Anthony Shelley – Tipperary Clare Report 2020

There is an old theatre tradition that tells us if the dress rehearsal is poor then the opening night will be excellent. The dress rehearsal against Leitrim last week was poor but in true theatrical style it was standing ovations all around for the Tipperary footballers after their opening game of the championship yesterday afternoon

There is no doubt that David Power and his cabinet had a lot of work to do on the house during the week and to their credit by the time they arrived in Semple Stadium on Sunday they had the place shining and most of the repairs carried out.

I’m sure one of the first things David did when he got up yesterday morning was to check the weather glass. It told him that Storm Aidan was a small ball man and would be going to Cork to see the hurlers, taking the wind and rain with him and leaving nothing behind in Thurles only a grey sky and a slippy pitch.

In the opening exchanges, both teams struggled to come to terms with the wet ball and heavy going. In fact, almost five minutes had elapsed before either team had a shot at goal, a wild effort from Liam Casey.

Having struggled last week on kick-outs, it seemed like the first Clare kick-out was the trigger for this Tipperary team to perform and for the next 60 minutes, they performed magnificently.

Tipperary pushed right up on the kick-out, Bill Maher brilliantly stripped the ball from Cathal O’Connor’s grasp and it broke along the ground to Michael Quinlivan. Soccer style and with a pass Iniesta would have been proud of, Quinlivan found Conor Sweeney, who, as you now expect from Conor, finished to the net in style. I’m not sure there is a better finisher of goals in the game today than the Ballyporeen man.

Eoin Cleary pointed a free for Clare in the seventh minute but Tipperary replied with three points of their own, all from frees, two from Sweeney and a long-range effort from President Jack Kennedy to leave the score 1-3 to 0-1 at the first water break. It was a magnificent start by the Tipperary men and such was their dominance at this stage of the game, Cleary’s free was the only shot at goal Clare had in the opening sixteen minutes.

The contrast with last week’s game could hardly have been greater. In Carrick-on-Shannon, we lost all ten of Leitrim’s first half kick-outs. At the water-break yesterday we had won three of Clare’s four kick-outs and by half time we had made it six out of ten and scored 1-1 directly from the Clare kick-out alone.

I have often wondered if there is any benefit in the team that’s in the ascendancy leaving the pitch for the water-break. The water-break only lasts one minute so when you are playing well is it really worth wasting energy going to the side-line to be told “that’s great lads keep it going”? Staying in your positions and having the water brought to you might be a better option.

However, for the team under pressure, the water-break can bring blessed relief and this was the case for Clare yesterday. It gave Colm Collins time to re-organise his troops but more importantly it broke the Tipperary momentum and with this broken Clare bossed the ten-minute period after the water-break kicking three unanswered points.

A left legged Liam Casey point from somewhere down around Mackey’s Pub settled Tipperary again before two more long-range frees from The President brought us to the tea break on a score-line of Tipp 1-6 Clare 0.5.

At this stage all our vital stats were good. We had won 60% of the Clare kick-out, were winning the turnover count and most importantly we were leading by four points. With the exception of the ten-minute period after the water-break (and good teams like Clare will always have a period of dominance) so far there was nothing to dislike about this Tipperary performance.

Over the next 20 minutes, it was to get even better.

Within 40 seconds of the re-start, Colman Kennedy picked out Conor Sweeney with a brilliant 40 yards ping. Sweeney offloaded to Bill Maher, who, with the coolness of a professional gunfighter in a Clint Eastwood western, slotted the ball to the front of the net with his left leg.

In the 45th minute, Colman was asked to spend ten minutes on the naughty step before a Conor Sweeney point left the score at the second water-break 2-7 to 0-6.

It was a joy to watch and certainly the best we had played in the championship in a few years. We had been decisive and aggressive in everything we had done. Jimmy Feehan and his curates Campbell and O’Shaughnessy kept their line neat and tidy while in the middle third of the field Colman Kennedy benefited from the hard work of his brother Conal who along with Liam Casey soldiered hard all day long. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gary Brennan got into his car after the game and checked in his rearview mirror just to make sure Conal Kennedy wasn’t still stalking him.

But it was the performances of Kevin Fahey, Bill Maher and President Kennedy that stood out. Without going overboard they were simply magnificent.

What happened in the last quarter of this game is the reason why every Tipperary Football fan keeps the number of a good psychologist on speed dial.

Dark clouds began to gather and our play seemed to take its hue from the sky. Having gone into the second water-break winning seven of Clare’s twelve kick-outs, we now started conceding the kick-out and immediately found ourselves on the back foot. Clare, who had only eight shots at goal in the first 50 minutes of this game, would get nine shots off in the final twenty minutes scoring 1-5 on the way and missing a penalty which was brilliantly saved by Evan Comerford.

Of course, it would be too simple to blame our performance in the last quarter purely on conceding kick-outs. We played a period of that quarter with just fourteen men and with the winning line in sight, teams subconsciously tend to sit back and adopt a “what we have we hold” attitude while the opposition throw caution to the wind and go for it.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention that we played some decent football during that period as well with points from Sweeney, Liam Boland and Emmet Moloney. On top of this, Conor Sweeney’s left leg momentarily went on the blink when faced with a simple shot from thirteen metres following an advanced mark and Robbie Kiely will wonder how he didn’t come away with at least a point when he found himself alone all alone with the ball just six yards from goal. If those two efforts had resulted in scores we could have hung up on the psychologist.

When referee Conor Lane eventually signaled full stop, we were 2-11 to 1-11 ahead. It was a one-goal hammering.

And so we march on to play Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds next Saturday. A win would see us in a Munster Final on the weekend of The Bloody Sunday Anniversary.

How fitting it would be to see a Tipperary Football Team run out in a Munster Final wearing the famous Grangemockler jerseys which were worn on Bloody Sunday but that’s all in the future and for now, we can’t look past Limerick next weekend.