'These guys are not machines' - Early exit will spark re-think as Tipp rue flat season
Clare 1-23 Tipperary 1-21 - Munster SHC Round-Robin
Tipperary have a long summer and an even longer winter to reflect on why they faced an early cull from the newly-formatted Munster championship but when they return to action next January, their approach to the league will be considerably different to this year.
Michael Ryan spelled it out in no uncertain terms after Clare had despatched them down the exit chute with a powerful finish in Semple Stadium, during which they wiped out a five-point lead to win by two.
Tipperary had endured some serious slumps in five of their previous six League and Championship games, and while yesterday's may not have been as pronounced, the dip was still enough to cost them victory against a Clare team for whom timing was everything - making it the Banner's first SHC win over Tipp in Thurles for 90 years.
Apart from a brief period early on, Clare never led until the 74th minute when Peter Duggan pointed. He added another very quickly and with no time to recover, the sheer horror of it all became apparent for the Tipperary team and their supporters.
The season was over earlier than at any time for 20 years as they failed to win any of their four games.
There are no easy answers why the pre-season Munster favourites misfired but it was clear from Ryan's comments that he suspected a heavy club schedule in April may have been a factor.
Prior to that, Tipperary had played eight League games, working their way to the final where they lost to Kilkenny.
Ryan remains a fan of the new Championship format but not of the workload his players faced between club and county commitments.
"It will impact in terms of how we view the League going forward. From my perspective, no way can we continue to try and do what we were trying to do. These guys are not machines.
"It's too big an ask but it's not the reason why we went out here today. We had performance issues (in the other games)," he said.
Yesterday's performance was probably their best in the Championship, even if it didn't yield a victory which would have kept them in with a good chance of staying in the All-Ireland race.
It all looked to be going so well for them when they led by 1-10 to 0-5 in the 26th minute after playing with a confidence and efficiency that wasteful Clare couldn't match.
However, by half-time the margin was back to four points (1-10 to 0-9) as Clare finally got their game going. That recovery may well have been significant later on, having imbued Clare with a belief that if they kept plugging away, Tipperary were vulnerable.
So even when Tipperary led by four points after 64 minutes, there was no sense that Clare's race was run, although it surely would have been if a shot by sub Jake Morris had whistled into the net rather than rebounding off a post.
Reprieved Clare launched a swift, incisive counter-attack, with sub Ian Galvin firing in a goal. Tipperary steadied themselves, pulling two points ahead (it should have been three but the otherwise ultra-reliable Jason Forde missed a free) but Clare refused to yield.
Tipperary led by a point three minutes into stoppage-time but Clare dug in for a final drive which yielded points from Podge Collins and Peter Duggan (2).
"We pulled it out of the fire because for the whole 75-80 minutes, we never let up. It wasn't the complete performance by any means but it was a fantastic performance when we absolutely had to do it in that last 10 or 15 minutes," said joint-manager Gerry O'Connor.
It leaves Clare heading into what is effectively a Munster semi-final against Limerick in Ennis next Sunday.
They will do so off high confidence levels after beating Waterford and Tipperary with performances which suggest there's more to come.
Of course there are aspects of this game they won't be happy with, specifically the opening 20 minutes when they fell seven points behind. They shot eight wides - some from relatively easy positions - in the first half but were still within striking distance thanks to the strong finish.
Tipperary had lost Dan McCormack early on after a mid-air collision with Tony Kelly, which forced Ryan into making a change much earlier than he had planned. Still, he was able to send on Noel McGrath, which in no way weakened the team.
McGrath scored two points and his brother John added three more in periods of productivity that looked as if they might be enough to put Tipperary in a commanding position. Brendan Maher suffered what looked like a serious knee-injury in the build-up to Galvin's goal and his absence was felt in the closing minutes. However, Clare always managed to hang on and as their confidence rose in line with their improved play, they began to believe the day had something to offer.
Collins, who replaced Conor McGrath just before half-time, turned in an excellent second half, scoring three points and also playing a major part in the creation of Galvin's goal.
Now all that remains to be decided in next Sunday's final round is which two from Limerick (5pts), Clare and Cork (4pts each) book a place in the Munster final, while the third will progress to the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final against Carlow or Westmeath.
Meanwhile, it's a spectator role for Tipperary after what has been a really frustrating four weeks.
"What will bother us and keep us awake at night is that the level of performance which was elusive… we found it today but we still didn't get anything out of the game," said Ryan.
"If we had found that level of performance (in the other games), we may have taken something out of this Championship.
"There are games where you don't play well and results don't go your way but we played well today and it still didn't go with us."
As for his own position, he won't be under pressure to depart but he wasn't committing to anything yesterday.
"It's premature. Any decision that we make on that, we'll make them in the cold light of day," he said. "There's never any good decisions made immediately after a match, be it a win or a loss."
Scorers - Clare: P Duggan 0-15 (13fs), P Collins 0-3, I Galvin 1-0, T Kelly, J Conlon 0-2 each, J Browne 0-1. Tipperary: J Forde 0-10 (8fs, 1 '65'), B McCarthy 1-0, J McGrath 0-3, S Callanan, N McGrath 0-2 each, R Maher, Padraic Maher, Patrick Maher, C Barrett 0-1 each.
Tipperary - B Hogan 7; S O'Brien 7, S Kennedy 6, D Maher 7; J O'Dwyer 6, Padraic Maher 7, B Maher 7; R Maher 6, C Barrett 7; D McCormack (inj 10th min), Patrick Maher 6, B McCarthy 7; J McGrath 7, J Forde 7, S Callanan 6. Subs: N McGrath 7 for McCormack (10), J Morris 6 for Patrick Maher (60), A Flynn 6 for O'Dwyer (60), W Connots for B Maher (68), J O'Dwyer for J McGrath (73).
Clare - D Tuohy 7; P O'Connor 7, D McInerney 7, J Browne 7; D Fitzgerald 6, C Cleary 7, J Shanahan 7; C Galvin 6, C Malone 7; P Duggan 8, T Kelly 7, D Reidy 6; C McGrath 5, J Conlon 7, S O'Donnell 7. Subs: P Collins 8 for McGrath (35+2), S Morey 7 for Fitrzgerald (47), I Galvin 7 for Reidy (59), J McCarthy 6 for Malone (62), D Corry 6 for C Galvin (63).
Ref - P O'Dwyer (Carlow)