Tipperary brush Clare aside to finish top of Division 1A of the National Hurling League
Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly to the fore as Tipp shrug off poor early-season form
Tipperary's Noel McGrath and Patrick Donnellan of Clare at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Inpho
Tipperary 3-19 Clare 1-14: On a day that was supposed to turn everyone into mathematicians, Tipperary made it all very straightforward. No need for algorithms, no call for square roots. Just simple law of the jungle. Tipp Tarzan, Clare Jane.
They won by 11 in the end but it could have been anything. More might have been vulgar but it wouldn’t have been unearned. Tipp got on top early and never had cause to check over their shoulder – Clare weren’t to know it at the time but when Eoin Kelly put four points between the teams with his first goal after eight minutes, it was as close as the sides would be for the rest of the day. This was a good old-fashioned hammering, a young side marched to the gallows and having the chair kicked away with extreme prejudice.
“Tipp were the better team,” sighed Davy Fitzgerald afterwards. “Every chance they got, they punished us. We gave them two goals. You can’t afford to be making mistakes like that – they’ll punish you big time. Even without the mistakes, they were way better than us today, way hungrier, fighting harder than our boys. They totally deserved their win.”
Bustle and bludgeon
In front of a hardy Semple crowd of 5,459, some of Tipp’s hurling made a mockery of the thoroughly inhospitable weather. Shane Bourke and Noel McGrath slung over points from all angles and both sidelines, cashing the cheques written by the ball-winning of Michael Cahill and Paddy Stapleton at the back and Brendan and Pádraic Maher around the middle. They got a full half of bustle and bludgeon from Bonner Maher as well.
But probably the stand-out displays belonged to Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett. Both coming up on 13 years into their intercounty careers, they’re still holding their own and more. Kelly’s frees were as inevitable as ever yesterday, albeit that his second goal was a long-range effort that got spilled into the net by Clare goalkeeper Patrick Kelly.
As for Corbett, there were times when his touch seemed several degrees better tuned than everyone else on the pitch.
After sending Kelly in for his first goal with a perfectly-timed handpass on eight minutes – for which he got nailed with a frontal charge from David McInerney, earning the Clare full-back a yellow card – Corbett spent the rest of the first half bringing order to chaos all around the pitch. One sharp pick and pass set up Michael Cahill for a point, another bought him the room for one of his own.
It all meant that Tipp were 1-5 to 0-2 up after 15 minutes and though they had the help of an insistent breeze, this wasn’t the type of dominance that would disappear with a change of ends. Indeed Clare would have been a lot further behind soon after only for Patrick Kelly pulling off a smart save from the energetic Brendan Maher.
And any chance they had of making a game of it disappeared 10 minutes short of the break when corner-forward Colm Galvin shot weakly at Darren Gleeson. A goal then would have brought them back to within three points but not only did Gleeson waft away the shot, he was able to sprawl forward and clear the rebound before Shane O’Donnell could nip in and finish. Crisis averted, Tipp reeled off the next four points in a row.
It sent them in 1-11 to 0-6 ahead at the break and although a willing John Conlon put up the first score of the second half, Clare just couldn’t get any sort of foothold. Noel McGrath sent over a glorious point from the left sideline on 40 minutes and Corbett stuck a fork in Clare soon after.
A Bonner Maher run ended with a quick transfer to Corbett whose shot was well saved by Kelly. But in the ensuing panic, Corbett managed to get a hurl up to block an attempted handpass by the Clare keeper before batting to the net in the same movement.
It put 10 points between the sides and the rest of the day was mere book-keeping. What it meant ultimately was that Tipp finished top of the league, an outcome nobody saw coming five weeks ago when they got torched by Cork in their first game.
“Astounded!” was Eamon O’Shea’s reaction to finishing top of the table. “The start of the league, you know where we were at the start of the league. Maybe I wasn’t that surprised. I wasn’t surprised that we lost against Cork. I was surprised at the margin. We’re still not at the level where some of the other teams are. We’re just going along nicely now, nothing spectacular. We’re trying to get better and we are getting better.”
No arguments there.