Last night in balmy Ennis, having reached the semi-final by the back-door route, the Decies well and truly reversed that result, and now go through to meet Cork or Tipperary in the Munster final on July 12.
Clare dominated first-half proceedings, and led at the break by four points, 0-9 to 1-2. Could have been more, should have been more, as the Waterford goal should have never have been conceded.
From a long Waterford puck-out, Clare centre-back Patrick O’Connor did what he was supposed to do, broke the ball down in front, but no-one in saffron-and-blue was alert. Waterford wing-forward Brian O’Halloran was in like a flash, and from fully 50m tore through the heart of the Clare defence before blasting home from close range.
Clare keeper Ronan Taaffe had no chance, but the watching former Clare great Brian Lohan, coach to this minor team, must surely have had a vision of what should have been.
Other than that goal, Waterford were sorely lacking in any kind of threat up front in this opening half, and that blunder apart, their inside forwards were given no change by the a tight-marking Clare trio of full-back Killian Ryan flanked by Sixmilebridge brothers Noel and Trevor O’Connor.
Clare’s Patrick O’Connor was the dominant figure in the half-back line, ably abetted by team captain Colin McGuane and Seán O’Connor. In midfield it was the towering figure of Shane Golden doing most damage for Clare, though Waterford captain Martin O’Neill was also prominent.
It was in the forward sextet, however, that Clare were most potent, and none more so than full-forward and free-taker Conor McGrath. Five points the Cratloe youngster scored in the first half, three of those from play, all under pressure, while alongside him David O’Halloran was also on form, two fine points to his name.
Given this dominance then, all was looking good for Clare as they headed for the dressing-rooms. How quickly things can change, however, in sport, and in hurling especially.
The spark for this one had actually come just before the break, when Ian Galgey was introduced in injury-time for Kenny Moore – more about Ian later.
The first couple of minutes of the second half gave no indication of the change in fortunes that was about to occur. A wide each to open proceedings, and then, from nowhere, another Waterford goal, and again, it was of the gifted variety, gates open all the way to the keeper.
The move started on the left wing of attack, where O’Driscoll won scrappy possession. He parted to the towering Ronan Cahill, who was to have a much greater influence on proceedings in the second half, and again, the parting of the saffron-and-blue sea. It ended with Ronan passing to Paudie Prendergast and again Ronan Taaffe had no chance in the Clare goals – 2-2 to 0-9.
Enter the flying Ian Galgey; 1-2 the Mount Sion speedster scored in a lethal 10-minute spell, midfielder Martin O’Neill adding a couple more, and this game was turned on its head.
From four points up at the break, Clare were now five in arrears, 3-6 to 0-10, and with the Waterford defence now very much on top, half-backs Phillip Mahoney and Darragh Fives especially, Luke Egan with some lovely flicks, there was only going to be one winner. Clare never gave up, battled to the final whistle, but Waterford were given that second chance, and grabbed with both hands.
Scorers for Waterford: I Galgey 1-2; M O’Neill 0-5 (0-4 frees); B O’Halloran 1-0; P Prendergast 1-0; F Murray, J Dillon, 0-1 each.
Clare: C McGrath 0-8 (0-4 frees); D O’Halloran 0-2; D Keane, S Golden, 0-1 each.
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; L Egan, T Costello, M Wyse; J Dee, P Mahoney, D Fives; K Moore, M O’Neill (c); F Murray, R Cahill, B O’Halloran; P Prendergast, J Dillon, P Mahoney.
Subs: I Galgey (Moore 30+1).
CLARE: R Taaffe; N Purcell, K Ryan, T Purcell; S O’Connor, P O’Connor, C McGuane (c); C McInerney, S Golden; D Keane, E Hanrahan, A Considine; C O’Donnell, C McGrath, D O’Halloran.
Subs: G Guilgoyle (Hanrahan 40); E Boyce (T Purcell inj 40); D Liddy (Considine 52); A Mulready (O’Donnell 54).
Referee: D Copps (Cork).