TIPPERARY unloaded some of their All-Ireland winning cavalry that started this National League opener on the bench on Sunday afternoon, but Clare refused to be cowed and in the end thundered to a five-point victory on the back of their resilience and their hurling.
That both teams really wanted it and that it was a prize fight and not shadow boxing told in the physicality of the 70 minutes, in the amount of players falling with cramp before the end and in the hurling that had a championship edge to it coming down the home straight.
That Clare didn’t blink and kicked on to a thoroughly deserved victory was down to a combination great defence in the closing stages from keeper Dónal Tuohy out and the brilliance of David Reidy, whose haul of 1-8 finally broke Tipperary’s resolve.
The Éire Óg’s man goal at the death was a fitting finale as he benefitted from the hard graft of John Conlon and burst through on goal before angling a great shot into the right corner.
It raised a lusty cheer from the Clare kop that made up the majority of the 6,277 crowd — a roar of hope that maybe, just maybe, this early statement of intent by the Bannermen could bode well for the hurling year ahead.
Too early to say for sure, but there was certainly real purpose there from Clare in a game that Tipperary were nearly always chasing. Indeed, they only led twice throughout the contest — at the start thanks to Cathal Barrett’s point inside a minute and again after two sublime efforts from Noel McGrath and a Jason Forde free edged them 0-8 to 0-7 clear after 21 minutes.
In between those lead scores for Tipperary, and afterwards, it was Clare who were on the front foot and forcing the pace. They led after two minutes on the back of points from Tony Kelly and Reidy and from there tried to set the agenda with the spirit and their workrate, with their ability to respond to everything Michael Ryan’s charges could summon speaking volumes for their fortitude and focus in getting the job done.
Clare had quality in every line, with the half-forward line of Cathal Malone, John Conlon and Reidy really leading the line in the first half when notching 0-6 between them from play in the first half being a real statement of intent, while further back the field David Fitzgerald was having a fine game.
All three half-forwards were on the mark in the first quarter as Clare edged 0-7 to 0-5 ahead before the emergence of Noel McGrath as the biggest obstacle to a home town victory.
He ghosted around the middle third, with his first half haul of 0-3 from play completely lifting Tipperary’s performance level — that star quality, together with Jason Forde’s frees kept the 2016 All-Ireland champions in touch as the sides traded point-for-point as half-time approached.
However, from a position where the sides were deadlocked at 0-10 apiece on 30 minutes Clare found the few extra gears they needed when playing with the wind to land that last three points of the half though Peter Duggan, Malone and Reidy to lead 0-13 to 0-10.
These scores were crucial, as were the three that following inside the first ten minutes of the second half through Malone and Reidy (2) as Clare moved 0-16 to 0-11 clear.
This was the cushion that Clare needed in the face of Tipperary’s big push in the last 25 minutes — with the wind their backs the force seemed to be with the visitors when points McGrath (2), Forde and Sean Curran got them to within one by the three quarter stage.
Then they were level entering the last 15 minutes as two more from Forde in response to Reidy’s third free of the half had matters delicately poised at 0-17 apiece.
However, Clare wouldn’t be denied — another Reidy free edged them back in front in 59 minutes; two minutes later Tony Kelly found the range with a trademark point on the run, while the selfless genius Shane O’Donnell then set up Reidy for a point from play on 62 minutes to put Clare 0-20 to 0-17 ahead.
Tipperary came again with two more Jason Forde points to bring his tally to 0-10, but Reidy wouldn’t be denied his top-scoring display with his pressure point from a free two minutes into injury time and then his goal putting the seal on a special display with which to start the league.
A start that Clare will mean to go on with when they rock into Nowlan Park next Sunday.
Photo: Clare’s David Reidy celebrates scoring his goal against Tipperary. Natasha Barton
For complete analysis, opinion and player ratings from Clare NHL opener see Tuesday’s Clare People.