WATERFORD’s first-half excellence in Cusack Park yesterday helped them to a comfortable NHL Division One clash with Clare in a game which never quite caught fire.
However, it was an emotional return for former Clare ’keeper and Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald to the ground he graced with the Banner for almost two decades, as he admitted after the game.
“I found it difficult,” he said. “I didn’t knock any satisfaction out of that. There were times I’d say I’d still like to be playing, I was tipping away with the club last year and you’d say, ‘could I still be there?’, but I’m not. But I’m managing Waterford and I’m enjoying my time there, the lads are working very hard. To be involved in hurling, for me, is very important.”
Equally important was the news before the game that Ken McGrath would start for Waterford, while Clare were dealt a blow with the announcement that their regular centre-back, Gerry Quinn, wouldn’t line out due to a nose injury sustained in training on Saturday. The game began sluggishly, Seamus Prendergast of Waterford opening the scoring on 10 minutes with a pointed free. McGrath began at centre-forward and made an impression, chipping in with two fine points from play and linking with his other forwards well, particularly full-forward Shane Walsh.
In general Waterford’s physically strong attack were able to retain the ball and despite shooting some poor wides, they jumped out to a double-scores lead (0-8 to 0-4), thanks to points from Gary Hurney, Walsh (two) and Seamus Prendergast (free).
Clare didn’t look nearly as sharp — Richie Foley added a long-range Waterford point thanks to quick thinking from Shane O’Sullivan when taking a sideline — and relied on veteran Niall Gilligan to make headway up front; at the break it was 0-11 to 0-6 in favour of the visitors.
Clare rallied after half-time, with Barry Nugent snapping over two fine points, but their defence never got to grips with McGrath’s ability to ghost out of the centre and create space for his teammates, particularly the hard-working Shane O’Sullivan.
McGrath’s point on 45 minutes sparked a Waterford revival — Jamie Nagle and Seamus Prendergast added more points, and when McGrath drove over an inspirational point from halfway at the three-quarter stage in the game, Waterford were six ahead. They closed the game out with ease, aided by O’Sullivan’s strong play at midfield and the introduction of Eoin Kelly, recovered from illness, who scored four points. In the dressing room afterwards Davy Fitzgerald dismissed notions of an All-Ireland hangover for Waterford.
“Think back before last September, when we played Tipperary. We were the only team in the country to beat Tipp last year — we played a savage game against them in the semi-final and deserved to be in the final. We did not perform in the final but I don’t think many teams would have stood up to Kilkenny. But we’re not frightened to go back there.”
Fitzgerald added that placing Ken McGrath at centre-forward and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh at centre-back was a nod to the future: “It worked well today. Brick covered the ground and Ken worked very hard and created trouble up front.
“It might work, we’ll see, but we have to think in the long term — when Ken and Tony (Browne) go, whether that’s next year or in a few years, we’ll need lads to fill those positions. I’m trying to think of the future for Waterford as well.”
Clare boss Mike McNamara wasn’t in the excuses business after the game.
“Waterford were much sharper and caught us napping. The performance was below par, particularly in our own ground. We have to knuckle down now and get points fast. Thurles isn’t the easiest place to get those, but we’ll see. We did a two-hour session yesterday (Saturday) but we have no excuses — our own crowd should have lifted us after that, and it’s no more than other teams are doing. Our full-back line did well but after that we struggled. It was a bad performance all round.”
* A minute’s silence was observed in memory of ex-Waterford secretary Seamus Grant and Clonlara (Clare) selector Kieran Whelan.
Scorers for Clare: N. Gilligan 0-5 (0-3 fs); B. Nugent, C. Ryan 0-3 each; C. Morey, J. McInerney 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: S. Prendergast (0-3 fs), K. McGrath, E. Kelly (0-1 65) 0-4 each; G. Hurney, S. Walsh, R. Foley 0-2 each; D. Shanahan, J. Nagle 0-1 each.
CLARE: P. Brennan, P. Vaughan, C. Dillon, G. O’Grady (c), B. Bugler, J. McInerney, P. Donnellan, J. Clancy, C. Lynch, D. McMahon, T. Griffin, C. Ryan, N. Gilligan, C. Morey, B. Nugent.
Subs: A. Markham for McMahon (41); C. Hassett for Lynch (53); M. Flaherty for Nugent (55); M. Hawes for Donnellan (61).
WATERFORD: C. Hennessy, E. Murphy, D. Prendergast, N. Connors, R. Foley, M. Walsh, J. Murray, S. O’Sullivan, J. Nagle, D. Shanahan, K. McGrath, G. Hurney, S. Prendergast, S. Walsh, J. Kennedy.
Subs: E. Kelly for Shanahan (55); P. Hurney for Kennedy (59); J. Hurney for G. Hurney (66); M. Shanahan for McGrath (68).
Referee: D. Murphy (Wexford).
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