Clare shoot the lights out as Waterford’s ambitions stall before the get-go

League champions suffer 15-point defeat in Ennis to cap miserable round-robin

Clare 3-31 Waterford 2-22

Whatever way you saw Waterford's season ending, you didn't see this. Just short of the hour mark, Brian Lohan called the Clare sub-goalie Eamonn Foundy from the bench and sent him into the fray for Eibhear Quilligan. The scoreline at the time had Clare 3-29 to 1-15 to the good, a 20-point margin across an hour of championship hurling. Nothing says the life has drained from your season like the other crowd giving the sub-keeper a run.

For the third time since the introduction of the round-robin system in 2018, Waterford's season has ended without getting to compete in a knock-out game. They've played 12 matches under this format and only won one. They lost Tadhg De Búrca and Jamie Barron to injuries in the opening 11 minutes here but couldn't blame their fate on either. They knew their fate early.

As for Clare, the conundrum of what way to approach the game turned out to be quite simple. They rested Tony Kelly and John Conlon, the leaders of their defence and their attack putting their feet up before the Munster final. It made no discernible difference as Clare blazed from the blocks and had Waterford effectively put to sleep long before half-time. They led by 0-8 to 0-1 after eight minutes and by 2-16 to 0-9 at the break.

“We were trying to win the game,” Lohan said afterwards. “There’s a good crowd here, there’s a good bit of momentum around the team and we had a couple of changes. But all those guys who were in today have done the same amount of work as everyone else so they were anxious to put in a performance.”

They did that and more. Lohan was able to run promising under-20 stars Adam Hogan and Shane Meehan off the bench, as well as his nephew Darragh Lohan. But the main thrust of the performance still came from his trusted lieutenants.

Shane O'Donnell showed again that he is in the form of his life with five points from play in a scintillating display and Peter Duggan did a passable impression of Sunderland-era Niall Quinn at the tip of the spear. Midfielder David Fitzgerald whistled home 2-2 from play and Cathal Malone landed four stylish points from out on the right wing. In this form, it won't be a huge surprise if the Munster final is the second of three meetings with Limerick in 2022.

Playing with the wind in the opening half, they were relentless in penning Waterford in. O'Donnell swished two early points from distance inside the opening five minutes and David McInerney, David Reidy and Fitzgerald all planted themselves onto the scoresheet as well. Waterford managed to get their nose above the waterline to gulp in a couple of Patrick Curran frees and a point from Pauric Mahony to bring the margin back to three but they were only delaying death.

Duggan could have had two goals but for Shaun O'Brien stretching to pull off a couple of blinding saves. And Clare were pucking wides to beat the band too, 12 in the first half alone. But any doubt about where the day was heading was torpedoed when Duggan robbed Shane McNulty on the 20-metre line on 24 minutes, allowing Ian Galvin to square for Reidy standing in isolation at the back post.

His finish put Clare 1-11 to 0-6 ahead and they freewheeled from there to the break. Duggan was enjoying himself, cutting over a gorgeous sideline ball and beating Conor Gleeson to possession at will. On the cusp of half-time, he won possession on the edge of the D, popped a pass to O'Donnell despite being hauled to the ground and watched from the dirt as Fitzgerald loped through to apply the finish.

Considering Waterford won the league final in rampant style just seven weeks ago, this has been some nose-dive in form. Liam Cahill’s side were disjointed and chaotic at times here, unable to win their own puck-out and no threat whatsoever on Clare’s. They made no shape at turning around the 13-point gap and even with a big wind at their backs, it took them 22 minutes to score from play in the second half. Not for the first time, it looks like expectation has hobbled them at just the wrong time.

“You can only control what you can control,” said Cahill afterwards. We would have thought we had a fairly good handle on that inside, in the environment we’ve created. The bottom line is, if you’re going to be one of the best teams in the country, you’re going to have to cope with that and just get on with it.

“These players are going to have to learn how to deal with it because they will find themselves back in this position again. Talent like that doesn’t just go away. They’re going to meet that obstacle again and if we do, we’re going to have to deal with it that bit differently. You can’t just curl up and die under it like what has seemed to happen over the past two or three weeks.”

CLARE: Eibhear Quilligan; Rory Hayes, Conor Cleary, Cian Nolan; Jack Browne, Aaron Fitzgerald, David McInerney (0-2); David Fitzgerald (2-3), Shane Golden (0-1); Cathal Malone (0-4), David Reidy (1-2), Shane O'Donnell (0-5); Ian Galvin (0-1), Peter Duggan (0-8, three frees,one sideline, two 65s), Ryan Taylor (0-2).

Subs: Shane Meehan (0-1) for Galvin (44 mins); Robyn Mounsey (0-2) for Reidy (50); Adam Hogan for Hayes (53); Darragh Lohan for Aaron Fitzgerald (56); Eamonn Foundy for Quilligan (59).

WATERFORD: Shaun O'Brien; Ian Kenny, Conor Gleeson, Mark Fitzgerald; Jack Fagan, Tadhg De Búrca, Calum Lyons (0-2); Jamie Barron, Neil Montgomerie; Jack Prendergast, Austin Gleeson (0-1), Peter Hogan (0-1); Dessie Hutchinson (1-6), Pauric Mahony (0-1), Patrick Curran (1-4, two frees).

Subs: Shane McNulty for De Búrca (5 mins); Stephen Bennett (0-5, three frees, one 65) for Barron (11); Kieran Bennett (0-2) for Fagan (31); Micháel Harney for Mahony (half-time); DJ Foran for Montgomery (57).

Referee: Paud O'Dwyer (Carlow).

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