'Realism' bites for Banner as Tipp send out signal
All afternoon, the various scenarios for the top-tier shake-up chopped and changed, dependent on the results and scorelines from other venues.
A team could find itself in a semi-final one minute and in a relegation play-off the next.
Not so for Tipperary or Clare, however. At no stage in Semple Stadium were either team ever blown off course for where they eventually arrived.
Once Galway kept Waterford at arm's length in Walsh Park, Clare were only ever destined for the departure lounge of a play-off that could take them back down to Division 1B.
Outplayed, outhought and outfought by Tipperary, from the moment referee James Owens threw the first ball in, the only consolation that manager Davy Fitzgerald could source afterwards was that it might bring a little bit of perspective to where they are as a team.
"I was listening to such rubbish during the week about Clare winning All-Irelands. I keep saying, 'we're building' – I've been saying this from day one but some of our own people get so carried away," said Fitzgerald in response to at least one former player's assessment of their potential.
"We have a job to do, it's a young team and we're building and we'll stay building. We'll take that on the chin today. That's our first big loss since I've been there anyway. We'll come back fighting for more."
If such a defeat was a blessing in disguise – to cool the excitement that accompanied two All-Ireland U-21 victories in four years – Fitzgerald wasn't prepared to say so.
It did however bring a touch of "realism" to their current status, he felt. For Tipperary it completes quite a recovery from their first-round mauling in Pairc Ui Rinn.
Whatever else this league campaign throws up for them, it has at least allowed manager Eamon O'Shea to steady the ship and make them feel good about themselves again.
They looked like a mature, confident and balanced team throughout, a team that knew what it was doing in every move it made. From corner-back Paddy Stapleton, who swept up just about everything on his patch, to Shane Bourke, arguably their most impressive forward of the campaign, there was method to almost every touch.
Brendan Maher looks back to his best, and chipped in with two points to underline his dominance around the middle, while Lar Corbett showed wonderful economy with the limited possession he had, scoring a goal and a point and setting up the same with some delightful touches.
Much of the damage he inflicted came in the opening quarter with his perfectly weighted pass off a Darren Gleeson puck-out giving Eoin Kelly all the time in the world to pick his spot and shoot past Patrick Kelly after only eight minutes.
Two pick-ups from Corbett, one for a point himself and another for Michael Cahill's point, simply oozed class in that early period when Tipperary were backed by a substantial wind and built up a 1-11 to 0-6 interval lead.
Eoin Kelly finished the day with 2-8, his second goal late on from a free that Patrick Kelly and Clare full-back David McInerney fluffed on 64 minutes, giving Tipperary a massive 16-point lead at that stage.
Nineteen minutes earlier Patrick Kelly had gifted Corbett a goal when his poorly weighted handpass was cut out and instinctively batted home in the same movement for a 2-13 to 0-9 lead.
With such a healthy lead the problematic scoring difference from Pairc Ui Rinn was wiped out, allowing them to top the group, a scenario that "astounded" O'Shea afterwards.
Reaching the league semi-finals was "not necessarily" a priority for them but achieving results against hurling's protagonists, as he sees Kilkenny and Galway, was.
"Part of the plan was that we would have a few games that we would like to have won and we won those," said O'Shea. "The two top teams by far, by a country mile are Galway and Kilkenny. That's what the statistics are telling us.
"Therefore if you're trying to get up a level you measure yourself against the best teams in the country and those two are the best."
The performance here, allied to what they did against Galway 13 days earlier, would suggest otherwise however. If Kilkenny and Galway are still the top two then Tipperary are tucked in neatly just behind them.
Fitzgerald, for one, knows that Clare have been overreaching to stay in that company and sensed that it was a weekend too far for them.
"I think Tipperary have been a bit patchy – poor first game, last week not as good as they could have been," he said.
"For us, we've been trying to get up for every single game, trying to play at an unbelievable height and bring ourselves to that height and enthusiasm. Can you do it four weeks in a row? It's tough. We've no excuses today but it's hard to keep going week after week after week."
With five current U-21s, and six from last year's All-Ireland-winning team, they are young enough but this was a challenging day made only slightly more respectable by Tony Kelly's late goal.
"I still have faith in them – there's no fear of these lads," said Fitzgerald. "We have a building process here and we'll stay doing what we have to do. That Clare team will be ok, they'll keep going."
For Tipp, the recovery has been swift. A 12-point defeat to Cork doesn't seem so relevant now.
Man of the match: P Stapleton (Tipperary)
Scorers – Tipperary: E Kelly 2-8 (1-7fs), S Bourke 0-4, L Corbett 1-1, N McGrath 0-3, B Maher 0-2, M Cahill 0-1. Clare: Colin Ryan 0-8 (7fs, 1 '65'), T Kelly 1-1, J Conlan 0-2, Conor Ryan, F Lynch, S Morey 0-1 each.
Tipperary – D Gleeson 7; P Stapleton 8, P Curran 7, M Cahill 7; C O'Brien 7, C O'Mahony 6, Padraic Maher 8; B Maher 8, S McGrath 6; S Callanan 6, L Corbett 8, N McGrath 8; J O'Dwyer 6, E Kelly 7, S Bourke 8. Subs: Patrick Maher 7 for O'Dwyer (h-t), J Woodlock 5 for McGrath (47), J O'Brien 5 for Callanan (53), T Stapleton for O'Mahony (65), B O'Meara for Kelly (69).
Clare – P Kelly 6; S Morey 7, D McInerney 6, D O'Donovan 8; B Bugler 7, P Donnellan 6, P O'Connor 6; N O'Connell 6, Conor Ryan 6; Colin Ryan 6, S Collins 5, J Conlan 6; T Kelly 7, S O'Donnell 5, C Galvin 5. Subs: F Lynch 6 for O'Connell (h-t), C McGrath 6 for Collins (47), E Barrett for Conor Ryan (64), D Honan for O'Donnell (66).
Ref – J Owens (Wexford)
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