Tonight, Cusack Park, Ennis, 7.15pm, (Ref: John Sexton, Cork)
Latest from the medics and management…Tipperary have made just the one change from their semi-final win with Jason Forde, the undoubted star of the Nenagh CBS team that won the All-Ireland colleges title earlier this year, in at right corner-forward for Eanna Murray.
TIPPERARY U21H: Paul Ryan (Upperchurch-Drombane); Stephen Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), Andrew Ryan (Toomevara), Pa Ryan (Clonakenny), Willie Ryan (Clonakenny), Brian Stapleton (Templederry Kenyons), Justin Cahill (Kilruane MacDonaghs); Denis Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), Dan McCormack (Borrisileigh); John O’Dwyer (Killenaule), Sean Curran (Mullinahone), Niall O’Meara (Kilruane MacDonagh’s); Jason Forde (Silvermines), Cian Hogan (Lorrha & Dorrha), Liam McGrath (Loughmore Castleiney).
CLARE U21H: Ronan Taaffe (Tubber); Paul Flanagan (Ballyea), David McInerney (Tulla), Killian Ryan (Ruan); Patrick O’Connor (Tubber), Conor Ryan (Cratloe), Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge); Colm Galvin (Clonlara), Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge); Tony Kelly (Ballyea), Padraig Collins (Cratloe), Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones); David O’Halloran (Eire Og, Ennis), Conor McGrath (Cratloe), Cathal O’Connell (Clonlara).
Checking the odds…Clare are heavy favorites at 1/3 with Tipperary priced at 11/4 and a draw available at 10/1. The handicap betting has Clare (-3) at 10/11.
Clues from the form guide…Tipperary’s cohesion and organization has come to the fore in chiseling out two victories over Cork and Limerick. They timed their run to the finishing line perfectly against Cork as they outscored their opponents by 0-6 to 0-1 in the finale to sneak an 0-18 to 0-17 victory at the death. Then in the semi-final they stifled the threat of Limerick’s attacking stars and picked off their scores at the other end to secure a 1-16 to 1-11 win. On the other side Clare were simply sensational against Waterford, cutting loose in devastating fashion by 2-22 to 0-9. That game illustrated the attacking potential they hold but Tipperary will hardly offer them the same space and latitude.
The game breakers are…Tipperary do not have the marquee names that populated their 2008 and 2010 teams that contested Munster finals in this grade against Clare. But what they lack in star quality, they compensate in the great collective effort they produce. They have some players in terrific form as well with Justin Cahill and Brian Stapleton showing up extremely well in the half-back line to date, Denis Maher to the fore at midfield while John O’Dwyer and Sean Curran have offered great leadership in attack. Jason Forde could be a useful acquisition at corner-forward as well.
Clare’s qualities were clearly expressed in their thrashing of Waterford. Wing-back Patrick O’Connor and corner-forward Conor McGrath have vital roles at opposite ends of the pitch, three years on from being panel members on the triumphant Banner U21 side. Wing-back Seadna Morey and midfielder Colm Galvin are in good form right now while there is a wide array of scoring threats in attack with Tony Kelly, Aaron Cunningham and Cathal O’Connell requiring close policing from the Premier rearguard
Gazing into the crystal ball…The game bristles with potential given that a packed house in Ennis will lead to a cracking atmosphere and these teams are more closely matched that the pre-match odds would suggest. It is a dangerous game for Clare to be entering as warm favorites given that Tipperary have relished the role of outsiders so far in this championship and risen to the challenges put in front of them. There is huge expectations surrounding this Clare team on the back of winning the last two Munster minor titles and the fact so many of this U21 side featured for Davy Fitzgerald’s senior outfit this season.
That senior experience has lead to them developing a recognized brand of hurling which employs short passing and seeks to create space up front. They bonded well when blitzing Waterford and in addition have a couple of seriously talented substitutes in Stephen O’Halloran and Cathal McInerney to call upon. Tipperary will travel without fear and pose a stern challenge but if Clare can live with the pressure surrounding them, they have the firepower that can settle this game.