Tipperary's forwards make up for defensive shortcomings to see off Clare
Champions back in the All-Ireland semi-finals after an historic afternoon in Cork
Clare’s Shane O’Donnell after the game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
All-Ireland champions Tipperary head into Monday morning’s draw for this year’s semi-final with their forwards in cracking form but unresolved issues elsewhere. It’s progress of sorts but considering that only twice in 20 years have champions failed to make the last four of the following year’s championship it’s hardly exceptional.
Cork’s new Páirc Uí Chaoimh threw its gates open on Saturday afternoon for the first of the GAA All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals. The new venue looked lovely in the sunshine but the pitch had a few teething problems, lacking a true bounce at times and looking a little slippery on occasion but overall it was rich with the promise of better days.
Although Clare tried frantically to salvage the occasion with two out-of-the-blue periods of unanswered scoring, they had done enough in terms of errors to ensure that they’d never quite catch their opponents.
The match was ostensibly evenly contested on the scoreboard but it lacked the brimstone of past championship battles and by and large conformed to expectations in that Tipp’s forwards were far more accomplished score takers and seemed able to help themselves any time the team needed to tip the accelerator pedal.
If there was a caveat it was the lack of goal chances. A brilliant counter-attacking break by Dan McCormack early in second half allowed John O’Dwyer to put a goal chance on a plate for Séamus Callanan but he fired over the bar. In the first half John McGrath did similarly but the pass in his case from Bonner Maher wasn’t sympathetic.
The single score between the teams at the end gives a slightly misleading impression in that Clare scrambled a goal in the dying seconds from replacement Cathal McInerney to gloss the result.
It was a disappointment for Clare because, whereas they did many things well, they were ultimately undone by mistakes. Their defence was committed and enthusiastic with Conor Cleary doing well to thwart Bonner Maher on the 40 and their overall application forced the Tipp forwards into turning over possession.
Unfortunately for Clare, even on disrupted rations Tipp were comfortably spinning straw into gold. Callanan and O’Dwyer rifled over early points, as did the scoring stars, the McGrath brothers. Noel shot four from play but the target master this time was John, whose close control enabled him to open space for both himself and others and whose marksmanship was exceptional - six from play and no wides.
Clare did well to keep up at times but they were never able to drive on and put the champions under real pressure. The continuing fitful form of key players was too much of a handicap. Tony Kelly and Conor McGrath had poor misses whereas other significant players, Podge Collins and John Conlon were replaced.
In terms of the champions’ evolving prospects though, the recurrence of some doubtful defending remained a ghost in the machine that will haunt them against stronger opposition. The three goals conceded provided the match and the opposition with an oxygen supply.
It will give Michael Ryan some anxious moments in the video suite, as on occasion Clare successfully attacked their opponents’ most celebrated strength, the ability to win ball in the air, and the first two goals came as a consequence - both coughed up by an out-of-sorts James Barry.
In the 19th minute Conor McGrath - who had earlier had a goal ruled out for over-carrying - availed of a break to speed in and set up Aaron Cunningham for a well-taken goal and a minute later Shane O’Donnell leaped highest to pluck the ball, and also give Cunningham a scoring pass.
These interventions wiped out Tipperary’s painstakingly built six-point lead but as they would do in the second half, Tipp responded and regained the lead and in the minutes before the interval they clipped on a further four scores to lead by five, 0-16 to 2-5.
Even if they ran second best for virtually the whole match, Clare did launch a spirited comeback in a 10-minute spell from the 57th minute. It was started by Kelly’s defiant point from halfway and concluded five points later with just the minimum between the teams. In the midst of the barrage, full forward Aaron Cunningham chivvied a goal chance out from Tomás Hamill under a high ball and came close to beating Daragh Mooney in the Tipp goal but his shot only set the side-netting a-billow.
Stung by the response, the winners rat-a-tatted five - a variety of scores from easy free to long-range free to finely sniped shots from replacements Jason Forde and Steven O’Brien as well, inevitably, as a signature point by John McGrath - in response and that was that.
The pre-match perception - strong as the belief that the traffic around Cork would be shocking and equally as realised - was that Tipperary’s forwards would have benefited from finding their range against Dublin and all of them apart from Dan McCormack scored from play for a total of 0-19, not including frees.
Yet at the start of the final quarter John McGrath set up his brother Noel for a point and when the latter did the same for Bonner Maher, Tipperary led by seven and a double-digit win looked on the cards. It turned out more complicated than that but the outcome never fully drifted back into play, as Tipperary finished strongly.
TIPPERARY: 1. Daragh Mooney; 4. James Barry, 3. Tomás Hamill, 2. Donagh Maher; 5. Séamus Kennedy (0-1), 6. Ronan Maher, 7. Pádraic Maher (capt.); 8. Brendan Maher (0-1, free), 9. Michael Breen (0-1); 10. Noel McGrath (0-4), 11. Patrick Maher (0-2), 10. Dan McCormack; 15. John McGrath (0-6), 14. Séamus Callanan (0-7, three frees), 13. John O’Dwyer (0-4, one free). Subs: 24. Seán O’Brien for Barry (45 mins), 19. Jason Forde (0-1) for Breen (60 mins), 26. Niall O’Meara for O’Dwyer (63 mins), 25. Steven O’Brien (0-1) for Callanan (70 mins),
CLARE: 1. Andrew Fahy; 4. Cian Dillon, 3. Patrick O’Connor (capt.), 2. Séadna Morey; 5. David Fitzgerald, 6. Conor Cleary, 7. Jamie Shanahan (0-1); 8. Colm Galvin (0-1), 9. Tony Kelly (0-6, four frees); 10. Cathal Malone, 11. Pádraic Collins, 12. John Conlon; 13. Shane O’Donnell (0-2), 14. Aaron Cunningham (2-0), 15. Conor McGrath (0-2). Subs: 21. Peter Duggan (0-1) for Conlon (33 mins), 18. David Reidy (0-2, frees) for Collins (52 mins), 22. Cathal McInerney (1-1) for Malone (57 mins), 20. Jason McCarthy (0-1) for Kelly (67 mins).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)