Clare find their range to compound Waterford's woes
The visitors were swept away by more misfortune and their improving opponents
Clare’s Shane O’Donnell and Barry Coughlan of Waterford compete for the ball. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Clare racked up their first points of the Munster hurling championship round robin in Cusack Park, Ennis, as visitors Waterford endured just about every misfortune possible short of being abducted by aliens.
With the home side hitting their stride and scoring impressively there was no way back for Derek McGrath’s team, who had been incrementally undone by a series of injuries plus a red card for captain, Kevin Moran.
Former Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly got into top gear in the second half to finish with six points from play and free taker Peter Duggan was fairly ruthless as Waterford’s defence creaked, especially in the final quarter after Moran’s dismissal for a frontal charge at Kelly reduced them to 14. But it was John Conlon, who earned the biggest reaction when being replaced in the final minutes.
Man of the match against Cork the previous week, his display at full forward when the match was still in the balance had tipped it Clare’s way. He earned the 18th minute penalty, which Duggan converted for the first goal and six minutes later raced in to score the second, pushing Clare ahead and into a lead they never lost.
“It gave us a turning point,” said Clare joint-manager Donal Moloney of the goals. “I think it kind of broke Waterford’s momentum, those two goals. There was a lot of debate was to whether we’d leave John as a forward or not. He played so deep as a centre-forward so we put him in there anyway. He really created a lot of problems.”
So many things needed to go right for Waterford. They hadn’t played a match in 10 weeks whereas Clare - at home for the first time in Munster since 1997 - had contested an energetic opener against Cork a week previously. The visitors were also missing two of their top players, free-taker Pauric Mahony and 2016 Hurler of the Year Austin Gleeson.
The challenge began well, however, and Maurice Shanahan’s goal in the ninth minute, flashed in after Tom Devine’s initial shot had been saved by Donal Tuohy in the Clare goal.
In a match that began as if it would need an air traffic controller rather than a referee, so eager were the teams to belt it long, Clare were shooting some bad wides and the match was promising for Waterford in those early stages as they led 1-4 to 0-3 by the 14th minute.
Then disaster struck. Tadhg de Búrca, a keystone in the team’s defensive architecture, had to go off with a shoulder injury. Three minutes later, the pendulum swung fully after Devine had shot a fraction early and seen his effort blocked by Conor Cleary and in the very next play, Conlon’s rampaging run was unceremoniously halted by Shane Fives for the penalty.
It got worse. After Conlon’s goal, Clare reeled off four points, three Duggan frees and a Colm Galvin strike.
Trailing 1-9 to 2-11 at the break, Waterford did their best to keep track - replacement Stephen Bennett’s touch for Tommy Ryan to score their second goal was sublime - but Clare were scoring at will.
They had lost two All Stars at half-time with both Noel Connors and Michael Walsh going off and within minutes of the restart, another hugely influential defender, Darragh Fives, who had taken over the sweeper role form de Búrca, had to leave with a calf injury. Full back Barry Coughlan followed with what looked a painful rap on the knuckles, his misfortune compounded when ending up in possession near goal whereupon he and his damaged hand were coursed out over the end-line.
Manager Derek McGrath later assessed what must have felt like a pile of collapsed Jenga pieces.
“Noel was doing a very good job on Conor McGrath and then his back goes into spasm at half-time and he pulls a back muscle. Tadhg looks like a collar bone issue; Barry could have a broken hand - allied to Austin and Pauric not really being ready, perhaps even for next week.
“It’s incumbent on us then not to rush them but I’ve already talked to the two of them to say ‘Jesus you might have to go next week’, you know player welfare is important too but you couldn’t write it really for Tadhg to go and then . . . Darragh.
“I said we tried to simulate as much as possible in the run up to the match - championship-type intensity and maybe in doing that, we perhaps went a step too far. Some of the injuries may take a while to clear up looking at the early prognosis.”
Waterford battled exhaustively and their total of 2-18 was in the circumstances nearly miraculous but simply couldn’t contain the rampant home team, who have a fortnight’s break before heading to Thurles to take on Tipperary.
CLARE: 1. Donal Tuohy; 2. Patrick O’Connor (capt.), 6. David McInerney, 4. Jack Browne; 5. David Fitzgerald (0-1), 3. Conor Cleary, 19. Jamie Shanahan (0-2); 8. Colm Galvin (0-2), 10. Cathal Malone; 14. Peter Duggan (1-10, goal a penalty, eight points frees and one 65), 9. Tony Kelly (0-6), 12. David Reidy (0-1); 13. Conor McGrath (0-1), 11. John Conlon (1-3), 15. Shane O’Donnell (0-1).
Subs: 25. Podge Collins for McGrath (61 mins), 7. Séadna Morey for Malone (64 mins), 22. Niall Deasy for Reidy (66 mins), 24. Michael O’Neill for O’Donnell (67 mins), 26. Darragh Corry for Conlon (68 mins).
WATERFORD: 1. Stephen O’Keeffe; 3. Barry Coughlan, 2. Shane Fives, 4. Noel Connors; 7. Philip Mahony (0-1), 9. Conor Gleeson (0-1), 6. Darragh Fives; 8. Jamie Barron (0-1), 10. Kevin Moran (0-1); 5. Tadhg de Búrca (0-1), 21. Maurice Shanahan (1-6, points frees), 14. Michael Walsh; 12. Jake Dillon (0-2), 11. Tom Devine (0-1), 15. Shane McNulty.
Subs: 17. Colm Roche for de Búrca (15 mins), 13. Stephen Bennett (0-2) for Connors (half-time), 26. DJ Foran (0-1) for Walsh (half-time), 23. Tommy Ryan (1-1) for D Fives (38 mins), 18. Ian Kenny for Coughlan (46 mins).
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow).