33 years have passed since Clare hosted Tipperary in Cusack Park for a senior Munster championship clash and the welcome they receive this Sunday is likely one they won’t forget in a hurry.
Both teams are thus far undefeated in this year’s championship and both will be desperate for it to remain that way.
All-Ireland-winning player Colin Ryan believes if Clare play their cards right, they have what it takes to remain the sole undefeated team in Munster.
“Clare did what they needed to do in Walsh Park and got the win and, obviously, Tipperary have been massively impressive against a below-par Cork and a Waterford team that struggled when Conor Gleeson was sent off. They have started the championship really well and are showing a rejuvenation in form, but I think both teams will know where they are at after this weekend.
“Clare will know that the win in Walsh Park was invaluable. Due to that win, regardless of how the next two games go, they will still likely be in with a chance of qualifying when the last game against Cork rolls around. In one sense they kind of have a free shot in the next two weekends and if they can pick up two points from those, they could be looking at Munster final territory.
“I think Clare are going to fancy their chances this weekend. They’re fit, fast and that is the one thing that may be the kryptonite to Tipp, that speed in the Clare forward line and turning the Tipp backs. That is the one thing that Liam Sheedy is probably worried about,” Ryan surmised.
While Sheedy may be fretting about Clare’s abundance of raw pace up front, Banner management likely have plenty on their minds too, with Tipp scoring 4-58 in their first two games.
Ryan believes a sweeper may be in action to stem the flow into the dangerous Tipperary forwards.
“Six Tipp forwards hurling out of their skin is what will concern Donal and Gerry. It has maybe been our weak point recently to deal with forward lines working really hard. In saying that, though, we have probably struggled with pace more than the likes of Tipperary. When it came down to it last year in Thurles, we were able to match them physically. Our half-back line are quite strong, but the Tipp forwards are very cunning, especially the way Eamon O’Shea has them playing at the moment.
“They are cute and pull players out of position and you’re seeing the likes of Bubbles and John McGrath unmarked on occasions due to this cunning nature. No Clare back can go ball-watching and they have to be alive to every run and move. Maybe just having a sweeper in there will allow us go man-for-man and not worry about space. Then again if you do play a sweeper, you are probably leaving a Cathal Barrett free on the other end and I’d prefer him to be marking someone and being busy,” Colin said.
Shane Golden and Colm Galvin have fashioned a good partnership in midfield throughout the league and are likely to at least line up at midfield from the start. They are in for a massive challenge this weekend in trying to stop Michael Breen and Noel McGrath from controlling the game, as they have done on two occasions so far.
“Michael Breen and Noel McGrath have been very good so far in linking up the play. I think if Clare win that battle and stop the flow going into the forwards, then it will play a massive part. It will make the job of Clare’s back line an awful lot easier. If you stand off and let them play ball in where they want to, it will be impossible to mark,” Ryan commented.
A boost to the Clare cause is the return of Conor Cleary, who was suspended for the first game, but this leaves management with a selection headache of whether to include the Miltown man or go with the 15 that triumphed in Waterford.
“It is a tough one. Tipp have the physicality of Bonner Maher, who is their primary ball-winner. He is still doing that job for them and seems to be that cog that pulls everything together. Conor’s physicality could disrupt his influence. The issue then is who is going to lose out. Seadna was quiet against Waterford but that was just by virtue of his man not being involved that much. Jack Browne may be earmarked to man-mark someone like John McGrath. His mobility and skill set as a corner-back would make that likely. Maybe it will be Seadna that misses out but it is a very hard call to make,” Ryan stressed.
The theory of home advantage being a massive factor in the outcome of championship games has suffered a massive dent this year, with many away teams taking two points and while Clare have an impeccable record recently in the Park, Ryan would not be banking on this.
“You have had three away wins in Munster this year, so to be able to call anywhere a fortress is probably gone out the window now. If Tipp come and score a goal early then suddenly it becomes a lonely place. If Clare are in this game with 10 minutes to go though and that crowd get into it, it gives players that pep in their step and gives them that energy to get to a ball first. If the game is tight near the end, the crowd will play a massive part,” Ryan believes.