Reidy gets Banner men off to a flyer
Clare 1-21 Tipperary 0-19
The Clare roars thundering up into a mucky Ennis sky suggested that this National Hurling League might amount to something more intense and meaningful than a series of line-dancing classes after all.
It's been a little hard to know with so many people talking abstractedly about their intentions. Would it be a trumpet line for summer or just the creak of an old sofa then? In hindsight, maybe Clare-Tipperary was never, logically, going to prove the latter.
And if it wasn't quite the former either, it did at least gust with sufficient intensity to give the 6,277 paying customers the sense of a game contested on genuine terms and one even rippling, sporadically, on the edge of authentic cross-border ferocity.
Clare were deserved winners, undeniably, albeit they had to wait until the 73rd minute for David Reidy's goal to give them the glimpse of daylight their endeavours always threatened. It was fitting too that the Ennis man would close the deal, given he'd been the stand-out Clare performer on a day made tricky by a toothy wind and frequent malevolent showers.
Clare would have felt they should have made better use of that wind during a first half in which they leaked eight wides, allowing Tipp get to the interval just three points adrift and breathing coldly on their necks.
With Michael Ryan then releasing some serious hounds off his bench, Tipp looked well placed to kick on and win when a brace of Jason Forde frees drew them level (0-17 apiece) with 13 minutes of normal time remaining. Ryan had started just a third of the team edged out of last year's All-Ireland semi-final by Galway, but the introduction of men like John McGrath, Michael Breen, Brendan Maher and Dan McCormack gave Tipp a heavyweight look before the end.
And yet it was Clare who finished the stronger, outscoring Tipp by five scores to two down that closing stretch, Reidy's late goal virtually the last act of the game to annul any lingering threat of Tipp picking their pockets.
For Donal Moloney, the satisfaction was in seeing his men dig deep in the face of an invitation to fluff their lines.
"We've only got two home games so it was really important to us to get off to a good start today," confirmed the Clare joint-manager. "But it was nip and tuck, it could have gone either way. We won a few vital balls there at the end but, considering it was January 28, that was quite a game served up today."
Clare should really have had more to show for their first-half efforts, a period in which only Jason Forde's free-taking and the sublime elegance of Noel McGrath on the '40' kept Tipp in touch. McGrath was like a skater entrancing an audience as he gave David McInerney a torrid time, the Tulla man's day not helped by a withering shoulder from Ronan Maher just after the resumption that left him gasping for air.
That said, McGrath apart, Tipp were struggling to get any purchase from their half-forward line while the complete lack of service to their inside line made it impossible to make any fair assessment of debutant, Ger Browne.
'Bonner' Maher certainly looked a little lost inside too, though he still showed little of his trademark power when brought out to the wing early in the second half.
Clare were largely on top at midfield through Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly, while Reidy, John Conlon, Peter Duggan and the impressive Cathal Malone always looked capable of turning possession into scores.
Malone especially was scoring freely but with Pádraic Maher leading manfully from centre-back, Tipp just refused to buckle. The sides were level on the half-hour when Clare fluffed a goal chance, Reidy's pass falling just behind an unmarked Duggan who, having to check and turn, opted for an easy point instead.
A goal then might have changed the energy around the game, given both teams seemed largely content to try their luck from anywhere inside 80 metres, setting both goalkeepers the type of challenge they could have seen out in deck chairs.
Shane O'Donnell cleverly set up Malone for his fourth point in the 41st minute and, when Reidy added two quick frees, Clare's lead of 0-16 to 0-11 threatened to become comfortable. But then four unanswered Tipp points hauled them right back into it and it became clear that this one was going to the wire.
Kelly and Reidy notched brilliant scores to edge Clare 0-20 to 0-17 ahead only for two Forde frees to pare it back down to the minimum by the end of normal time. But it was Reidy's show from there, first nailing a fine free into the wind and then knifing a shot spectacularly to the Tipp net after hesitation among the visitors' backs.
From Tipp manager Michael Ryan there would be no complaints after.
"Look, 28th of January, I thought it was really good quality hurling from both sides," he reflected. "Puts us under a little bit of pressure, but we love that. That's what we thrive on.
"None of us really knows how this season will pan out. We have a different Munster Championship coming at us, which dictates everything. Like we're three weeks early here on this pitch, so it really does take some careful planning. But the fundamental is we've got to build a strong panel that will be able to compete week after week.
"We certainly won't be pressing any panic buttons. We got our full complement of 20 on, we had our debutants on the pitch and it's a baptism of fire out there."
SCORERS - Clare: D Reidy 1-8 (6fs); P Duggan (2fs), C Malone 0-4 each; J Conlon and T Kelly 0-2 each; C Galvin 0-1.
Tipperary: J Forde 0-10fs; N McGrath 0-5 (1f); Pádraic Maher, C Barrett, R Maher and S Curran 0-1 each.
Clare - D Tuohy 7; J Browne 7, C Cleary 8, P O'Connor 7; S Morey 7, D McInerney 6, D Fitzgerald 7; C Galvin 7, T Kelly 7; C Malone 8, J Conlon 7, D Reidy 9; S O'Donnell 7, P Duggan 7, C McGrath 6. Subs: P Collins 7 for McGrath (h-t), I Galvin for Duggan (65), N Deasy for Malone (67), G O'Connell for C Galvin (68).
Tipperary - P Maher 7; A Flynn 7, T Hamill 8, D Maher 7; S Kennedy 7, Pádraic Maher 8, T Fox 6; C Barrett 7, R Maher 7; C Kenny 6, N McGrath 9, S Curran 7; G Browne 6, J Forde 7, Patrick Maher 6. Subs: J O'Dwyer 7 for Fox (35), M Breen 7 for Kenny (45), J McGrath 6 for Browne (50), B Maher 6 for Kennedy (60), D McCormack for Patrick Maher (66).
Ref - A Kelly (Galway)
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