Waterford get it right the third time to dismiss out-gunned Clare
The Déise beat Clare in semi-final clash in Thurles to avenge league final defeat
Waterford manager Derek McGrath celebrates winning with Jamie Barron. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
This time there were no mishaps. So dominant were Waterford in Sunday’s GAA Munster hurling semi-final that it’s hard to identify a turning point, an emblematic incident or score which broke Clare’s challenge.
For virtually the entire 70 minutes the teams were cruising at two different altitudes. Clare never led and the only thing that created a sense of uncertainty about the outcome was the precedent of last month when despite having enough of both the drawn and replayed league final to win the title, they were overhauled by opponents, who coolly and doggedly kept them within their sights.
Not this time.
Waterford manager Derek McGrath will be well pleased with having watched his team again take control of the contest but on this occasion also having seen them keep Clare at arms’ length and allow them no side entrance back into the match.
There were other satisfactions. Austin Gleeson continued the superlative form of the league replay. He started as then in attack and his shooting was sufficiently temperate but clinical to return six points with only two wides.
Even his inter-continental launches were used sparingly and productively with one of the two soaring over from Waterford’s own 65 in the 68th minute to put seven between the teams.
Moreover his defending when switched back before half-time was phenomenal. The above mentioned point came after he had intercepted a stray pass, tapped the ball down to himself and let fly.
Further good news came in the form of Pauric Mahony’s comeback, 13 months after an horrendous injury had wiped out his 2015 championship. It was his first start since last year’s league final and although he took a little time to get back to the pace of the game his dextrous touch and shrewd reading of the game soon made themselves felt.
More to the point his immaculate free taking - five from five - was both reassurance that he hadn’t lost his prolific ability and a salutary reminder that with him on board in the drawn league final, Waterford would now be back-back league winners.
If there was any reality check it came for the two young guns who had played so well throughout the league campaign. Both Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran were well contained by David Reidy and Oisín O’Brien and in further evidence that experience counts in the championship, incumbent All Star Maurice Shanahan posed a great threat from clipping in a goal in the fourth minute, pulling on a possession lost by David Fitzgerald and directing it from a tight angle and into the far corner of Patrick Kelly’s net.
He added a couple of points, could have had another goal but for a smart catch by Patrick O’Connor, and played the lone wolf role when required, much as he had done in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny.
Clare by then had nearly got in for goal themselves but Stephen O’Keeffe kept out a second-minute shot from Reidy at the expense of a 65, which went unconverted by Conor McGrath to a murmur of surprise..
The standard of accuracy wasn’t great on either side in the first half but Clare missed more and also the more straightforward chances. They revived for a while and levelled the scores in the 15th and 20th minutes - a decent response to the early unanswered 1-1 - but Waterford finished the half the stronger to lead by four at the break, 0-12 to 0-8.
A three-point overture to the second half - Pauric Mahony from play and a free followed by a Gleeson solo and point - confirmed the trend of the first 35 minutes. Were Clare to respond the match could still turn into a real contest but it was already drifting.
The problem for Clare was that they were unable to bring any of the qualities that had transformed the league finals. There was no clear-eyed slicing away at the deficit. McGrath’s radar was on the blink and he posted an uncharacteristic succession of wides from placed ball and play.
Most crucially Tony Kelly couldn’t encore the show-stopping performance of four weeks previously. Waterford marked him cleverly with an array of minders but he wasn’t in top form anyway, hitting four wides and never threatening the game changing prominence of the last day.
The much anticipated return of John Conlon didn’t work out as hoped and the long lay-off wasn’t easily shrugged off. His power under high ball and strength was unlikely to have as radical an impact on a practised sweeper defence as it had on a weakened and orthodox Kilkenny full-back line in the league semi-final and apart from one nice point before half-time he struggled for effect.
Manager David Fitzgerald tried a few combinations in an effort to kick-start a response. Darach Honan switched inside but there was no complementary flow of ball. In the second half Colin Ryan, Cathal O’Connell, Aaron Shanagher and Aaron Cunningham all came on, as did David McInerney despite the general belief that his back injury would keep him out.
All to no avail.
Waterford maintained pressure. Kevin Moran, as usual, worked himself to a standstill and finished with three points. The defence tussled to prevent any foothold which might be misinterpreted as grounds for encouragement. Tadhg de Búrca’s distribution was a bit wobbly early on but his positional sense remained sound, as he toured the defence picking off scraps.
Veteran Michael Walsh, captain in the different time-space continuum of the 2008 All-Ireland, made it until the fifth minute of injury-time before being replaced, as his manager Derek McGrath - like some vindicated impresario - stepped out in front of the crowd to demand an ovation for the selfless wing forward.
Showtime for Waterford and the next performance will be the Munster final against Tipperary or Limerick on 10th July
Waterford: Stephen O’Keeffe; Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors; Tadhg De Burca, Philip Mahony (0-1); Jamie Barron, Darragh Fives (0-1); Kevin Moran (0-3), Pauric Mahony (0-6, 0-5 frees), Shane Bennett (0-1), Michael Walsh; Patrick Curran, Maurice Shanahan (1-2), Austin Gleeson (0-6, 0-1 sideline). Subs: Tom Devine for Bennett, 54 mins; Jake Dillon (0-1) for Curran, 56 mins; Brian O’Halloran for Pauric Mahony, 63 mins; Colin Dunford for Shanahan, 70 mins; Stephen Bennet for Walsh, 74 mins
Clare: Patrick Kelly; Oisin O’Brien, Cian Dillon, Conor Cleary (0-1); Brendan Bugler (0-1), Pat O’Connor, David Fitzgerald (0-1); David Reidy, Colm Galvin (0-1); John Conlon (0-2), Tony Kelly (0-1), Darach Honan; Podge Collins (0-2), Shane O’Donnell, Conor McGrath (0-3, 0-2 frees). Subs: Jack Browne for Conor Cleary (blood sub), 24-25 mins; Colin Ryan (0-3, 0-1 65, 0-1 free) for Honan, 43 mins; Cathal O’Connell (0-2) for McGrath, 50 mins; David McInerney for Fitzgerald, 54 mins; Aaron Shanagher for Collins, 58 mins; Aaron Cunningham for Galvin, 66 mins;
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)