Yes there was a stiff breeze, but a 23-point difference?
In every area of the pitch Clare were in control, points from eight different players from all kinds of distances, and four killer goals, all involving All-Ireland final replay hat-trick hero Shane O’Donnell.
O’Donnell hasn’t featured very much for Clare so far in this league; he featured enough yesterday to rekindle memories of last September. He scored two goals, one in each half; he played a central role in the other three (Patrick Donnellan, Podge Collins and Peter Duggan the beneficiaries), and was well-nigh unmarkable.
For that though, both of his direct opponents — Shane Fives initially, then Noel Connors — must be absolved of much blame. Planning failure cost Waterford dearly, facing into that big wind but failing to offer any protection to their full-back line against what is a proven lethal inside line of attack, and manager Derek McGrath immediately put his hand up.
“We probably showed a bit of naivety in leaving the lads isolated one-on-one inside in the first half and it’s the nature of the Clare game-plan that they have runners coming from deep, and very hard to pick everyone up. If you go man-to-man they open the space so when they come down the field they have 60 yards of open country in front of them. We probably got caught a bit like that a few times. We’ll learn from it. I think everyone got a bit of an education there, it was a chastening experience for players and management.”
A masterclass especially in goal-scoring. Where other teams and other players may have opted for the definite point, for all four first half Clare goals they went for the jugular, for that final killer pass. Again, says the Waterford boss, lessons to be learned. “That’s the nature of the Clare game-plan now. They’re All-Ireland senior champions, have a number of U21 titles and the game-plan that was implemented by Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor there has been accelerated by Davy Fitz and this management team, brought to a new level again. When they see the net is on they go for it and they have the players for it. The reality too is that those players will be even harder to stop when the ground firms up.”
The second half was a new game, Waterford now with the wind, and the Clare management changed tactics. Midfielder and captain Patrick Donnellan, who had played as an auxiliary attacker with the wind, in fact scored the first Clare goal, was now withdrawn to play the sweeper role. Clare were more than willing to concede some ground to Waterford, and the points did start to flow, but there was no way they would be allowed any open channel to goal. Waterford did win the second half 0-16 to 1-3, Brian O’Sullivan, Stephen Molumphy, Pauric Mahony and Maurice Shanahan all prominent, but they never looked remotely like winning the game.
McGrath admitted: “You have to give great credit to Davy and his selectors, they seem to have a different plan for every game, even different plans within games. They use the ball as the occasion presents itself. We won’t imitate them but we do hope to be able to develop a game-plan that suits us. Our project is in its infancy. We’re not blessed with ball-winners so we have to go down a different route in how we play — the players develop that themselves, they influence how we play. We’re optimistic we can improve but everything is on the line now next Sunday, against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.”
For Waterford, yes, who could now find themselves in the relegation play-off. For Clare, however, if they continue to follow the path set out for them by Davy Fitzgerald, Louis Mulqueen and company, even the sky itself may not be the limit!
Scorers for Clare: S O’Donnell 2-2; Colin Ryan 0-6 (5f); P Collins 1-2; P Duggan 1-1; P Donnellan 1-0; C McInerney 0-2; B Bugler, Conor Ryan, P O’Connor, C McGrath, T Kelly, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-8 (6f); B O’Sullivan 0-4; M Shanahan 0-3 (2f); S Molumphy 0-2; R Donnelly, K Moran, S Roche, 0-1 each.
Subs for Clare: T Kelly for Conlon (31); P Flanagan for Dillon (61); S Golden for Colin Ryan (64); D Reidy for McGrath (67); C O’Connell for McInerney (70+1). Blood: Kelly for Collins (22/23).
Subs for Waterford: M Shanahan for Barry (26); B Coughlan for Fives (26); S Roche for Donnelly (46); K Fitzgerald for Pauric Mahony (61); S McNulty for Molumphy (64). Blood: Coughlan for Moran (15/20).
Referee: J McGrath (Wexford).
CLARE: D Touhy; D O’Donovan, C Dillon, D McInerney; B Bugler, Conor Ryan, P O’Connor; Colin Ryan, P Donnellan (c); J Conlon, P Collins, P Duggan; C McInerney, S O’Donnell, C McGrath. WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; T de Burca, S Fives, N Connors; J Nagle, K Moran, Phillip Mahony; S Molumphy, S O’Sullivan; R Barry, Pauric Mahony, J Dillon; R Donnelly, S Prendergast, B O’Sullivan.