CHAMPIONS don’t die easily and Clare’s U-21 hurlers confirmed this at Cusack Park on Wednesday evening.
Before an attendance of 7,257, they overcame Tipperary in an enthralling provincial semi-final and will now play Cork, who beat Waterford 3-18 to 0-16, in the final on July 30.[doptg id=”32″]The lead changed hands on many occasions but Clare’s ability to get through for goals proved crucial and two in the second period of extra time sealed the win.
Adding to the enjoyment for fans was the return to action of Shane O’Donnell, who scored the game’s final goal in the last minute of extra time.
For the third time in 11 days, a Clare hurling team has had to face into extra time in a crucial championship game.
In a tie that ebbed and flowed, Aaron Cunningham levelled for the defending champions with two minutes of normal time to play.
Both sides will look back on a number of missed chances but few could complain with the draw after 60 minutes.
There were fears that the efforts of almost half of the team with the seniors in the two games against Wexford would prove too much but this was not the case and they drove on for a tremendous victory.
Clare showed two changes from the team that lined out against Limerick in the opening round.
Alan O’Neill returned from injury at centre-back, where he was so impressive in last year’s campaign. This resulted in Conor Cleary switching to wing-back, from where Jamie Shanahan moved to wing-forward, to the exclusion of Shane Gleeson.
Feakle’s Shane McGrath earned a call-up to the first 15 and he came in at centre-forward, which resulted in Eoin Enright dropping to the bench.
The team included seven players that saw action for the seniors in last Saturday’s qualifier in Wexford. They were Jack Browne, Seadna Morey, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Peter Duggan (who started for the seniors), along with Jamie Shanahan and Aaron Cunningham, who were introduced during the course of that game.
Tipperary scored the opening two points but by the seventh minute, Clare were two goals clear after Aaron Cunningham and Peter Duggan had found the net.
Cunningham’s goal came at the end of a sweeping movement that started in the Clare full-back line, while Duggan added to a long range free from Alan O’Neill to put the home side 2-2 to 0-2 in front.
Tipperary came back strongly and in the next 19 minutes, they outscored Clare 0-6 to 0-2, to close the gap to two points. It could have been closer but Jason Forde failed to find the target from two scoreable frees.
Just before the half-time whistle, Tipperary hopes were dealt a blow when centre-forward Liam McGrath had to be helped from the pitch after he suffered a leg injury.
They were level twice in the early minutes of the second half before a goal from Tipperary substitute Tadhg Gallagher edged the visitors ahead. They went on to lead by four points at the three-quarter stage.
Clare moved Peter Duggan to the full-forward line where he caused some problems for the Premier side. He forced a great save from goalie Paul Maher, before David Reidy won possession and fired low to the net. Duggan followed with a point and the sides were level with 12 minutes to go.
From here to the finish it was tense stuff and tempers flared a little as they both pushed for victory.
A minute from the end, Tipperary had John Meagher, who was outstanding on the night, sent off. The linesman had signalled for a line-ball for Tipperary but after some protests, referee Cathal McAllister changed the decision. Meagher reacted, which led to his dismissal.
Two Jason Forde points in the opening minutes of extra-time suggested the visitors might drive on but Clare responded with six unanswered scores to lead by three going into the final 10 minutes.
Tipperary had it back to two three minutes into the second period but a Clare goal from Aaron Cunningham, who reacted quickest when Tony Kelly’s long range effort rebounded off the upright, finally turned the tie in Clare’s favour.
Clare: Keith Hogan (Clooney-Quin); Jarlath Colleran (St Joseph’s), Jack Browne (Ballyea), Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge); Conor Cleary (Miltown St Joseph’s), Alan O’Neill (St Joseph’s), Gearóid O’Connell (Ballyea); Colm Galvin (Clonlara), Tony Kelly (Ballyea, captain); Peter Duggan (Clooney-Quin), Shane McGrath (Feakle), Jamie Shanahan (Sixmilebridge); Bobby Duggan (Clarecastle), Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones), David Reidy (Éire Óg).
Subs: Eon Enright (Kilmaley) for McGrath; Shane Gleeson (Cratloe) for O’Neill; Shane O’Brien (Clonlara) for O’Connell; Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg) for P Duggan; Paddy Fitzgerald (Bodyke) for B Duggan.
Scorers: Bobby Duggan (0-8, 4f, 2 65s); Aaron Cunningham (2-2), Peter Duggan (1-1), David Reidy (1-1), Colm Galvin (0-3), Shane O’Donnell (1-0), Jamie Shanahan, Gearóid O’Connell (0-2) each.
Tipperary: Paul Maher; Cathal Barrett, Michael Breen, Tom Fox; Ronan Maher, John Meagher, Thomas Hamill; Seamus Kennedy, Bill Maher; Colin O’Riordan, Liam McGrath, Dan McCormack; Stephen Cahill, Jason Forde (captain), Sean Maher.
Subs: Tadhg Gallagher for S Maher (25 minutes); Dylan Fitzelle for McGrath (half-time); Conor Hammersley for Kennedy; Barry Heffernan (for extra-time in place of the suspended Meagher); Steven O’Brien for Gallagher; Seamus Kennedy for Breen.
Scorers: Jason Forde (0-12, 7f, 1 sideline); Colin O’Riordan (0-3); Tadhg Gallagher (1-0); Dan McCormack (0-2); Seamus Kennedy, Sean Maher, Bill Maher, Liam McGrath, Tom Fox, Ronan Maher, Conor Hammersley, Stephen Cahill (0-1) each.
Referee: Cathal McAllister, Cork.