Davy all business as brilliant Banner shoot down Tipp
Clare 4-15 Tipperary 0-20
DAVY FITZGERALD would never concede that some wins are sweeter than others but his smile of satisfaction said it all after Clare's goal-fest sank Tipperary in Semple Stadium.
"Any day you come down here and win is good," he said at the end of a week when he found himself locked in controversy over comments on the behaviour of previous Clare teams.
He declined to comment on it yesterday, telling the assembled media after the game that he was "here to talk about hurling."
It was a pleasant brief on a day when his side asserted their authority over opposition that are ranked high among the contenders who have designs on displacing Clare as All-Ireland champions.
It's an ambition that won't come anywhere near being realised unless Tipperary improve their security arrangements. Clare's 4-15 return took Tipperary's total concession to 9-35 in two games (Kilkenny hit them for 5-20).
It would have been a lot worse except for goalkeeper Darren Gleeson, who made two excellent saves in the space of 90 seconds in the second half. Clare goalkeeper Donal Tuohy made a number of good stops too but enjoyed far more consistent cover than his opposite number, who was left seriously exposed at various stages in both halves.
Conor McGrath was the chief beneficiary of Tipperary's defensive instability, pouncing for goals in the 11th, 30th and 53rd minutes while John Conlon hit the Tipperary net late in the first half.
It helped Clare to a 3-7 to 0-8 half-time lead and while Tipperary were much improved in the second half, Clare's first-half goal burst left Eamonn O'Shea's crew with too much to do.
They pursued Clare with commendable vigour and cut the lead to three points after 50 minutes but McGrath's third goal set Tipperary a new target which they couldn't reach.
Despite a second defeat in two weeks, O'Shea was in upbeat form afterwards, trading in as many positives as he could find. Defensively, there were none but then they weren't at full strength, but further afield produced enough enterprise to suggest better times ahead.
Chief among the plus points was the number of chances Tipperary created, a healthy development noted by O'Shea. They took 20 of them but wasted a lot too.
"We had 15 wides, four shots dropped into the keeper's hands and he also made two good saves," reflected O'Shea.
Wild shooting apart, it was Tipperary's bad luck that they met Clare on a day when the Banner men were on a retrieval mission after a sloppy performance against Dublin.
Captain Patrick Donnellan spoke afterwards of how that defeat stung them badly because they had dropped below the high standards they have set for themselves.
Fitzgerald returned to his theme that Clare would be patchy this spring.
"I knew we would have dips. We got up very high for the Kilkenny game and dropped back for the Dublin game.
"There was no comparison between how we played today and that day. I said from the start that we'd go from high to low to high. I expected that. There was a big push to get a performance today, especially after the way Tipperary beat us in the Waterford Crystal," he said.
Clare's determination was evident from the start, rising to an intensity level which greatly troubled Tipperary. McGrath's first goal set the agenda and while Tipperary matched Clare point-for-point, their defensive lapses cost them dearly.
Podge Collins, a 25th-minute sub for Darach Honan who damaged his hamstring, set up McGrath for his second goal after the Tipperary defence had been easily wrong-footed and Conlon, who finished on 1-3, struck just before the break.
It laid the platform for a win which leaves Clare in a comfortable position after winning two of three games.
Fitzgerald claims to have set Clare the rather modest ambition of remaining in the top flight but, in reality, it's highly likely that they will advance comfortably to the quarter-finals. After that, who knows?
"I just want to stay up because that is the name of the game. I would rather be involved in a quarter-final than a relegation play-off so we can try out more players and see what the story is.
"We have to manufacture a point or two out of the next two games (against Waterford and Galway)," said Fitzgerald.
Tipperary's situation is altogether more pressing, not least the requirement to seal the defensive gaps.
"We were opened up but it happens sometimes. We're still trying to work hard, trying to improve. Last year we won games but it didn't tell us where we were in terms of personnel; this tells us exactly where we are and how much work we have to do," said O'Shea.
While Tipperary supporters in the crowd of 8,133 will have various opinions on where exactly their team stand, O'Shea remains committed to an approach which he believes will ultimately yield dividends.
"I'm trying to get the lads to enjoy what they're doing and if they do enjoy it, they can play better. That's really the task for me – to make sure when they come out they can play with a bit more freedom.
"We'd be disappointed today but certainly wouldn't feel that we're out yet in any sense," he said.
For Clare, it was a matter of restoring their efficiency levels after the drop against Dublin. Conor McGrath, John Conlon, Patrick Donnellan, Brendan Bugler, Patrick O'Connor, Cian Dillon and Donal Touhy led the way in a game where free-taker Colin Ryan hit an uncharacteristic off-day. He missed four frees that he would normally point with ease but Clare's goal haul enabled them to absorb the losses.
Their workrate was first class and while they lost their way for a while in the second half, they had the confidence to rebuild their game to a level which Tipperary couldn't reach.
It leaves Tipperary with one win from three but if O'Shea is feeling the pressure, he certainly wasn't showing it.
"I don't feel it to be honest, I have a lot of things to be pressurised about and this isn't one," he said.
Scorers – Clare: C McGrath 3-1, J Conlon 1-3, Colin Ryan 0-4 (2fs 1'65'), P Duggan 0-2, C Galvin, P Donnellan, D Honan, T Kelly, S Morey 0-1 each. Tipperary: J O'Dwyer 0-7 (3fs, 1'65'), J Forde (1f), J Woodlock, C Kenny, S Bourke 0-2 each, N McGrath, P Murphy, K Bergin, M Heffernan, S McGrath 0-1 each.
Clare – D Tuohy 7; D McInerney 7, C Dillon 8, S Morey 7; B Bugler 8, Conor Ryan 7, P O'Connor 8; P Donnellan 8, C Galvin 6; Colin Ryan 6, P Duggan 7, J Conlon 8; D Honan 5, C McGrath 9, C O'Connell 5. Subs: P Collins 7 for Honan (25), T Kelly 7 for C O'Connell (51), C McInerney for Duggan (65), P Flanagan for Morey (70).
Tipperary – D Gleeson 8; C Barrett 6, P Stapleton 7, M Cahill 7; S McGrath 7, T Hamill 5, T Stapleton 5; B Maher 6, J Woodlock 7; P Murphy 5, N McGrath 6, K Bergin 5; S Bourke 6, J O'Dwyer 8, J Forde 6. Subs: C O'Mahony 7 for Hamill (35), D Maher 6 for Murphy (40), C Kenny 7 for Bourke (58), M Heffernan 7 for Bergin (61), R Maher for Forde (64).
Ref – J Owens (Wexford)