Flocks of fans donned in blue and gold, gold and blue march out from the train station to the sounds of foghorns and children shouting in the distance.
As they fall in behind other supporters on their way to the stadium, they pass dozens of lined cars, boots open, flags hanging out the window. Gardai and stewards patiently guide drivers to parking spots while sellers are shouting ‘hats, flags and headbands!’ on the pavement.
That should be the scene in Thurles today ahead of one of the most highly-anticipated clashes in the Munster Hurling Championship calendar – the meeting of Tipperary and Clare.
Alas, it’s not to be as the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the future of the 2020 GAA season into doubt. Instead, we are consoling ourselves by reliving past battles between these two epic rivals.
The 2019 championship meeting aside, there is never usually much to separate Clare and Tipperary. The Banner County famously knocked out their neighbours in the 2018 edition before Liam Sheedy’s charges comprehensively earned their revenge last year on their way to lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
The rivalry between Clare and Tipperary is fierce and often crosses into hatred territory. While it might have calmed down in recent years given the new round-robin structure of the Munster Championship, during the 1990s there was absolutely no love lost between the two sides.
Tipperary watched on enviously as Clare dominated the provincial scene for most of the decade following their 1993 hammering and that came to a head in 1997 when David Forde scored the decisive goal that saw Clare take the Munster crown from the Premier County.
They avoided each other the following year as Clare went on to win back-to-back titles but their rivalry once again flared when the counties met in the Munster semi-final in 1999 and that is the clash we are recalling today.
While nowadays Davy Fitzgerald is grabbing headlines as a manager, in the 1990s it was his heroics as the Clare goalkeeper that put him in the spotlight like in 1997 when it was his late save to deny John Leahy a goal which saw Clare lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Two years later Fitzgerald was once again the saviour as his late penalty past Brendan Cummins earned Clare a draw in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and forced a replay in the Munster semi-final.
In front of a large and boisterous crowd, a determined Tipperary proved they were more than a match for the Munster champions through points from Tommy Dunne and Liam Cahill and they appeared the far more dangerous side for large portions.
In true Munster Hurling Championship style, however, the game was far from predictable and momentum swung from side to side with the teams level numerous times. Clare soon fired back through a goal from Jamesie O’Connor. However, by stoppage time Tipperary’s lethal forwards had fired them back into the driving seat and they were on the verge of ending Clare’s season.
That was until the Sixmilebridge man stepped up to save the day for Ger Loughnane’s side.
The replay was nothing to write home about as Clare ran away with the win on a scoreline of 1-21 to 1-11 before they lost out to Cork in the Munster final in Semple Stadium.
Later that year, Clare had to face a replay once again, this time against Galway in the All Ireland quarter-final and while they overcame that, Loughnane’s side couldn’t find a way past Kilkenny at the penultimate stage.
1999 marked the end of Clare’s run of dominance in the Munster Championship as Tipperary exacted their revenge the following year, running out eight-point winners over their neighbours in the semi-final before Nicky English’s side fell to Cork in a thrilling Munster final.
*Originally published May 2019