Even in the opening minutes of the second half, and despite a Clare goal opportunity botched by the otherwise impressive John Conlon (his hand-pass sailing way over the head of the isolated Darach Honan) it was the Déise men still ruling the roost, four clear point-scoring opportunities scorned.
When the tide turned though, it turned with a vengeance. A storming second-half performance from Clare during which they outscored Waterford 2-12 to 0-6, turned the game on its head and even if the final scoreline did flatter the Banner a little, there is no doubting that the better team won.
Clare started superbly, four well-worked points on the board in just six minutes with Waterford looking all at sea. A moment of magic from youngster Jake Dillon at the other end, however, reading the intention of Clare captain Patrick Donnellan and steaming forward to intercept his intended pass and blast past Patrick Kelly, and suddenly Waterford were in the game.
From there to the half-time whistle it was the Déise men in control, a dominant half-back line of Jamie Nagle (a brilliant 70 minutes), Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and team captain Kevin Moran giving them the platform to drive forward, Shane O’Sullivan and Darragh Fives also taking a grip in midfield.
Clare were in trouble, no question about it, but, manager Davy Fitzgerald said, there was no panic. “Half-time was very relaxed. We just had to figure out, identify an area we were in trouble with, and we did. We talked about winning that area, we looked at certain statistics and talked about it. I think we rectified it.”
Oh that they did, eventually. After Conlon’s early error and Waterford’s early missed point opportunities, Clare again began to gain control. It started with frees, Colin Ryan capitalising on a succession of decisions by referee James McGrath as the Waterford defence came under increasing pressure, four points in succession to bring Clare level in the 51st minute, 0-13 to 1-10.
With the Clare half-back line of Bugler, Donnellan and O’Connor doing what Waterford’s had done in the opening half, with Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly storming into the game, it was Davy’s kids now with their tails up, coming forward in waves. It still took another Waterford error for them to take the lead, but then you could also say it was the persistence of the Clare attackers, sub Peter Duggan blocking down an attempted Kevin Moran clearance on the edge of the square after Waterford had saved a Tony Kelly 20m special, Shane O’Donnell pouncing on the rebound for Clare’s first goal.
That was in the 54th minute, put Clare a goal clear (1-14 to 1-11), and when the otherwise subdued Conor McGrath hared onto the break from a long Patrick Kelly eight minutes later for another goal, it was all over for Waterford. As Davy’s youngsters have done so many times this year, they finished as strongly as they had begun, ran out convincing winners.
Fitzgerald said: “They’ll give you everything. They just lost their way and I’ve said it so often that there are so many of them under the age of 22-years-of-age. They were going into a big battle, they got hit with a rock and they came back to win.
“They’re good lads and I have great belief in them and, as I keep saying, this is a process. If people want to keep building us up, no problem but we’re not buying into it. We have a process ahead of us and we don’t look any further than Cork the next day because we have too much respect to do that.”
Well, sorry Davy but on the basis of this finish yesterday, you’re going to have to get used to dealing with this expectation lark: “I don’t actually want to see anything or read anything — that’s the way we’ve all tried to approach it. Ye obviously have a job to do, that’s fair enough. We have a job to do too and our job is to stay away from that.
“We’re not the finished article but it’s nice to get our first championship win under our belt for a while (2008 against Limerick their last win). We’ll take the win and we know the next day — it’s been tit-for-tat with Cork and they’re going to come now wanting revenge with us.
“That will be a massive test for us again and one that we’ll just have to prepare for. They’re waiting in the long grass for the winners of today — I’m sure they’re licking their lips about having a go at us again. It will be a dinger of a game and we’ll both look forward to it.”
Scorers for Clare: Colin Ryan 0-7 (6f 0-1 65); T Kelly 0-4; S O’Donnell 1-0; C McGrath 1-0; J Conlon 0-3; D Honan 0-3; C Galvin 0-2; F Lynch 0-1.
Scorers for Waterford: M Shanahan 0-7 (6f); J Dillon 1-2; S Prendergast 0-2; J Barron, P Mahony, K Moran, G O’Brien, 0-1 each.
Subs for Clare: P Duggan (Morey 29); P Collins (O’Donnell 55); F Lynch (Duggan 67).
Subs for Waterford: R Barry (O’Halloran inj. 17); G O’Brien (Barron 56); M O’Neill (Mahony 63).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).