Waterford haven't gone away
Waterford 2-15 Clare 1-17:Like followers of some Doomsday sect, the hurling public has been in the past few years annually been marched up a mountain to witness the End of Waterford.
With the passage of time eating further into the county’s great team of the past decade or so, Michael Ryan’s side had been deemed the most likely of all the Division One A outfits to fall through the trap door this season.
But yesterday in Cusack Park, Ennis in front of 3,500 spectators, Waterford did what they’ve become accustomed to doing: indignantly re-stating their case for a longer spell at the top table.
Against former manager David Fitzgerald’s eager young Clare side, the visitors established a hard grip on proceedings in the first quarter and although their opponents regained equilibrium they could never shake off Waterford, let alone kick on to a convincing final-quarter victory.
With the match apparently heading for a draw, a late free in the 73rd minute presented Jake Dillon with the opportunity to take all of the spoils and he duly obliged.
Ryan eyed the waiting media afterwards and asked had any of us accurately predicted the outcome. Silence.
“There’s very little between the teams,” he explained, “and we got a little break there at the end, but we worked hard and we lost Liam Lawlor before the game but didn’t let it affect us. We put Shane Fives in full back, (Stephen) Daniels came in corner back and had a blinder.
“Our defence first of all were magnificent. They worked really, really hard and then, up front we had a couple of trump cards: Brian O’Halloran, his first day back since that day in Croke Park a couple of years ago when things didn’t work out, was outstanding. He’s been working hard in training and early on when we were struggling up front he kept us in the game.”
That was it in a nutshell. It has always appeared that the county had reasonable reserves in defence, but with not just retirements but injuries and other absences weakening the side, the front eight had looked vulnerable.
Yet, O’Halloran’s emphatic return yielded four points from play and another youngster Jake Dillon hit the last four points to clinch the victory.
Brian O’Sullivan scored just one, but moved well and played constructively and if Pauric Mahony’s marksmanship wasn’t up to his own high standards, he’s still returning from injury.
In the middle of it all was the veteran Séamus Prendergast who provided a physical focus for his younger colleagues.
That question mark over the cutting edge was relevant in the opening stages when Waterford had a sustained spell of pressure, but by the 10th minute the scores were level at 0-1 each, and the visitors had already hit four wides.
But – in what was to become a pattern during an exciting match in which the teams were level on 11 occasions – no sooner had Clare confirmed the misgivings about their opponents by taking a 0-2 to 0-1 lead in the 13th minute than Waterford hit back. The 2-2 scored between the 14th and 19th minutes – for the goals Prendergast making the most of O’Halloran’s long ball and Dillon capitalising on a dextrous flick from Gavin O’Brien – effectively gave Clare too much to do in the 50 minutes that remained.
They woke up and reeled their opponents back on the scoreboard – Tony Kelly’s 24th-minute goal nearly took the net off its rigging and the lively Séadna Morey equalised on the half hour – but despite assumed advantages of fitness, were never able to forge ahead.
The early flatness in performance – loose hand passing and poor general distribution – proved costly. So too did a couple of goal chances that went unconverted. Pádraic Collins was through on goal, but hit tamely and Stephen O’Keeffe saved.
After half-time O’Keeffe got dispossessed, but the highest price Clare could exact was a converted 65 and, later in the half, Daniels made a critical intervention to stop Shane O’Donnell completing what looked like a scoring pass from John Conlan.
For the closing half hour there was never more than a point between the teams and they were level on eight occasions. A fine point from play by Dillon was equalised by an equally good score from Kelly in the 70th minute. Play ebbed and flowed in the final minutes, but it was Waterford who caught the tide.
“It was down to ourselves,” said Fitzgerald afterwards. “We didn’t play well. I think we believed the bullshit that was wrote in the last week that paid awful disrespect to Waterford, which I thought was very unfair considering how many Munster championships they had in their team.
“I think our fellas maybe got a bit complacent coming into today. We had enough of chances, we didn’t win it. Well done to Waterford.”
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; S Daniels, S Fives, N Connors; J Nagle, M Walsh, K Moran (capt); S O’Sullivan, D Twomey; B O’Halloran (0-4), S Prendergast (1-1), P Mahony (0-3, three frees); G O’Brien, J Dillon (1-5, three points frees), B O’Sullivan (0-1). Subs: D Fives (0-1) for Twomey (h-t), J Barron for O’Brien (45 mins), R Barry for Mahony (58 mins).
CLARE: P Kelly; D O’Donovan, J McInerney, D McInerney; B Bugler, P Donnellan (capt.), P O’Connor; C Ryan (0-9, five frees and 65), S Morey (0-2); F Lynch (0-1), T Kelly (1-3), E Barrett; J Conlan, S O’Donnell, P Collins. Subs: N O’Connell for O’Connor, C Galvin (0-1) for Barrett (both h-t), A Cunningham for P Collins (55 mins), S Collins for Lynch (59 mins), J Clancy for Cunningham (64 mins). Referee: J Sexton (Cork).