Munster SHC: Clare rain on Waterford’s parade

First Walsh Park championship match in 16 years sees doolally finish but no home win

Clare 1-20 Waterford 0-22

For ages, this game loped along in perfect indolence, like it was any other hurling match in any other competition. John Conlon’s third-minute goal sat up on the scoreboard throughout as a kind of forcefield, keeping Clare at a comfortable remove from the huffs and puffs of the home team. Waterford were five behind as the clock ticked 70 and if they’d been of a mind to argue with the justice of the scoreline, it would have been the first real resistance they showed all day.

But then, essentially out of nowhere, we were elbow deep in the Munster Championship again. Austin Gleeson and Shane Bennett had a pot each at 20-metre frees, with Gleeson's deflected for a 65 by Clare goalkeeper Donal Tuohy and Bennett's ricocheting over the bar. Maurice Shanahan plucked a long ball out of the clouds and whipped a point, Bennett slotted another free from the first throw-ball penalised all day.

And just to send the place completely doolally, Gleeson took a sky-scraper catch and nailed his fourth of the day. Just like that, there was only a point in it. A tiny, massive, anyone’s-game point with two minutes of injury-time still to be played.

Possession was ten tenths of everything now. From a puck-out ruck around the middle, Clare sub Ryan Taylor streaked away in a mile of space and put two between the teams again. Down the other end, Waterford sub Tommy Ryan matched him with one of his own.

In the end, Clare just about kept the waterline below them and got out of Walsh Park with the points. That they came so close to paying the price for not killing the game will keep them honest in the three weeks they have off now before they play Tipperary at home.

"Of course they were going to come strong, it's their home patch," said Clare co-manager Donal Moloney afterwards. "I'd like to think if the situation as reversed and it was up in Ennis we'd throw the kitchen sink at it as well. You have nothing to lose.

“If the ball doesn’t stick at one end it’s back in your square before you know it. Waterford have some tremendous quality, they have absolutely tremendous players. The last time we were here in March they gave us a hiding. They have some tremendous players, I think they are going to have an awful lot to say in this Munster Championship yet.”

Clare took control of proceedings near the end of the first half, outscoring Waterford by 0-7 to 0-2 from the 29th minute to the break. Shane O'Donnell and Tony Kelly were in full cry in that period, with O'Donnell looking like he hadn't missed a day's hurling throughout his winter at Harvard. "The trouble is, if he keeps up his form we'll get nobody to play in the National League next year," cracked Moloney.

Kelly was himself throughout, eventually ending with five points from play. His genius generally finds expression on the scoreboard eventually, but the heavy lifting is done with his movement off the ball. He dodged around between the 45s for most of the game looking only half-interested, like a plain-clothes cop at a music festival. But when there was scoring to be done, he was ruthless.

Throw in Peter Duggan’s ultra-solid day from all distances on the frees - his only wides were from sideline cuts - and Clare’s ability to keep the scoreboard rolling will take plenty of matching. They led by 1-13 to 0-10 at the break and though they pucked three wides in a row soon after the restart, they were able to keep Waterford largely where they could see them for most of the way home.

Gleeson popped up here and there with the sort of monster scores only he seems capable of but otherwise, Waterford's go-to men were fairly anonymous. Stephen Bennett was their most dangerous forward but other than those close-in frees, they barely threatened a goal. Noel Connors went off injured early on and the game passed the likes of Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran by.

Paraic Fanning bristled a little afterwards at the suggestion that Waterford would have been nicking a point had they squeezed out a draw in the end. They have Tipp next week in Thurles - whatever they do, Fanning isn't the type to let Waterford go quietly.

“The game lasts for the time the game lasts,” he said. “There is no-one saying Clare got five points just before half-time which possibly won the game. It’s not all about the last few minutes. It’s about the length of the game. They got their scores just before half-time. Just before the end of the game, we were the team coming. It’s probably a mirror of the first half.

“We’re just disappointed that we didn’t get the result everybody craved. We have to dust ourselves down, get ready for Tipperary next Sunday. Hopefully come out energised again, which I think we will.

“There are three games left in the championship. If we win all three, we’ll have a big say. If we lose it’s a different story. That’s Munster championship.”

Waterford: Stephen O'Keeffe; Shane McNulty, Conor Prunty, Noel Connors; Philip Mahony, Tadhg De Burca, Kevin Moran; Jamie Barron (0-2), Conor Gleeson (0-1); Austin Gleeson (0-4), Mikey Kearney (0-1), Pauric Mahony; Shane Bennett (0-1), Stephen Bennett (0-11, 0-8f, 0-1 65), Peter Hogan. Subs: Shane Fives for Connors (18 mins), Tommy Ryan (0-1) for Hogan (half-time), Jack Prendergast for Barron (56), Paddy Curran for Shane Bennett (56), Maurice Shanahan (0-1) for Pauric Mahony (66).

Clare: Donal Tuohy; Patrick O'Connor, David McInerney, Jack Browne; Seadna Morey, Colm Galvin (0-1), David Fitzgerald; Shane Golden (0-1), Cathal Malone; Peter Duggan (0-8, 0-7f), Tony Kelly (0-5), Diarmuid Ryan; Shane O'Donnell (0-1), John Conlon (1-1), Podge Collins (0-1). Subs: Aron Shanagher for Collins (53 mins), Aidan McCarthy (0-1) for Godlen (58), Ryan Taylor (0-1) for Ryan (66)

Referee: James Owens (Wexford)