Clare go into Sunday’s Munster hurling Championship semi-final looking for their first senior championship win over Tipperary since 2003.
The previous year, the Banner County were in Croke Park and lost the Liam McCarthy Cup to a Kilkenny side boasting both Henry Shefflin and DJ Carey – who scored 1-7 and 1-6 respectively. It’s fair to say that things haven’t been that rosy for Clare in the years since.
With Tipp looking like a team just warming up again after demolishing the Cats’ five in a row bid, hopes of Clare upping the stakes in the rivalry are slim.
Under 21 successes do not always translate into a senior dynasty, but Clare’s 2009 title at that level should soon begin to bear fruit. Those across the bridge at Killaloe will be quick to point out that their county’s senior triumph was embellished with some underage gems. Both groups snatched up 2010 All Ireland medals like they were going out of fashion.
The men in the ditch can only see a repeat this year. But it is worth remembering that Tipp had to take a step backwards (against Cork in Pairc Ui Caoimh) last year before they could make the leap forward. Forward, to that image of Lar Corbett scoring as a stray length of ash filled the air behind him.
This year, the Rebels in Semple Stadium had less to yell about. But the reigning Champions became a little sluggish after half time as they let Cork battle back into the game from eight points down.
It is only complacency that can slow them down on Sunday. The Premier County have Brendan Maher, Seamus Hennessy and Paddy Stapleton side-lined. Conor O’Mahony will replace the latter, slotting in at centre half back as John O’Keefe slips into a full back role.
As for Clare, they have been forced into a defensive reshuffle after Liam Markham was ruled out with a broken finger. That news only added to a headache for manager Ger O’Loughlin as a ruptured disc had already ruled corner-back Domhnall O’Donovan out for the entire championship campaign.
But there is some good injury news for O’Loughlin: James McInerney took a blow to his ankle but has recovered sufficiently to be named at number six. Nicky O’Connell returns in midfield and full forward Darach Honan is another man who was doubtful with a groin injury but has been called in to do battle.
“There’s a few fellas carrying niggles and we’re not sure if they’ll make the whole 70 minutes so we will probably have to reshuffle things,” manager Ger O’Loughlin admitted to the Irish Independent, adding “we don’t want to disturb our pattern too much.”
As is the norm in these situations, O’Loughlin attempted to heap pressure on Tipp, installing them as heavy favourites and saying his side can take the field without a care in the world.
“I’m just hoping that they will go out and express themselves. There’s no pressure on us at all.”
But there is pressure on the Banner. It comes from within.
Eight years is far too long to play second fiddle to a county with whom you share a border and along the Shannon, they know that better than anyone.
This year, O’Loughlin took Clare out of the doldrums that is NHL Division two. Despite not winning that trophy, they are back in their rightful place in the league.
It is surely only a matter of time before they contend for a Munster title again.
“Winning the Division 2 title was a main objective so we were fairly shattered by it, especially as we had that game in our control,” O’Loughlin reflected.
“But we just had to get over it and set ourselves a new goal. And they don’t come any bigger than Tipperary – they’re the best team in the country right now.”
“This is where we want to be.”
Clare: P Brennan; P Vaughan, C Cooney, C Dillon; P O’Connor, J McInerney, P Donnellan; N O’Connell, J Clancy; J Conlon, F lynch, C McInerney; D McMahon, D Honan, C McGrath.
Tipperary: B Cummins; J O’Keeffe, P Curran, M Cahill; D Young, C O’Mahony, Padraic Maher; G Ryan, S McGrath; S Callinan, N McGrath, Patrick Maher; E Kelly, J O’Brien, L Corbett.