Their task was made easier by the second minute dismissal of Shane Ahearne in a controversial black card call for a high tackle on Martin McMahon that left Waterford boss Niall Carew fuming with referee Maurice Deegan.
“It was a poor decision by the referee,” Carew said. “The black card was supposed to stop cynical play. There was nothing cynical in that, the game was only on 90 seconds. He swung his arm, he didn’t drag him to the ground.”
The challenge didn’t fall under the black card category in his view. “A fella 5 foot 3 or 4 running at pace and ducks and Shane Ahearne sticks out his hand. How that was given as a black card is beyond me. There’s too many interpretations of the black card anyway. To lose your best player like that, it’s impossible then.”
Ahearne midfield partner Tommy Prendergast also saw black before the interval but Carew had no issue with that call: “With Tommy’s one the rule does state that if you do trip it is a black card. That was more out of frustration than anything else. We were always going to be under pressure without our best player. Last week, Shane got the better of Gary Brennan and I think this week that he would have as well. The black card was always going to be controversial. It won’t be big because it’s Clare and Waterford but it cost us. I will certainly be appealing Shane Ahearne’s black card just out of principle more than anything else.
And Clare boss Colm Collins admitted that Ahearne’s black card shifted the momentum. “To lose someone of his quality so early in the game was devastating for Waterford. I felt that there was only going to be one result when that happened.”
In Ahearne’s absence, Gary Brennan crushed a makeshift midfield cobbled together by the hosts. The captain posted 1-2, including a decisive first half goal, and monopolised the kickouts.
Waterford started briskly despite losing Ahearne. Paul Whyte confidently shot three (two frees) and JJ Hutchinson added another to establish a four point advantage after 11 minutes. Brennan steadied Clare as Seán Collins, David Tubridy and Shane McGrath narrowed the gap to two (0-5 to 0-3). Hutchinson enjoyed the freedom of his corner forward role and fired his third points on 22 minutes. However it was their last score of the half.
The hosts struggled to claim Stephen Enright’s kickouts and Clare turned the screw. On 24 minutes, Shane Hickey’s pass found Brennan charging down the centre and he steadied before finishing low under Enright (0-6 to 1-3).
Two points from Shane McGrath and Sean Collins’ sealed a three point half time lead (1-6 to 0-6). Nine wides in contrast to none for Waterford also displayed their dominance.
Brennan took up where he left off with a wonderful point on the restart before Collins and Jamie Malone landed more scores. Shane Brennan miscued with the goal at his mercy but made amends on 48 minutes. When brother Gary saw his shot strike the upright, Shane was perfectly placed to tidy up the crumbs. 2-9 to 0-6 in the clear and no doubt about the outcome. Substitute Rory Donnelly tucked away a third into the bottom corner on 61 minutes after collecting a delivery from Eoin Cleary. The prize for victory is a clash with Kerry next weekend in Cusack Park.
Scorers for Waterford: P Whyte 0-5 (4fs); JJ Hutchinson 0-4; L Ó Lonáin 0-2; D Allen 0-1.
Scorers for Clare: G Brennan 1-2; S Brennan, R Donnelly 1-0 each; S Collins, S McGrath 0-3 each; C Russell, J Malone, D Tubridy 0-1 each.
Subs for Waterford: W Hutchinson for Ahearne (2); D Allen for Prendergast (32); M Curry for W Hutchinson (H-T); C O’Keeffe for Phelan (45); D Grey for JJ Hutchinson (67).
Subs for Clare : J Malone for B Hartnett (24); R Donnelly for Coughlan (56); E Cleary for Tubridy (57); L Healy for McMahon (63); P McMahon for Collins (65); S McNelis for Hickey (66).
Waterford: S Enright; Maurice O’Gorman, O Keevers, T O’Gorman; D Crowley, S Briggs, C Phelan; S Ahearne, T Prendergast; T Ó hUallacháin, Michael O’Gorman, B Wall; L Ó Lonáin, P Whyte, JJ Hutchinson.
Clare: J Hayes; D Ryan, K Hartnett, M McMahon; C Russell, G Kelly, S Collins; G Brennan, B Harnett; S Hickey, E Coughlan, S McGrath; M O’Leary, S Brennan, D Tubridy.
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)