'My team left its soul on the pitch' - Davy Fitzgerald lauds Clare players after eclipsing Tipp
Clare 2-13 Tipperary 0-18
Mighty obstacles still stand in Clare's way in their attempt to land the Allianz Hurling League title but they are applying method and menace to their endeavours as they seek to win the big spring prize for the first time since 1978.
They were composed and efficient in the promotion showdown with Limerick two weeks earlier and they raised their game even higher when required yesterday to out-gun a Tipperary team that appeared set for victory in Ennis just past the hour mark.
Clare trailed by three points at that stage after being out-scored 0-9 to 0-4 in the second half but they were far from finished.
Cathal O'Connell cut the deficit to two points before substitute Aron Shanagher made a crucial intervention. There appeared to be no imminent threat to the Tipperary goal when he won possession about 45 metres out but he took off on a surging run and, despite being fouled, made his way through before batting the ball to the net. His persistence was admirable but Tipperary's de-brief will include a detailed analysis of why he was afforded so much room.
It called for a far more resolute response but instead Shanagher was allowed to gallop towards goal before applying a calm finish.
John Conlon added a point and while Padraic Maher cut the deficit to the minimum, Clare held out. Tipperary had two late chances to draw level but substitute Jason Forde was off-target from a long-range free and from open play.
Yet again, Tipperary had lost by a point, an all too familiar experience in recent years.
"It's very disappointing for us. We really wanted to progress in this League. We created a lot of chances today but we didn't capitalise on them.
"Aside from some very strong individual performances, we'd be disappointed with some of the shot selection and a lack of sharpness," said Tipperary manager, Michael Ryan.
His frustration was understandable. Tipperary shot 18 wides - 11 in the second half. Three of the first-half misses were by Seamus Callanan from frees that he would normally slot over with ease.
The first miss was from no more than 25 metres and slightly to the right of goal. It summed up Tipperary's sluggishness, which Clare exploited with a productive burst, scoring 1-4 between the 19th and 24th minutes, the goal coming from John Conlon.
Trailing by six points, it called for a positive response from Tipperary and they duly delivered on the run-in to half-time, cutting the margin back to two points (1-7 to 0-8) at the break.
After a slow start to the second-half (the first nine minutes yielded no scores), Tipperary raised the tempo and were the dominant force for an extended period.
John McGrath, man-of-the-match by a distance, scored some excellent points and while Tipperary continued to miss chances, it still looked as if they had enough in hand until Clare launched a final flourish which earned them a semi-final clash with Kilkenny on Sunday week.
The manner of the victory - Clare's sixth successive win in this year's League - was very satisfying for manager Davy Fitzgerald and the supporters in a crowd of 9,028.
"When you're a manager, the one thing you look for is a team who will leave its soul on the field. They certainly did that today. They ran themselves into the ground. I couldn't ask for more," said Fitzgerald.
However, he acknowledged that there was an element of luck in the win as Tipperary's inaccuracy had allowed Clare to stay in touch when they should have been much further behind.
Still, the important thing for Clare was that when the chance to save the day arose, they were smart enough to exploit it.
"We had a game-plan and we stuck to it. We played with a good bit of fire too, which was pleasing. You always have a chance when you play like that," said Fitzgerald.
He had alerted the players to the likelihood that they would be in a difficult situation at some stage and how important it was to trust themselves when that pressure came on.
"You've got to hold your nerve. The last ten minutes are when most games are won. You've got to keep your composure and take your chances. We managed to do that today," said Fitzgerald.
The reverse was true of Tipperary, who put themselves in a position to win, only to wilt with the finish line in sight.
John McGrath, who scored six points from open play, can be absolved from all blame for a defeat that leaves the camp with plenty to ponder on as they head into preparations for next month's Munster quarter-final clash with a Cork team boosted by their survival in 1A.
"We've used a huge amount of players throughout this League but we haven't been successful in getting into the semi-finals. We're going to have to use the rounds of club games coming up for the guys in the next number of weeks to give them something different to focus on," said Ryan.
Meanwhile, the bar will rise even higher for Clare when they take on Kilkenny.
"We won't beat them playing like we did today. That's a fact," said Fitzgerald.
He is right but then the chances are that Clare will be a whole lot better next time. They were stepping up in class yesterday after being in 1B and while they lacked fluency at times, they still looked like a side for whom things are coming together nicely.
Scorers - Clare: J Conlon 1-1, A Shanagher 1-0, B Duggan (2f), D Honan 0-3 each, C Galvin, C McGrath, C O'Connell (2f) 0-2 each.
Tipperary: J McGrath 0-6, J O'Dwyer 0-3 (3f), S Callanan (2f), M Breen, P Maher 0-2 each, J Forde, R Maher, N McGrath 0-1 each.
Clare - P Kelly 7; C O'Doherty 5, C Dillon 7, P Flanagan 6; B Bugler 7, C Cleary 7, P O'Connor 7; D Reidy 7, C Ryan 7; A Cunningham 6, B Duggan 7, J Conlon 8; C Galvin 7, D Honan 7, C McGrath 7.
Subs: G O'Connell 7 for Doherty (31), C O'Connell 7 for Duggan (42), C Ryan 7 for Galvin (53), A Shanagher 8 for Cunningham (55), D Fitzgerald 6 for Reidy (62).
Tipperary - D Mooney 7; C Barrett 7, J Barry 7, C O'Brien 6; B Heffernan 6, R Maher 8, P Maher 7; B Maher 6, M Breen 7; N McGrath 6, D McCormack 6, N O'Meara 6; J O'Dwyer 6, S Callanan 5, J McGrath 9. Subs: K Bergin 7 for O'Meara (ht), J Forde 5 for Callanan (51), T Hamill 6 for O'Brien (58), G Ryan for McCormack (66),S O'Brien for O'Dwyer (71),
Ref - D Kirwan (Cork).