, you just have to flush it out of the mind and prepare to go again."
SCORERS - Tipperary: J McGrath, J Forde (6f) 0-6 each, S Callanan 1-3, N McGrath, Patrick Maher 1-2 each, B Maher, J O'Dwyer 0-1 each. Clare: P Duggan 0-9 (8f), T Kelly 0-3 (2f), D Fitzgerald, D Ryan, P Collins, S Golden, D Ryan 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: B Hogan 7, C Barrett 7, B Heffernan 7, R Maher 9, B Maher 8, Padraic Maher 8, A Flynn 7, N McGrath 9, M Breen 7, J Forde 7, D McCormack 6, Patrick Maher 9,J McGrath 9, S Callanan 8, J O'Dwyer 8. Subs: W Connors 7 for Breen (55 mins), J Morris for O'Dwyer (61 mins), R Byrne for R Maher (67 mins), G Browne for McCormack (68 mins).
CLARE: D Tuohy 7, P O'Connor 7, D McInerney 7, S Morey 6, C Malone 6, J Browne 6, D Fitzgerald 6, S Golden 6, C Galvin 6, P Duggan 6, T Kelly 6, D Ryan 7, S O'Donnell 5, J Conlon 5, P Collins 6. Subs: C Cleary 6 for Morey (52 mins), A McCarthy 6 for Duggan (57 mins), G Cooney 7 for Conlon (59 mins), A Shanagher for O'Donnell (66 mins), R Taylkor for Golden (67 mins).
Ref: A Kelly (Galway).