Waterford were just the better team. So were Tipperary on Saturday but there was still a sense that Clare left it after them. You cannot argue against 21 points from play to seven, but some of the missed chances for Clare were soul destroying, writes Anthony Daly.
When I was walking into Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday, I met this fella from the Brian Dillons club who was working as a steward. He had a smile from ear to ear, clearly as proud as punch, not of the Cork hurlers’ success, but of the new house.
“Well boy, what’ya think?”
“Ah, it’s not too bad, it’s only middling to be honest,” I replied, hopping the ball with him.
His jaw dropped. So did his shoulders. I was only winding him up. The new house is splendid. The front lawn may be a bit soft but it still looks like a carpet, while the sitting room is as impressive as I expected it to be.
The two matches may not have been as exciting as everyone had hoped they would be for the weekend-long hurling party. The quality wasn’t exactly top-drawer stuff either but it was still intriguing. At least the Cork locals are happy that everyone else got to see what they have been waiting years to show off.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the traffic gridlock. I was snaking my way out of the car park afterwards when Noelie Connors flagged me down. “Hi Dalo, any chance of a lift?” Noelie, Jake Dillon, Pauric Mahony, and Shane Fives hopped in. The car was a state but the gear was flung in the boot, I’m not sure if I improved the time it took them to get to the Imperial for their food but t’was a good laugh. We shot the breeze. We beeped at the Waterford team doctor who was traipsing up the road. He looked at me crooked until he saw the crew in the back.
They are sound, down-to-earth lads and that personality reflected Waterford’s performance yesterday: No fuss, no frills, job done. They showed their greater experience and worldliness. They showed how the longer and harder road has just shaped them better at this stage of their development.
Wexford are still in the early stages of their development under Davy Fitzgerald. They have made massive progress this year but they made too many unforced errors yesterday. The goal before half-time was a killer. They got three great points after half-time but they were still only bringing the deficit back to what it should have been in the first place. It took huge effort and you’re never going to sustain that at this level for 70 minutes.
‘Brick’ Walsh was outstanding in the opening 20 minutes but when he faded, plenty of others stepped up; Tadgh de Búrca, the two Fives, Austin Gleeson in the third quarter, Conor Gleeson throughout. The big concern now though is the possible loss of de Búrca, especially given his importance to the system. (I’m sure they have a fair case for an appeal — I never saw Tadgh hit a mean blow in his career.)
Wexford will be disappointed how the season ended but it has still been a savage year for them: Promotion, a Leinster final, an All-Ireland quarter-final defeat with honour, after having a real go. Fitzy and the players will know now that they have to evolve. I’m sure they will but that shouldn’t be exercising their minds now; they should savour what they have achieved this year, how far they have come, and how far they can really go with everyone fully buying into the Davy project.
Waterford were just the better team. So were Tipperary on Saturday but there was still a sense that Clare left it after them. You cannot argue against 21 points from play to seven, but some of the missed chances for Clare were soul destroying. They kinda self-destructed and yet, with five minutes to go, I thought Clare were going to win the match. I thought they would have the legs to kick on. Tipp looked out on their feet but they strode home.
When Tipp were 0-9 to 0-3 ahead it looked like it could get ugly for Clare but the two goals completely changed the tone and complexion of the match. It still took us an awful long time to add to that platform and too many lads up front were underperforming.
I’m not sure if John Conlon was injured. He wasn’t playing well but I’d still have whipped off two more forwards before him. Peter Duggan was brilliant when he came on — which justified the change — but I’d have put Conlon and Duggie on both wings and told Andrew Fahy to lamp every ball down on top of one of them. Instead, Andy went short his own side of midfield on four occasions before the break and Clare were crucified on those puckouts, coughing up four points. I’m not blaming Andy. It was probably a tactic, but it was torture to be watching because it gave Tipp a huge foothold going in at the break. It was even more infuriating because when Andy went long to Duggie in the second half, he cleaned Seamus Kennedy. How long did it take Tipp to move Paudie Maher over on Peter? On the flipside, how long did it take Clare to move Cian Dillon in on Seamus Callanan?
Tipp got the job done. They will improve again for the semi-final but they need to ratchet it up to another level if they are to win the All-Ireland. They should have buried the match when they were ahead by 0-23 to 2-10 but they still had the shooters to close it out. The two McGraths, ‘Bubbles’, and Callanan, bagged 17 points from play, which is just savage shooting. Tipp will always be dangerous with those guys around but that still can’t disguise the issues they have in the full-back line. They look to be crying out for a Cathal Barrett but what physical condition would he be in if Mick Ryan was to bring him back, after being out for so long with injury? There is definitely a case to be made for Mickey Cahill too. Donagh Maher tried hard after a shaky start but James Barry is not a corner-back.
There were positives for Clare. They kept going throughout. The shackles did come off. Our structure was better. Conor Cleary really stood up at number six but there are still issues to be sorted out in our defence, especially with the goalkeeper and full-back line. I was never sure about rotating the goal-keeping position for the league. Andy only got a couple of league games, with Donal Tuohy and Pa Kelly, but if Andy is the man, show the faith in him for the full campaign next spring, which will bring him on even more.
Clare haven’t replaced Colin Ryan either as a freetaker. We all felt that Bobby Duggan would fill that role but he can’t get into the 26. At this level though, you need to be nailing the 95% zone, which Clare didn’t on Saturday. Tony Kelly didn’t look fully comfortable on placed ball duty but Niall Deasy hits the frees for Ballyea.
All of those issues that Clare need to iron out are manageable. Donal Moloney said in his interview afterwards that he and Gerry O’Connor learned more in eight months than they did in eight years at underage. I’m sure they did because it is unforgiving at this level.
It’s disappointing that Clare are gone but what about the three games we still have to look forward to? I just don’t want this summer to end.
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