Rampant Clare much too good for lacklustre Tipperary as they cruise to hurling league final

David Fitzgerald continued his lordly league form but Brian Lohan’s side were helped by a Tipp team that hit 18 wides

Allianz Hurling League semi-final: Clare 1-24 Tipperary 2-13

Whatever Tipperary thought this semi-final was going to be, they didn’t reckon on this scenario. Liam Cahill’s side came to Portlaoise eyeing a place in the league final and instead they found a game where they were behind after 22 seconds and never got back level, one in which they hit 20 wides including nine from frees by four different freetakers. They ran into a Clare windmill and got torn to shreds by it.

For a game where the reward for victory had taken on a new hue after Limerick’s defeat on Saturday night, only one of the sides seemed to get the memo. Clare rattled into this game, all oomph and vigour and flourish. They skated into a 0-8 to 0-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes and withstood a Tipp flurry after half-time to run out easy winners. They are clearly a team going places and left Tipp looking fairly clueless here.

“Very disappointing,” said Cahill afterwards. “We came here with the opportunity of a league final on offer and Clare came out of the traps really well, started the match like a rocket, and we didn’t seem to have the answers. It was eight-nil before we knew where we were and struggling in a lot of areas, struggling to get to the pitch of it, outbattled in a lot of the physical stakes.

“When the stakes go up, different players react differently. Some of our players today, when the pressure cooker was turned up fairly high, they just weren’t able to find the answers. That comes with practice. They’ll have to go away, take the lessons out of that, and work hard on it.


“I have to really get behind these players now. They don’t become bad hurlers after one 70 minutes in the middle of March.”

Where Clare were snappy and wristy, Tipp were sloppy and erratic. If they weren’t fumbling pick-ups they were dropping passes, over-elborating without obvious purpose. Two early frees for Clare came from Tipp possession in their own defence, under minimal pressure. It was a wan opening effort from Cahill’s side and Clare feasted on them for it.

Keith Smyth whistled over a couple of stylish points inside the first 55 seconds. Darragh Lohan and Diarmuid Ryan were constantly steaming through the middle and swishing points, David Reidy was ghosting into pockets of space and helped himself to a couple of handy first-half scores.

Even when Tipp conjured up a lovely goal by Jake Morris on 16 minutes, Clare were so tuned in that they only gave them 30 seconds to enjoy it. David Fitzgerald gathered possession from the puck-out and scythed through the Tipp backline before dispatching a stunner of his own to the top corner. With 17 minutes gone, it meant Clare led by 1-9 to 1-3.

If Tipp were going to keep pace, they needed to make the scoreboard either tick over or explode. But they weren’t creating enough goal chances for the latter and a weirdly patchy day on the frees was kneecapping their attempts on the former. In the first half alone, Jason Forde (three) and Gearóid O’Connor missed five frees between them. Forde went on to miss another after the break, as did Willie Connors and Seán Ryan. Ain’t much future in that.

Clare took a 1-13 to 1-7 lead into the break. Whatever burst Tipp were going to make was going to have to come soon after the restart – and to their credit, they found one. Cahill brought on Seán Hayes and Alan Tynan and it was Hayes who made an immediate impact, finishing to the bottom corner after Conor Bowe zipped through the Clare defence.

Tynan followed up by digging a point out of the midfield trenches soon after and when Connors landed a bomb from distance on 44 minutes, we looked to have a game. Another sub, Seán Kennealy, followed with one of his own in the next breath and the lead was down to two – 1-16 to 2-11.

But that was as close as it got. Aidan McCarthy, who had come on early for Mark Rodgers, was virtually flawless from frees all day and he pushed Clare’s lead out to four. Fitzgerald continued his lordly league form with a couple of fine scores from midfield, ending the day with 1-3 to his name. The fight quickly drained from Tipp and Clare outscored them 0-8 to 0-2 in the closing 25 minutes.

“That really is the disappointing part,” Cahill said. “When you worked so hard to get yourself back into the game and then silly frees kept the scoreboard ticking over for Clare and gave them that bit of oxygen to see them over the line.

“Just when you’d think you had your foot on their throats and you were coming for them, we do something silly and get hurt for a silly free or whatever. So yeah, those are areas that have to be discussed and addressed. That awareness will have to be made within the group that if it pops up again, we’ll try to nullify it and correct it.”

Clare: Eibhear Quilligan; Adam Hogan (0-1), Conor Cleary, Conor Leen; Diarmuid Ryan (0-1), John Conlon, Cian Galvin (0-1); David Fitzgerald (1-3), Darragh Lohan (0-1); Cathal Malone (0-1), Mark Rodgers (0-3, 0-3 frees), Peter Duggan; Keith Smyth (0-2), Ian Galvin, David Reidy (0-3). Subs: Aidan McCarthy (0-8, 0-6 frees, 0-1 free) for Rodgers, 20 mins; Seadna Morey for Lohan (temp) 47-54 mins; Shane Meehan for Smyth, 52 mins; Morey for Conlon, 56 mins; Seán Rynne for I Galvin, 63 mins; Rory Hayes for Hogan, 66 mins; Patrick Crotty for Reidy, 72 mins

Tipperary: Barry Hogan; Craig Morgan, Ronan Maher, Michael Breen; Bryan O’Mara, Robert Byrne, Conor Bowe; Willie Connors (0-1), Darragh Stakelum; Dan McCormack (0-1), Gearóid O’Connor, Conor Stakelum; Jake Morris (1-2), Patrick Maher, Jason Forde (0-6, 0-5 frees). Subs: Seán Hayes (1-0) for Maher, half-time; Alan Tynan (0-1) for D Stakelum, half-time; Seán Kenneally (0-1) for C Stakelum, 44 mins; Seán Ryan for Bowe, 55 mins; Johnny Ryan (0-1 free) for O’Connor, 62 mins

Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)Listen to our Inside Politics Podcast for the latest analysis and chat

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times