Time to pass on the mantle

Mr Consistency’s absence to be felt keenly by Waterford.

Waterford will miss him tomorrow and they’ll miss him terribly.

Not because he was one of their superstars; he wasn’t. Not because he was a frequent scorer; he wasn’t that either. Not because he broke tackle after tackle as he stormed forward from midfield and set the enemy net billowing; nobody ever mistook him for a Michael Fennelly clone.

No. Waterford will miss Stephen Molumphy because he kept a clean and tidy house. He did a good job and he did it every day. Neat, solid, a consistent 7.5-out-of-10 man. The type of player that every team needs and that Waterford, even at their dazzling best a few years ago, needed more of.

They’ll miss John Mullane too, of course, but there’s no need to go there.

Everything that had to be said about Mullane has been said, and all of it richly deserved.

Not enough, in contrast, has been said about Molumphy. Because if Mullane was Waterford’s soul, Molumphy and Brick Walsh were its heartbeat. Less spectacular; every bit as important.

Off the top of your head you’ll find it hard to recall any great gaiscí Molumphy performed. That was because performing great gaiscí wasn’t his thing.

He didn’t land outrageous scores from distance and point ostentatiously to the crest on his jersey as an encore. He eschewed histrionics and simply got on with his job.

At 5ft 10ins and 13st, Molumphy was a middleweight in a world of super heavyweights. He continually punched above his weight because he had to. So he buzzed around and supplemented the attack and dropped back to help the defence and was always there on a colleague’s shoulder to offer an outlet.

The perfect modern midfielder, bright and resourceful. A member, literally, of the officer class, a group that unfortunately in Waterford’s case was never oversubscribed.

Giving three All Stars last year to a team that didn’t make it beyond the All-Ireland quarter-finals would have seemed excessive, which is why the Ballyduff Upper man lost out. But he wasn’t a million miles away.

He’ll be a considerable number of miles away on army duty tomorrow. In his absence, Waterford look strong and seasoned up to midfield, although one trusts Ian O’Regan has learned to be more assertive around his domain than he was in 2004. Compiling a winning total, however, will be another day’s work.

Will Michael Ryan’s men hit more than, say, 1-18? Doubtful. Will 1-18 be enough to win? Probably not.

It’s a game that means more to Clare than it does to Waterford, a game that — whatever the outcome — will say more about Clare than Waterford.

The Banner’s recent record in Munster is rancid; in only one of the past nine seasons have they won a match in the provincial championship. But it’s a long road that has no turning. Tomorrow ought to mark the bend.

Defeat for them and it will be easy to be wise after the event. What had these Clare players achieved prior to throw-in? Weren’t the Waterford lads the ones with the experience of winning championship matches?

For that reason, Davy Fitzgerald’s charges are facing not just 15 men in white shirts but a mental block of their own. It is always that way until a promising team actually delivers on the hype.

Golf pundits frequently talk about the way the best players are able to “work the course”. Clare’s first priority here is to work Tom Semple’s field and work every yard of it.

Tomorrow is not about enthusiasm or fitness or hunger or pace. For a team of Davy’s, these are givens. Tomorrow is about stagecraft, about nous, about having a clear vision of the game one is trying to play, about flexibility.

That doesn’t necessarily entail the Clare full-forwards playing on the endline, but it categorically entails them not being 30 metres out as the sliotar overshoots them.

While they averaged 0-3 per outing more than Waterford during the league, Clare managed the sum total of four goals in their five group games. Read into that what you will; Davy would surely rationalise it by saying the reason they didn’t hit the net more often was because they weren’t trying to, and that’s fair enough.

Nobody is insisting Clare must lump every ball into the danger zone. But what they must be able to do, or at least to attempt, is to vary their approach. Man does not live by long-range points alone, and on the evidence of their shooting from distance at times during the league Clare shouldn’t try.

Tailoring the game plan to take account of the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents is another necessity. On this occasion they’re not facing Kilkenny or Tipperary or Bayern Munich or even a Joe Canning Galway.

Waterford are not going to shoot the lights out, so why bother confronting them with a blanket defence? The day may come in championship 2013 when the onus will be on Clare to tread warily against opponents with heavier ordnance, when first principles will demand they make themselves difficult to break down. But it, as Aragorn might have said, is not this day. This day is a day for expansiveness, a day for taking the game to the other crowd, a day for not getting bogged down in their own tactical convolutions.

They’ll almost certainly create more scoring chances than Waterford. After that it’ll be down to composure.

And not all of that composure must come from the players. Any glimpses of Davy losing it on the line will not soothe fevered brows on the field. He has to cajole, not condemn. “Next ball, lads, next ball!” Honey catches flies far sooner than vinegar.

Win here and the road opens up for the county. A winnable semi-final against Cork, a potential Munster final appearance, a guaranteed All-Ireland quarter-final. Reach the last six and Clare’s year is a success.

It shouldn’t, contrary to fears expressed by Mullane early in the week, be toxic in Thurles. Davy is still Davy and always will be, but the leading badge kissers and face-pullers on the other side are no longer with us.

Nor is Molumphy. Another reason why the favourites are the team with the greater scope and why tomorrow should mark the day Davy’s Clare come of age.

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