Tipperary face unknown quantity Clare for place in the Munster Hurling Final against Waterford

Eamonn Wynne

Eamonn Wynne

The first hurdle safely negotiated, Tipperary can look forward with optimism, though not over-confidence, to Sunday’s Munster Senior Hurling Semi-Final, when they take on Clare at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds (4 o’clock).

That optimism is based on their last performance, when they began their defence of their All-Ireland crown with an impressive defeat of Cork three weeks ago in Thurles. Cork were given little chance of upsetting the odds but championship hurling between these counties is always a great leveller and so it proved again. Tipp were 8 points ahead early in the second half, only for Cork to erase the advantage with a string of points.

Tipp’s response was impressive. They kept their cool, refused to panic and once the scoring machine, which was revved up by Benny Dunne, Seamus Callanan, Lar Corbett, ‘Bonnar’ Maher and company clicked into gear again they were comfortable by the final whistle. Overall it was a performance that offered the impression that the team still has something left in the tank for later tests.

When Pat Horgan equalised with 14 minutes remaining that was a match, arguably, that any of Tipp’s brittle teams from 2002-2008 would have lost. The players would have been plagued by self-doubt, their confidence would have crumbled and the outcome would have petered out to an inevitable conclusion. However the county’s teams of more recent vintage are made of sterner stuff.

It has been subsequently claimed by some commentators that the 8-points margin flattered Tipp, but we saw the final score as an accurate reflection of the clinical nature of the performance. They withstood heavy shelling for almost a quarter of an hour of that second half but the response, when it came, was devastating. Cork had worked hard to level the scores, yet within three minutes they found themselves a goal behind again when Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly and Noel McGrath replied with points.Another Horgan free brought it back to two but then Benny Dunne blasted the third goal, and Tipp were on their way to the semi-final.

As Cork wilted, with Niall McCarthy and Pat Horgan receiving treatment for cramp in those closing stages – a complaint that didn’t affect any Tipp player – they rammed home their superiority with further points from Noel McGrath’s sideline and two from Seamus Callanan.

Each of the four substitutes introduced – Conor O’Mahony, James Woodlock, Pa Bourke and Benny Dunne – all made their individual contributions to the victory. This not only underlined the panel’s strength in depth but also gives Declan Ryan and his selectors a headache when they sit down to pick the team for Sunday.

A consensus has emerged among supporters and commentators of the likely formation. The commonly-held view is that Conor O’Mahony will be re-introduced to defence, with Padraic Maher moving across to wing-back and David Young losing out. Of course that decision ultimately rests with the management, who unlike the rest of us are used to seeing players week-in, week-out and are best placed to decide on their line-up. Whatever the make-up of the defence wholesale changes aren’t expected throughout the team.

Clare will provide a different challenge to Cork, and will more than likely offer a more direct approach than the short-passing game that Tipp encountered the last day. The Banner go into the game as an unknown quantity and with the advantage of little or no expectation to weigh them down. Their League Division 2 Final defeat by Limerick means they’re consigned to their third successive season in the second tier. However they have a promising crop of young players, who emerged from that All-Ireland U-21 triumph of two years ago, who will be eager to prove themselves against the current All-Ireland senior champions.

That U-21 triumph was their first All-Ireland in the grade. It came a year after they felt aggrieved at losing the Munster Final to Tipp, a match that ended in a storm of controversy when Pa Bourke scored a disputed ‘65 to hand his team victory.

That game revived memories of a decade or so previously when the rivalry between the counties at senior level was at its most intense.One of the Clare stalwarts of those days, Ger O’Loughlin, is now at the helm of the senior team, and he will be concerned at the manner in which his team faded in the latter stages of the Division 2 Final against Limerick, when they lost by 4-12 to 2-13.

They had started the game brightly with Darach Honan, John Conlon and Conor McGrath all prominent, but Donal O’Grady’s team proved too strong in the end.With nothing to lose they’ll be sure to give it a right go on Sunday, although anything other than a Tipp victory would be a major surprise. The match will be televised live on TV3 and the referee is Wexford’s James Owens.

The winners face Waterford in the final on July 10th.