Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald smiled and admitted that he would have been “killed” had Tony Kelly not banged over the levelling point deep in stoppage time – before the same player slotted scored the winner in a dramatic Allianz Hurling League Division 1 final replay at Semple Stadium, writes Jackie Cahill.
Kelly, 2013 Hurler and Young Hurler of the Year, hit 1-6 as the Banner County claimed a first top flight League crown since 1978.
But there was a huge whiff of controversy in the air as Waterford cried foul at full-time – with manager Derek McGrath and selector Dan Shanahan both insisting that referee Diarmuid Kirwan should not have awarded a free to Clare in the third minute of stoppage time.
Kelly won the free himself and slotted it over from deep inside his own half for the equaliser.
And Fitzgerald revealed afterwards that he made the call from the touchline for Kelly to take it – and not Colin Ryan.
“At the very end, when the game is in the melting pot, there’s only one man you’d like to actually get the ball,” Fitzgerald said.
“When Tony Kelly gets it, you know you have a fair chance of it going over the bar.
“I’d say I’d have been killed if he didn’t score it because I changed Colin Ryan off the free for the last one. I just felt Tony was on his game. That’s why I decided to make that call.
“He’s a good man to have in a pressure situation.”
Fitzgerald hailed the effort from both teams – and they will meet again on June 5 in the Munster SHC semi-final.
12 months ago, Waterford beat Cork in the League decider and toppled the Rebels again in their championship opener.
But now the Déise will have to buck that trend by defeating Clare in their provincial opener, having suffered defeat against the same opposition in the League showpiece.
Fitzgerald added: “I think both teams deserve tremendous credit for the way they performed out there.
“We’re not under any illusions, we could have lost that just as easily as we won it. We have massive respect for the way Waterford play.
“They ground that out, we were behind all the time. We were down six points a number of times and we never gave up, we stayed with it.
“They are going to come out for revenge and we’ll relish that challenge.”