Munster hurling: Kelly points the way as Clare get their campaign up and running

‘Too many lads failed’ says Waterford boss as he prepares to ring changes in qualifiers

Tony Kelly: inspirational star played a key role for Clare in the victory over Waterford  in the Munster hurling championship quarter-final at  Semple Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Tony Kelly: inspirational star played a key role for Clare in the victory over Waterford in the Munster hurling championship quarter-final at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

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Sunday’s action on the first weekend of the GAA championship season did something to redeem the awful tumbril roll of Saturday, as the condemned were carted off to their fate – an accumulated margin of 93 points over five matches.

Mind you, in Thurles, as the Munster hurling championship began on a sunny afternoon with at least a few spectators in attendance, the margin may have been a competitive four but Clare had enough chances to make it a very chastening afternoon for Waterford.

The hand-wringing during the league over robotic point-scoring eased on Sunday in Thurles, as the teams contrived 36 wides between them – 22 and 14 respectively – and a modest outcome of a 1-22 to 0-21 victory for Clare on the opening day of the Munster hurling championship.

Clare manager Brian Lohan must have watched with mounting apprehension as a lead as healthy as 10 in the 49th minute, evaporated and it took a good save by Eibhear Quilligan to keep out a late free by Waterford’s Stephen Bennett, which could have reduced it to the minimum

“I suppose it was a bit frantic yeah,” he said. “That’s what happens when you start missing shots that you’d normally put over. There’s a little bit of panic sets in. I don’t know what our wide count was but our wide count and our decision -making probably needs to be improved on, fairly drastically.

“You can look at it both ways. We’ve got a match under our belts, a good game out in Thurles against good opposition so we’ll learn a bit more about our team and then I suppose, against that, the Tipp lads are sitting at home watching that, able to do their analysis, able to pick us apart.”

Not for the first time, Tony Kelly’s performance underwrote the win. Waterford assigned Calum Lyons to mark him but Lohan positioned him on the full-forward line. He acknowledged the scale of the opposition’s injury problems.

“Yeah I suppose, look [Conor] Prunty being injured was a big one for Waterford and also Jamie Barron being out as well was a massive loss for them. We have one or two lads that with the attritional nature of the league, that’s what you’re going to have but certainly Waterford did miss those two guys.”

Their manager Liam Cahill declined to take refuge, even in such widely acknowledged misfortune.

“They’re all massive players. I know we were without them through injury and what have you but we had guys stepping in to take on the mantle and well equipped to do it.”

Asked did the defeat mean that jerseys may be up for grabs, he was emphatic.

“They have to be. I have to throw everything at this now. I’m going to look at it really stringently and rigorously because ultimately too many lads failed today. Too many players failed today for my liking. I have 37 on the squad and they’re all putting in great work. We had 11 guys training earlier this morning that trained really, really hard.

Recurring injuries

“They must be looking in at that saying, ‘what have I to do to get into the squad?’ I’ll be rewarding any player that puts their hand up over the next fortnight or three weeks for a qualifier because at this stage I’ve nothing to lose. I’m going to throw everything at it between now and then.”

Whereas Waterford await the qualifiers draw, Clare move into the Munster semi-final next weekend and will face Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on Sunday at 3.45.

Meanwhile, another of Dublin’s 2011 All-Ireland football winners has retired. Cian O’Sullivan said that injuries had convinced him that it was time to depart the intercounty scene, at the age of 33.

“Regrettably, and despite best efforts to address a number of recurring injuries, it’s time to draw a close on my footballing days. The competitive demands have taken their toll and while my heart would love dearly to continue on, my body simply can’t.”

He leaves with a remarkable record of eight All-Irelands plus one with his club Kilmacud Crokes and three All Stars. A very versatile player, he won his first Celtic cross as a corner back in 2011 before also playing at centrefield two years later in Jim Gavin’s first year in charge when Dublin won the All-Ireland, beating Mayo in the final.

But it was as the defensive organiser when Gavin reconfigured the team after the shock 2014 defeat by Donegal that O’Sullivan will probably be best remembered. The role utilised all of his defensive talents, as he marshalled and organised the Dublin backs in the years after the all-out attacking policy.

Injuries impeded his later career and his most recent appearance was against Meath in last October’s league fixture in Parnell Park before the winter championship began.

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