Clare 1-22 Waterford 0-21
Clare avenged last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat by Waterford and maintained the momentum of a drastically turned-around season. It was a good win for Brian Lohan’s team even if last year’s All-Ireland finalists were missing a number of key players.
Once again the charge was led by Tony Kelly who scored 1-12, five points from play, and had he been displaying his usual accuracy, that total would have been pushed up. But Clare in general were eye-poppingly wasteful – a point Lohan conceded afterwards: "Our wide count (22) and our decision-making probably need to be improved on, fairly drastically".
Winning the match even with those reservations fairly guaranteed that his opposite number Liam Cahill would be unhappy and he was. He lamented the absence of his team's trademark energy and said that the performance had left him "bitterly disappointed".
Expectations of this match had been framed by the missing Waterford players. They had lost full back Conor Prunty and centrefielder Jamie Barron, meaning they were short numbers 1, 3, 6 and 8 from last year's All-Ireland final. Admittedly neither retired goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe nor injured centre back Tadhg de Búrca had played since but the team was weakened.
Clare had opened the league with a widely publicised defeat in Belfast and then lost to Wexford but since then, things have picked up. Eyebrows were raised when Lohan re-purposed former All Star full forward John Conlon as a centre back but that proved a worthwhile measure in Thurles where the ball seemed almost magnetically attracted to him.
When they played last year, Calum Lyons had the better of the day against Kelly but the Clare shooter had injured his ankle at an early stage. Further, Lyons’s performances this year suggested that sacrificing his game to a man-marking detail would compromise the very thing that Cahill had diagnosed as missing: energy.
Lohan located his prize asset on the inside forward line and it took Lyons into the corner and away from his normal theatre of operations. Kelly had three points up in the first six minutes, including two from play – one a brilliant stroke from the corner with his marker in attendance.
Waterford also fell back to counter opponents playing with a wind, which meant that they posed little threat apart from distance shooting.
Clare dominated the early exchanges and adopted a shoot-on-sight policy, which remained impressively constant even as it wore out the umpires with all the flapping. Enough of the shots were getting through and by the 11th minute they led 0-7 to 0-1, as a host of players got on the board: Ryan Taylor, David Reidy, Diarmuid Ryan and Aidan McCarthy.
The seventh wide followed shortly afterwards, as Lyons had a small victory in challenging Kelly.
As usual, Waterford's productivity was led by Stephen Bennett and his most significant assistance came from Austin Gleeson, starting at wing back. None of the team's forwards scored from play all match apart from Bennett. By the 27th minute, however, two frees in quick succession cut the deficit to three, 0-6 to 0-9 and it looked as if Clare had run out of gas.
The winning of the match came before the break. Clare outscored their opponents 1-4 to 0-1. Aron Shanagher, who was constantly sought out with long ball, won possession and headed for goal. He was judged to have been fouled within the provisions of the new rule to combat cynical play.
That meant a penalty was awarded and the offending player, Shane Fives, sinbinned. Kelly measured up the shot like an executioner calculating how much force the axe would need and Billy Nolan in the Waterford goal hardly saw it as it whizzed into the bottom of the net.
A nine-point lead at the break, 1-13 to 0-7, and although that’s not insurmountable in hurling, it wasn’t easy to see from where redemption might come.
Conor Gleeson was assigned the job of marking Kelly and this allowed Lyons to pick up the threads of his own game. Waterford were livelier and got some early scores from Stephen Bennett and his brother Kieran, an early replacement, but Clare answered them and by the water break, the margin was still nine having stretched as far 10 when referee Colm Lyons overruled his umpires to allow Cathal Malone’s point in the 49th minute.
The winners’ almost chronic inability to take even a modest proportion of chances created gave oxygen to Waterford whose final quarter was their best.
They were helped by chaotic defending. Clare’s half backs had been well on top, led by Conlon but – whether he was tiring or whatever – his use of the ball deteriorated and the defence in general turned over a lot of ball that they would have comfortably cleared at an earlier stage.
Crucially, they never threatened a goal. Dessie Hutchinson's duel with Rory Hayes had been much anticipated but in truth, the Ballygunner forward got virtually no serviceable ball hit hard along the ground to give him a chance.
Nonetheless the margin eroded. Four of Waterford's subs got on the scoreboard, Patrick Curran and Mikey Kearney in this quarter, and Clare's lead had shrunk to three before Kelly got the insurance score two minutes into injury-time.
There was still time for Stephen Bennett to go for goal from a free. It drew a brilliant reflex save from Eibhear Quilligan, as he had been wrong-footed by a deflection but scrambled the ball out for a 65.
CLARE: 1 E Quilligan; 4 P Flanagan, 3 C Cleary, 2 R Hayes; 5 D Ryan (0-1), 6 J Conlon (capt), 7 P Fitzpatrick; 8 C Galvin, 10 C Malone (0-1); 15 A McCarthy (0-3), 11 D Reidy (0-2), 12 R Taylor (0-2); 13 I Galvin (0-1), 14 A Shanagher, 9 T Kelly (1-12, goal a penalty, seven frees).
Subs: 18 D McInerney for Fitzpatrick (51 mins), 22 D Fitzgerald for I Galvin (58 mins), 19 M Rodgers for Reidy (61 mins), 20 D McMahon for C Galvin (67 mins), 25 S Golden for McCarthy (71 mins).
WATERFORD: 1 B Nolan; 5 C Lyons (0-1), 2 S Fives, 4 S McNulty; 3 C Gleeson, 6 I Daly, 8 A Gleeson (0-5, one free); 7 K Moran, 9 D Lyons; 11 J Fagan, 10 P Hogan, 15 J Prendergast; 13 D Hutchinson, 14 Shane Bennett, 12 Stephen Bennett (capt; 0-11, nine frees).
Subs: 21 K Bennett (0-1) for Moran (33 mins), 19 P Curran (0-1) for Fagan (44 mins), 22 N Montgomery (0-1) for Prendergast (47 mins), 20 B Power for Lyons (53 mins), 23 M Kearney (0-1) for Hogan (65 mins).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).