All roads lead from Sixmilebridge as Clare and Tipperary look to recover from 2014

Waterford Crystal quarter-final: Clare withstand late Tipp recovery

Clare’s Patrick Donnellan tackles Conor O’Mahony of Tipperary. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Clare’s Patrick Donnellan tackles Conor O’Mahony of Tipperary. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Clare 0-16 Tipperary 0-15

Tipperary, last spotted in that transcendent All-Ireland final series, returned to inter-county hurling in more earthy circumstances yesterday, opening their season in the bitterly cold sunshine of Sixmilebridge, where the match programmes were free and so was the frostbite.

Colin Ryan, introduced in the last 10 minutes of a surprisingly full-blooded closing passage, struck the winning point for Clare just as the crowd was beginning to consider the merits and demerits of extra-time. The single point win marked a first win since last March for the 2013 All-Ireland champions and helped them to put last year’s tempestuous year firmly behind them.

“Thanks for reminding us of that,” laughed Clare’s selector Michael Brown – manager Davy Fitzgerald electing to keep his counsel.

“Yeah, it is great to win. These lads are hurt by what happened last year. They aren’t happy with their performance or how the summer panned out for them and I suppose there is a huge determination to try and do something to make up for that in so far as we can.

“ It is obvious all through the camp that there is a huge commitment and focus. You could see it out there today. There was huge determination and tackling. Plenty of mistakes as well but you would expect that.”

Indeed. There is something absurd and impossible about these pre-season hurling tournaments of January, when the weather and conditions and the break conspire to make a mockery of even the most nimble hands and feet in the game. There were plenty of groans and gasps of disbelief as the crowd of 1,342 responded to undercooked handpasses and over-ambitious shot-taking, but on an afternoon when neither team was in a mood to cough up handy scores, the game fairly fizzed along, with Clare establishing a 0-15 to 0-11 lead after Paul Flanagan, fresh on the pitch , struck a 67th minute point.

Tipp had been motoring along fairly contentedly without ever really worrying the Banner defence, instead enjoying a controlled performance from Stephen Maher and the busy Gearóid Ryan and a terrific turn by Brendan Maher as a play-everywhere, pick-pocketing centre-half forward.

“It was his first game and he has been sick so I was going to take him off but fitness wise it was good for us to finish it,” said Eamon O’Shea.

These are the concerns in January, rather than the scoreboard: bringing players on, treating injuries and trying to gauge where everyone is at.

“I was going to take him off after 15 of the second half but he wanted to stay on.”

With the introduction of Kieran Bergin and Patrick Maher, Tipp suddenly seemed to rouse themselves and issued four quick points on the trot which introduced the prospect of Clare extending their losing streak into the New Year. Brendan Maher flicked a point to level it at 0-15 each after intense Tipp forward pressure, with Patrick Maher applying his customary brand of energy and ball-winning prowess to the game, busting open what had been a tightly bound Clare defensive unit.

“I was surprised,” smiled O’Shea of that swift comeback. “We were happy. It was a competitive game and it brought us on I would say. We were playing five forwards and a man out and they had to work very hard. But I was happy with the workrate. It was hard for forwards on a day like today.”

It was difficult for all the hurlers. Attitude and application was all that both managements were asking for: signs that the teams were ready to move on from the respective disappointments of last year. Tipp’s were more acute and they have had all winter to contemplate just how close they came to being All-Ireland champions. “Look, everyone was very disappointed,” O Shea said. “But to be here on a cold day and the dressing room was buzzing and hopefully that will continue.”

Clare are trying to tap into the ebullient confidence and wickedly concise passing game which made them unstoppable in 2013 and at times their approach work contained flashes of that brilliant summer, even if the finish was not there – Clare fired eight wides in the second half which they would expect to convert on more meaningful days. That will hardly bother them yet and in the busy, combative outing by Bobby Duggan at centre-half forward and two terrific, speedy points by David O’Halloran in the first half, there was plenty to take from the day as they prepare for a semi-final visit to Cork next weekend.

“We were four points up with five or six minutes left and lost that lead. That is a big concern for us. But it was our first day out and apart from that we were happy with our display,” said Brown. There was nothing more to say. The new season is up and running. All roads lead from Sixmilebridge.

CLARE: 1 P Kelly; 2 D O’Donovan, 3 C Duggan 4 S Morey; 5 G O’Connell, 6 Conor Ryan (0-1), 7 C Cleary; 8 C Galvin (0-1), 9 B Bugler (0-1); 10 P Donnellan (0-2), 11 B Duggan (0-1), 12 S Golden; 13 Cathal O’Connell (0-4, frees), 14 A Cunningham (0-1), 15 D O’Halloran (0-2). Subs: J Conlon for S Golden (59 mins), C Ryan (0-1) for C Galvin (59 mins), P Flanagan (0-1) for C Cleary, J Shanahan for B Duggan (68 mins).

TIPPERARY: 1 D Egan; 2 J O’Dwyer, 3 P Curran, 19 S Maher; 5 R Maher, 6 C O’Mahony, 4 C O’Brien; 8 T Stapleton (0-1), 9 G Ryan (0-1); 10 D Maher (0-2), 7 B Maher (0-7, 5 frees), 11 J Woodlock; 13 D Butler (0-1), 14 S Maher (0-2), 12 C Kenny. Subs: M Butler for J O’Dwyer (half-time), K Bergin for G Ryan (51 mins), Patrick Maher for D Butler (51 mins), S McGrath (0-1) for D Maher (61 mins).

Referee: J Murphy (Limerick).

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