A romp in the park for Clare in this Bord Gáis Éireann Munster U21 HC semi-final last night as they simply swept aside the feeble challenge of Waterford.
Senior star Darragh Fives was a late inclusion for Waterford — who made a host of additional positional changes from the announced starting 15, only four outfield players lining out as named. If this was meant to confuse Clare, it didn’t work. Waterford managed the opening score, a tidy flicked point by wing-forward Brian O’Halloran (one of their few bright lights on the night) but thereafter it was a procession of Clare scores, delighting their faithful on what was a fine evening for hurling.
Clare had won the toss, full-forward and captain Conor McGrath immediately indicating the Tulla Road end — they would play with the gale at their backs. It proved an inspired decision. 1-8 to 0-1 they led after 23 minutes, several of those points wind-assisted while Waterford were struggling to get the ball even into the Clare half. The visitors did manage to stem the bleeding, held the deficit to that 10 points to the break (1-11 to 0-4) with points from Eamon Murphy (another who tried hard) and free-taker Martin O’Neill (2), in reply to three more for Clare.
Mind you, it’s arguable that even had there been dead calm in Cusack Park, Clare would still have been out of sight by the break, such was their dominance in most positions. The full-back line of Paul Flanagan, David McInerney and Killian Ryan were well up to what few tests came their way; the half-back trio of centre-back Conor Ryan — flanked by senior players Seadna Morey and Patrick O’Connor — were well on top; midfielders Colm Galvin (another senior) and Shane Golden ruled the roost completely, while up front — what an array of talent!
An all-senior half-forward line, Aaron Cunningham, Podge Collins and Tony Kelly, flyers all, hard workers, deadly accurate; the aforementioned McGrath at full-forward, marksman for the senior side from placed balls but relegated here, that duty falling to all-action roaming corner-forward Cathal O’Connell, who finished the hour with 10 points, four of those from play.
In the other corner, the even more deadly David O’Halloran, notched the goal in the first half (14th minute) to go with his two points, added two more in the second period before being hauled ashore in the 45th minute, job done. In fact, such was Clare’s continuing dominance after the break, making light of the heavy wind as they continued their scoring spree (Podge Collins setting them on their way with his side’s second goal, 36th minute), that joint managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor could afford the luxury of taking off four of the senior stars.
Special word though for the outstanding player of the night — no, not from Clare, but Waterford keeper Stephen O’Keeffe. Five top-drawer saves, his 17th minute denial of a goal-bound Cunningham shot the pick.
Clare now go through to meet Tipperary in the final on Wednesday August 8, a repeat of the 2010 final. Tipperary were too good on that occasion (1-22 to 1-17); on the evidence of this game, it could certainly be tighter in a few weeks.
Scorers for Clare: C O’Connell 0-10 (4f, 2 65s); D O’Halloran 1-4; P Collin 1-0; A Cunningham 0-2; C McGrath 0-2; C Galvin, S Golden, P Duggan, T Kelly, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: M O’Neill 0-5 (4f); E Murphy 0-2; Pauric Mahony, B O’Halloran, 0-1 each.
CLARE: R Taaffe; P Flanagan, D McInerney, K Ryan; S Morey, C Ryan, P O’Connor; C Galvin, S Golden; A Cunningham, P Collins, T Kelly; C O’Connell, C McGrath (c), D O’Halloran.
Subs: C McInerney (O’Halloran 45); S O’Halloran (Morey 47); P Duggan (Kelly 49); J Colleran (Galvin 51); E Boyce (O’Connor 57).
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; J Barron, S O’Keeffe, Phillip Mahony; P Prendergast, D Fives, E Madigan; R Barry, G O’Brien; B O’Halloran, E Murphy, F Murray; Pauric Mahony (c), M O’Neill, J Dillon.
Subs: D Breathnach (Barry 30); J Prendergast (Fives inj. 33); M Wyse (Madigan 43); I Galgey (Murray 54); S Roche (O’Brien 59).
Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary).