A perfect answer to all the critics

IT was Clare goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald who put it best when he acknowledged that Waterford were so good in Thurles yesterday, they might well have beaten the pick of the country.

But Waterford's big Dan Shanahan, the player with a new spring in his step, summed it all up in the immediate aftermath of victory, when he said no one in their right minds could possibly have predicted the result.

"We took some flak after the league final, and in truth we deserved to," said Dan. "We knew, however, we hadn't performed as we know we can, and today was all about putting the record straight.''

The flamboyant, charismatic, forward, revelled in his goal hat-trick.

"Three goals in a game doesn't happen for me very often but I would put it down to being in the right place at the right time."

He said that to win in the style that they did was the "perfect'' answer to the critics who had all but written their championship chances off after the Galway reversal. "You wouldn't believe the effort we put into the past week trying to pick up the pieces and get ourselves all primed up for Clare,'' he added.

The unassuming Shanahan also said that luck is with him at the moment.

"There are other days when things just won't happen for you,'' he said.

"Today, however, the space opened up for us all over the field and we finished Clare off with some real quality scores." Shanahan said a hat trick in a championship game is "something special'' for him, and he thought he had a fourth late on but missed it. "I was beginning to greedy at that stage,'' he said.

He added said that despite the Galway defeat, he had no doubt that this Waterford side is a team of great ability, and while many commentators believed the championship test had come too soon after it for them, the players saw it as a glorious opportunity to "put the record straight'' in the fastest possible time.

"We are no bad side, and we proved it out there today,'' he said. "It's not the first time we have come thundering back from disappointment. Remember our Munster final hammering by Clare in 1998 and our demolition of Galway in the subsequent All-Ireland quarter final.''

Shanahan was at pains to stress that however impressive they may have been, they have won nothing yet.

Tipperary are next up in the semi-final and will be another "massive test'' for them but at least they have vital time on their side to prepare for it.

"If only we can repeat today's performance, then we would be in with a real shout of a repeat of our 2002 Munster final glory,'' he said.

Another hero, John Mullane, who roasted the Clare defence every time he gained possession, fears that it may be hard for them to keep up the incredible momentum they displayed for every minute against the Banner.

"It was one of our best days,'' the elusive forward said, but it was also a day when everything went right for them. Sounding a very definite note of warning against allowing themselves to get carried away, the flying forward insisted that "some days things go right for you, some days they don't. Today was a day when we could do no wrong." He said everyone played out of their skins, but he was particularly delighted for Dan Shanahan, who has known the pain of being substituted on big match days more than most.

"Dan is in a rich vein of form right now, and he is proving himself an inspiration for the rest of us,'' the De La Salle clubman added.

Déise boss Justin McCarthy could scarcely conceal the sense of elation he felt. In truth, he didn't attempt to do so, knowing in his heart of hearts that the team had indeed bounced back from the previous Sunday just as he had so confidently predicted they would do.

McCarthy spoke of his pride being hurt by the league final defeat and the pride of the players being equally hurt.

"It was all about passion out there today and passion was not absent in any part of the team,'' he said.

He said that their performance grew in stature and confidence with every passing minute, and he would have no hesitation in rating it one of their best displays since he took over the managerial job.

"It's a funny old game,'' quipped selector Seamie Hannon. This time last week we were down in the dumps and a major championship test just seven days down the road. It is to the eternal credit of the players that they picked themselves up as they did and turned in as good a display as I've seen from another Waterford team in modern times.''

The former star county defender added that if this game was to be the test of the players character then every one of them had passed with flying colours.

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