It was a brilliant team performance by Waterford and another illustration of superb management from Derek McGrath and his crew, writes Anthony Daly.
We played a league game against some team in 1992. I can’t remember who it was against. All I remember is that I was absolutely cat. I met Cyril Lyons in the Queen’s Hotel at the team meal afterwards. We were playing Waterford in the championship about five weeks later. ‘Look Dalo,’ Cyril said, ‘you’ll be judged on the 29th May.’ Twenty-four years later — Mother of God! — I can still remember the date. It was etched in my mind solid for those five weeks before we played Waterford. It still is because I thought about nothing else. I wanted nothing else. That story came to mind immediately after yesterday’s game.
The 5th of June was etched in the minds of the Clare and Waterford players since last October’s draw but I’m sure it was burned into every fibre of every Waterford players’ being since the league final defeat four weeks ago.
You can just imagine how hurt Waterford were when watching the Clare pitch invasion and Cian Dillon and Tony Kelly lifting a trophy they probably felt was theirs. I spoke here on Saturday about the importance of channelling that hurt properly. Waterford channelled it perfectly. They didn’t take that hurt out on any Clare man; they took their frustration out on the ball. They worked like savages. They were cold-blooded and clear-headed. It was a brilliant team performance but it was another illustration of superb management from Derek McGrath and his crew.
Derek has crafted a brilliant young team but his main warriors led the charge yesterday — Maurice Shanahan, Kevin Moran and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh. Maurice and Moran were in the top three performers. Austin Gleeson — Waterford’s marquee hot-shot — was man ofthe match. This team now has the ideal blend of old and new and it’s going to take a serious team to stop them.
When the going got tough, the tough got going. Waterford had all the big performers. They used Gleeson brilliantly. They put him in full-forward from the start and his presence had an impact in the confusion which led to Maurice’s goal. Gleeson moved around like an eel for the rest of the first half before taking up station just where Waterford wanted him in the second-half — right in front of their half-back line.
Waterford did mix it up but they still stayed true to their defensive formation. Near the end of the match, I counted nine players inside their own ’45. Apart from David Reidy’s early goal chance, Clare never got another sniff at a green flag.
Not taking away from Waterford but Clare were flat. Most of their big guns didn’t perform. They weren’t let perform but there was also a surprising lack of aggression in Clare’s play. They didn’t concede their first free until the 25th minute. That is an exemplary level of discipline but they seemed so hung up on not conceding frees that they didn’t put the same heat on the ball and the player in possession that you’d have expected to see.
Was that another negative fallout from the league final? Waterford changed their free-taker three times in the drawn final. Clare knew that wouldn’t be an issue yesterday with Pauric Mahoney’s dead-eye ability but did they overplay his return? They may have because the Clare management will have been disappointed with the high volume of scores they conceded from play. Waterford could have even had a couple of more goals if the right pass was played instead of taking the point.
The free-taking situation was almost a direct reverse of the drawn league final. Clare had three free-takers yesterday. None of them had any real joy. They missed a raft of ‘65s. Some of those dead-balls were close to the sideline but in the modern game, the top teams nail all those shots. Colin Ryan’s accuracy in 2013 was one of the reasons Clare won that All-Ireland. At half-time, Clare had 11 wides to Waterford’s 10 but Clare’s profligacy seemed magnified given who was shooting those wides; Conor McGrath and Tony Kelly. McGrath’s wide directly after half-time nearly summed up Clare’s day.
These guys have done it before and they will do it again but Clare were just off colour in too many areas. John Conlon tried hard. He made one great catch. Clare didn’t use John enough on the edge of the square but he wasn’t fit and Clare didn’t get the return from him that they wanted, or badly needed.
David McInerney hit a few dunts on Gleeson after coming on as he was trying to lift the team. He almost did a few minutes later with a point-attempt from close to the sideline but it was a rusty attempt from a player who hasn’t played at this level in over two months. That was a fear I had with Clare beforehand — that they were going to go for experience ahead of some younger guys who were probably going better in training.
It’s not back to the drawing board for Clare now but they do need all their big men back, and motoring well, if they are going to try and rattle an All-Ireland. Even Conor Ryan’s return is crucial given his big-game experience. Clare’s new and young defenders did well — especially Oisín O’Brien — but it is still a huge step up at this level. Waterford also managed those match-ups well too. Their game-management was always smart. They were happy to let O’Brien have the short puck-out instead of Cian Dillon, who is much better to deliver that second ball. When Clare went long on their puck-out in the first half, Waterford ate it up.
Waterford move on now but there is no reason why these teams can’t meet again later in the summer. A break for a week or 10 days probably won’t do these Clare players any harm. It might be what they need. They may have a few tricky assignments to negotiate but if Clare can get to Croke Park, they could explode.
Yesterday though, it was Waterford who torched all before them. They also fired another huge flare into the sky to alert everyone else to what this team have always believed — that they can win this All-Ireland.
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