Experience counts as Clare exploit weakened Tipperary
Tipperary's dilemma of being cast in the role of football's perennial team-builders was duly exploited by a more experienced and wiser Clare in what proved a dull Munster football championship semi-final in front of a crowd of 8,212 at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick yesterday.
Declan Browne may have been on the losing team, but he won the man-of-the-match tag hands down. Unfortunately for Tipperary, they once again suffered from a shortage of seasoned championship players. No less than nine debutants were in the side by the time Derry referee Mick Convery sounded the final whistle.
Clare's captain and goalkeeper James Hanrahan repeatedly saw the danger lurking as Browne gave his immediate marker Padraig Gallagher a busy time. In fact, the entire Clare cover were visibly concerned whenever Browne was given possession.
Tipperary's only footballing All Star from Moyle Valley scored all but two of the losers' points. He got a goal chance to level the scores 27 minutes into the second half but took a point instead. "They were closing in on me and I couldn't take the chance," he said afterwards.
The real character of the Clare side, according to their manager Tommy Curtin, was shown in the manner in which they recoverd composure to take vital points whenever Tipperary got close and threatened.
But Curtin readily admitted that his team will have to improve an awful lot if they are to do well against Kerry".
Tipperary manager Colm O'Flaherty felt that the difference was Clare's Division One experience. "We finished up with nine players playing at this level for the first time, eight of them under 20."
Declan Browne is prepared to persevere with the young players coming through. "I am only a young man myself and I know we did not play to full potential today," he said. Tipperary knew they were not doing themselves justice by the half-time interval, despite having won good possession. At that stage, they were clearly fortunate to be only three points adrift, trailing 0-8 to 0-5.
Clare showed that they had confident ball carriers in half forwards Ger Keane, Martin Daly and Denis O'Driscoll and, excellent point snipers in corner men Peadar McMahon and Brian McMahon. Donal O'Sullivan had proved to be the best of the midfielders in that opening half, and with late call-up Mark O'Connell deputising effectively at centre back and Ronan Slattery leading by example with clever front running tactics, Clare played with a creative precision.
But shooting at the Tipperary posts was often another matter. Clare chalked up double the amount of wides (10) than a one-dimensional Tipperary attack. Browne said afterwards: "We were flattered to be only three behind at half time."
Tipperary's hopes of making early inroads into that deficit were foiled when Brian McMahon scored one of the best points of the match within a minute of the resumption.
Tipperary, with midfielders Eamon Hanrahan and Liam England improving by the minute, and wing backs Bernard Hahessy and Dan Hackett combining to create a better supply, did not reopen their second-half account until 10 minutes after the restart, Peter Lambert scoring a point.
Lambert was lost to the full-forward line by moving to the wing but, during those opening minutes of the second period, both he and Browne had chances to turn the match.
Lambert was unlucky to see his low shot just about scrambled off the line by Hanrahan, and Browne hit Tipperary's third wide of the half.
Clare, leading by 0-9 to 0-6, thrived on sniping vital points to just about keep Tipperary at arms length at crucial stages in the last quarter.
The lack of concentration displayed by Tipperary defender Damien Byrne on one occasion played into Clare hands. Byrne sent a free-kick direct to Brian McMahon and a pointed free by Martin Daly resulted.
Towards the end, Clare became sloppy and quite wasteful and in stepped Browne to real off four points, leaving just two points between the sides after 27 minutes of the second half.
Ger Keane and Ronan Slattery made important interceptions for Clare in the closing minutes but it was Martin Daly who sealed victory for Clare with a pointed 45.