Old rivalry rekindled for new era as Premier and Clare rock and roll

Old rivalry rekindled for new era as Premier and Clare rock and roll

Saturday, March 08, 2014 Irish EXAMINER

Tipperary v Clare
On June 3, 2001, in the 14th minute of an outstanding Munster senior hurling semi-final, Tipperary teenager Eoin Kelly shipped a heavy tackle from Clare corner-back Frank Lohan and was spun directly into the path of Clare midfield powerhouse Ollie Baker, who floored the youngster with a massive shoulder.

FEISTY AFFAIR: Clare's David Hoey and Brian O'Meara of Tipperary clash during the 2001 Munster SHC  semi-final.

FEISTY AFFAIR: Clare’s David Hoey and Brian O’Meara of Tipperary clash during the 2001 Munster SHC semi-final.
By Diarmuid O’Flynn

It would have seen an ordinary mortal carried off by the St John Ambulance brigade.

Kelly simply bounced up and got off his pass. David Kennedy was sitting in the Tipperary dugout that day, would come on later as a sub and go on to play a major part as Tipperary won its first All-Ireland title in 10 years. In what had become the fiercest pairing in hurling, that incident, says Kennedy, was a seminal moment.

“It was a landmark, not just for Eoin himself but for this Tipperary team — we weren’t going to be put down this time. Eoin was only 19, wasn’t the tallest, but to take a hit from those guys, from Ollie especially…

“Eoin bounced back up like a rubber ball and got off his shot and that gave a huge boost to the whole team, to the supporters in the stand.”

Two years earlier, Kennedy had his own championship introduction to what was then a festering rivalry, another Munster semi-final, another full house in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork.

“That was probably the peak of it. Clare had lost that sequence in 1998 against Offaly and all the controversy that went with it, so they had a huge profile. That was a team of massive characters — Davy Fitz, the Lohans, Baker, Daly, Lynch, Jamesie, known as much for that character as for their hurling. Of course Tipperary had their characters too — Leahy, Declan Ryan, Shelly, Tommy Dunne, Nicky English on the sideline, where Clare had Loughnane, so there was drama on and off the field. It was straight knockout too, apart from the Munster final, and that put greater pressure on the team — the backdoor in every round has diluted that a bit.”

Adding to it all from a Tipperary perspective, the events of 1997. “Clare had beaten us in the 1997 Munster and All-Ireland finals and obviously that was terribly disappointing, for the team and for the supporters. In the terraces there was no love lost between the fans, and you’d feel that in the streets before and after matches. Clare had come from nowhere and suddenly they were beating Tipperary in championship. That wasn’t something we were not used to and for the supporters especially, it took some swallowing. So it was on the field and it was on the terraces, a palpable rivalry. 1999 was an opportunity for revenge and the drama of that match, Davy Fitz’s last-minute penalty — controversial let me add, the 25 steps that led to it! They won the replay well but that stuck in our craws — that was a great opportunity to do away with Clare but we had to wait another 12 months. We did, beat them in 2000, then again in 2001 in another epic in Cork and again there was controversy with Colin Lynch blown up for over-carrying at the end. But that was Tipperary and Clare at that time, always drama, never straight-forward, always some controversial incident. Looking back, it was great to have been a part of it.”

Ollie Baker looks back also, and with a different perspective. “Great times, yes, but certainly from my point of view, no bitterness — I have total respect for Tipperary. They had all those titles, we didn’t, and we knew that to get what they had, we’d have to beat them. But there’s a very strong connection with Clare and north Tipp because of St Flannan’s, from Nenagh, BorrisIleigh, Toomevara, all the hurling hinterland of that area. There would be that familiarity between us. They had the winning tradition, and that was something we wanted to develop.”

With that team as the pioneers, Clare have done that and now they’re back, and rivalry with Tipperary is again building. Baker says: “I’d say after 2010, the seniors winning the All-Ireland with a young team, the U21 side adding another All-Ireland, Tipperary supporters would have been thinking ‘Yes, this team is the future of hurling, they’re going to take over from Kilkenny.’ That it didn’t happen is a warning that Clare can’t assume anything now either, after what they achieved last year. But yes, I’m sure Tipperary fans have to have been disappointed they haven’t had more to celebrate. The gauntlet has been thrown down to them, it’s up to the players to respond.”

It starts tomorrow, the Allianz Hurling League third round, and let no-one be under any illusion says Baker — this one is big, for both teams. “The league is taking on more significance every year, psychologically. Every team is trying to put down a marker. Kilkenny will always try to put down a marker with Tipperary, put them down and keep them down, and they did that in the last round. Clare in their first round against Kilkenny, getting that win was a massive confidence-booster, reinforces their credentials as All-Ireland champions and they targeted that.

“Tipperary will be looking at this game now — they were unconvincing in the win against Waterford, then went to Kilkenny and left a 10-point lead slip, were well beaten on eventually, six points. For Tipperary to beat Clare on Sunday now is crucial and if they manage that, I don’t think they’ll be too bothered about the remaining games. They must let Clare know — we’re still here, we’re not going away — see ye in the summer.”

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