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Webster spells big trouble for poor Clare

TIPPERARY 2-14 CLARE 0-14 Munster SHC semi-final NOT much analysis or hindsight required from the Gaelic Grounds. It was quite simple really.

Tipperary got two goal chances between the 10th and 12th minutes and did the needful on both occasions, Clare spurned two in the following 12 minutes and were left chasing hopelessly for the remainder of this rain-soaked Munster hurling semi-final.

Tipperary did enough to restrain Clare's best efforts after that thanks to the economy of their touch and some magnificent defence by Diarmuid Fitzgerald, Paul Curran and the stand-in full-back John Devane.

They also unearthed a new hero in Michael Webster who ripped apart the great institution of modern day hurling that is Brian Lohan, setting up the first Tipp goal for Larry Corbett and poaching the second himself to build a cushion Clare didn't have the class to breach.

Had a ground shot from Barry Nugent, who had found himself behind the Tipp cover just a minute before Corbett's goal, slipped inside Brendan Cummins's right-hand post or a Nugent shot on 24 minutes not been saved by Brendan Cummins, albeit at the expense of a point, it would have offered Clare a badly needed lifeline.

But with those spurned opportunities and a first half tally of 10 wides went any chance of salvation for Anthony Daly's side and few in the 22,527 crowd could envisage a twist to the tale of disappointing game the longer it went on.

Tipp bundled on into a first Munster final for three years and a first with Cork, considered by the more haughty aficionados as the 'real' provincial final, for five years.

Clare were left to reflect on a sixth Munster championship defeat from seven games in six years. And to add to their woes, defender Ger O'Grady was taken to hospital last night with a suspected broken ankle.

They are becoming one of hurling's tragi-stories again a lot faster than they ever anticipated. The sight of Lohan being beaten for pace and brawn by a 27-year-old latecomer to top championship hurling is one that will reflect badly on Clare supporters today. It must have crossed Daly's mind more than once in an agonising 70 minutes or so to haul off his old defensive colleague.

When he took the job he always said he would not shirk the hard calls that could involve old friends. But Daly knew the consequences of such a move better than that. How could he offer up such a great servant of Clare hurling to the Tipp hordes in the Mackey Stand?

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That would surely have been harder to stomach than any defeat. Tipp finished a much better team but Clare were largely authors of their own downfall. In difficult conditions, their first touch was awful.

In fact, most of their touches could be branded in the same category. Their efforts to lift the ball were clumsy and costly, a point best reflected in the 20 seconds Frank Lohan spent trying to get a wet sliotar under control in the first half without success.

The end result was a swift Tommy Dunne point for Tipp wrapped in simplicity and economy. But if anything was going to break Clare hearts it was those first half wides, not just the quantity but the quality of some of them.

Colin Lynch, Tony Carmody and Barry Nugent were all guilty of very poor striking and Andrew Quinn's lame attempt for a goal when a point was a better option in the 32nd minute was symptomatic of Clare's failings.

Whenever the opportunity arose they took the wrong option at the right time. The benefit of two intense games with Limerick clearly stood to Tipp who got more from their midfield, Benny Dunne and Paul Kelly, than they did in either of those games. Colin Morrissey and Francis Devanney also showed well on a much maligned half-forward line, Eoin Kelly delivered a glorious second half point, one of seven overall that effectively killed the Clare challenge and Larry Corbett looked sharp until a hamstring injury forced him off after 15 minutes.

Naturally, manager Ken Hogan was pleased with the level of commitment. "We showed great bottle and great heart in difficult conditions. Clare came back to four points there but we plugged away and plugged away. We're not supermen unfortunately but we keep going and showed a bit of honesty."

Kelly started well with a couple of points from play and when Webster fed Corbett and then latched onto a Kelly break to slice through what was once the most respected patch of ground in hurling to deliver a second goal with a neat one-handed stroke Tipp were on their way.

But they got bogged down midway through the half and with Gerry Quinn, Seánie McMahon and Tony Griffin, now re-sited to centre-forward where he offered a new and ultimately too potent challenge for David Kennedy, Clare gained a strong territorial advantage. Inevitably, the succession of errors would take its toll on Clare. Lohan was never comfortable and a wild swing at Webster which earned him a yellow card and an easy free for Kelly was a sign of frustration.

By the break, they should have been a lot better off than six points (2-7 to 0-7) in arrears. Griffin pinched a quick point on the restart and at one point early in the second half they closed to within four but that was as close as they got.

Tipp always had enough in reserve to retain command and Declan Fanning got a lot tighter than Kennedy to Griffin. Kelly, who operated mostly at centre-forward, delivered a stunning 52nd minute point when he doubled on a stray Gerry Quinn pass to restore a five-point lead and Clare seemed punch drunk after that.

They needed a goal but never looked like scoring one until Dáithí O'Connell engineered a shot across the goals late on.

Daly acknowledged the better, more composed team had prevailed and took sanctuary from the fact that "this year we'd didn't collapse." Whether they'll have the heart for qualifiers now remains to be seen.

SCORERS - Tipperary: E Kelly 0-7 (4f); L Corbett 1-1; M Webster 1-0; E Sweeney, F Devaney 0-2 each; B Dunne, P Kelly 0-1 each. Clare: N Gilligan 0-5 (3f); D McMahon, S McMahon (2f), B Nugent, T Griffin 0-2 each; T Carmody 0-1.

TIPPERARY - B Cummins 8; E Corcoran 8, J Devane 8, P Curran 8; D Fanning 7, D Kennedy 5, D Fitzgerald 8; B Dunne 7, P Kelly 7; C Morrissey 7, F Devanney 7, T Dunne 5; E Kelly 8, M Webster 9, L Corbett 7. Subs: E Sweeney 8 for Corbett (15), H Moloney for Kennedy (41), C O'Mahony for Sweeney (68), P O'Brien for T Dunne (70).

CLARE - D Fitzgerald 6; F Lohan 7, B Lohan 5, G O'Grady 7; B O'Connell 7, S McMahon 7, G Quinn 8; A Markham 6, C Lynch 7; T Carmody 7, B Nugent 6, D McMahon 7; N Gilligan 6, T Griffin 8, A Quinn 5. Subs: D Forde 6 for Nugent (46), D O'Connell 6 for Forde (48), C Plunkett 6 for D McMahon (56), C Forde for Markham (62)

REF - P O'Connor (Limerick).


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