A POWERFUL second-half display saw Clare claim a first ESB Munster minor hurling championship crown since 1989 at Semple Stadium yesterday.
Davy Fitzgerald and Jamesie O’Connor were minors when Clare last ruled the province at this grade, but a 21-year wait for glory was ended in magnificent style.
It should be noted, however, that Waterford were playing for the second time in just five days after beating Cork in a semi-final replay last Wednesday night.
Déise boss Jimmy Meaney felt this was a factor in his team’s display but he also generously admitted that Clare fully deserved their success.
For Clare, this landmark success offers further proof of a real upsurge in the Banner County’s fortunes in the underage ranks, coming as it does after last year’s All-Ireland U21 win.
Appearing in this first provincial minor final since 1999, Clare grabbed their chance with both hands to claim just their third Munster crown at this grade.
In the process, Waterford were denied back-to-back Munster minor crowns for the first time in the county’s history and must now regroup through the back door in the hunt for All-Ireland glory.
When the sides met at Walsh Park in April, Waterford ran out 1-21 to 0-16 winners, but Clare had certainly learned the lessons from that defeat and were well prepared for yesterday’s rematch.
Conditions were ideal in Thurles, with barely a hint of a breeze, but the first-half was relatively low scoring as the half-time whistle blew with the teams level at 0-6 apiece.
They were level four times in that opening half as Waterford clawed back a 0-4 to 0-6 deficit with two Paudie Mahoney frees to restore parity at the midway point.
Eight minutes into the second-half, Clare struck a decisive blow when David O’Halloran netted a brilliant goal and from there until the finish they led.
Paudge Collins and the impressive Daire Keane were involved in the build up before O’Halloran dIspatched a fine finish at the Killinan End.
It was 1-8 to 0-9 clear now, and Clare followed up with scores from O’Halloran and free-taker Niall Arthur to lead by four, the biggest advantage of any team until that point.
Back came a dogged Waterford as Eamonn Murphy netted a brilliant solo goal in the 45th minute after running past a number of would-be challengers.
Last year’s champions were now back to within a point but Clare then stepped on the gas and six unanswered points in a seven-minute spell made the game safe.
Clare joint-manager Donal Maloney admitted that this was a huge victory for his team, coming as it did less than 24 hours after the senior team suffered a 13-point mauling against Dublin at Croke Park.
Maloney said: “The conveyor belt is starting to move — that’s the key thing. We had some barren years there with little or nothing at underage. We have to be patient but maybe in three or four years we’ll have a really strong senior team.”
Maloney added: “It’s been quite a year for us. The fact that it’s our second term really stood to us because we took a lot of learning out of last year. Everything that went wrong for us last year, we tried to put it right. You can’t do anything without brilliant players and we have exceptional players.”
Waterford manager Meaney reflected: “We felt good coming into it but time is what’s required to recover from games and maybe we didn’t have enough time. I’m not going to use it as an excuse — Clare played very well and took their scores.
“I didn’t feel that Wednesday’s game was going to impact on us as much. But some of our performances did seem quite flat. It was a tough ask to play on Wednesday and then be ready again for today. We just seemed a little bit flat as the game wore on.”
Scorers for Clare: D O’Halloran 1-3 (0-1f), N Arthur 0-6 (5f, 1 65), D Keane 0-3, T Kelly 0-2, S O’Halloran & J Shanahan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: E Murphy 1-2, P Mahoney 0-4f, P Prendergast, J Dillon, S Roche, C Heffernan & C Curran 0-1 each.
Subs for Clare: A Mulready for Malone (48), C O’Connell for Collins (59).
Subs for Waterford: C Curran for O’Neill (40), C Chester for Roche (51), T Curran for Heffernan (55), S Lawless for Prendergast (59).
Referee: D Copps (Cork).
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