In their remarkable and continuing dominance at U21 level, last night’s victory must sit right up there with the best of them.
Not since July 26th of 2011 have Clare been bettered at this age group and it was widely expected that the curtain would fall on their 13-game unbeaten run here at Cusack Park, bringing to an end their four-in-row Munster and All-Ireland bid in the process.
Where in previous years the Clare U21 team was littered with senior talent, Donal Moloney’s starting XV featured but two members of Davy Fitzgerald’s panel from Saturday night – Shane O’Donnell and Bobby Duggan Standing in their path then was a Waterford team back-boned by four members of Derek McGrath’s senior team – Austin Gleeson, Tadhg de Búrca, Colin Dunford and Stephen Bennett.
It didn’t matter to the men clad in saffron and blue, not a single iota did they care who or what formed the roadblock in front of them.
Trailing by 0-11 to 0-10 at the break, their progression to the Munster decider was born out of a superb second-half showing.
The tone was set, as indeed it was all evening, by Bobby Duggan and Ian Galvin, the respective half-forwards firing over two points in quick succession to hand Clare the lead for the first time since the fourth minute.
A fine Aidan McGuane white flag stretched their advantage and although Austin Gleeson replied from the dead ball, three on the bounce from Duggan, Galvin and a massive effort from corner-back Eoin Quirke established daylight between the teams — the underdogs 0-16 to 1-14 in front.
Then arrived the Waterford response. Gleeson slotted a ’65, before the hard-working Shane Bennett teed up a Colin Dunford minor. On 43 minutes, the Déise returned in front. Dunford supplied the delivery and Patrick Curran showed real strength to hold off full-back David Fitzgerald and bat the sliotar to the net.
Having delivered a rousing third quarter showing, but now with nothing to show for it, was there another kick in Clare. The majority in the crowd of 6,639 expected not. Three on the bounce from Galvin and Duggan (0-2) was the emphatic Clare response – Duggan’s second effort arriving from the stand sideline with his back to goal.
Having regained stride, there was little Waterford could do in the closing stages to stem the Banner momentum. Patrick Curran (two frees), Cathal Curran and Shane Bennett (’65) all nailed the target, but no inroads could they make as Duggan and Galvin continued to find the posts with consummate ease.
“This win ranks way up there close to the top because the way that Waterford had been going all year and 10-days ago, 10 minutes into a second-half in a challenge against Limerick with most of our full team on the field, we were 13-points behind,” said victorious manager Donal Moloney. “In the final 20 minutes of that game against Limerick, they found a spark. There was a spark lit and they have kept it lighting ever since. Tonight they were just heroic. They had great belief.”
Waterford had returned to the dressing room for the interval break enjoying the narrowest of leads, 0-11 to 0-10. On the balance of play, however, their advantage probably should have been greater – Patrick Curran hitting the post from a routine free, while Gleeson, the provider of three excellent points, was also guilty of a poor wide or two.
Seven from the stick of Duggan kept Clare in touch and they pounced upon the restart.
B Duggan (0-13, 0-7 frees); I Galvin (0-6); E Quirke, A McGuane, S Gleeson, R Taylor (0-1 each).
P Curran (1-7, 0-5 frees); A Gleeson (0-5, 0-1 free, 0-1 ’65); Shane Bennett (0-2, 0-1 ’65); C Dunford, M Kearney, DJ Foran, C Curran (0-1 each)
K Hogan (Clooney Quin); E Quirke (Whitegate), D Fitzgerald (Inagh Kilnamona), S O’Brien (Clonlara); A McGuane (Kilmaley), C Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown Malbay), B O’Gorman (Wolfe Tones Na Sionna); D Conroy (St Joseph’s Doora Barefield), K Hehir (Inagh Kilnamona); B Duggan (Clarecastle), S Gleeson (Cratloe), I Galvin (Clonlara); S Ward (Clarecastle), S O’Donnell (Éire Óg), R Taylor (Clooney Quin).
S Taylor (Broadford) for Gleeson (38 mins), N Deasy (Ballyea) fir Hehir (58).
J Henley (Tallow); K Bennett (Ballysaggart), C Gleeson (Fourmilewater), S McNulty (De La Salle); M Harney (Bonmahon), T De Búrca (Clashmore Kinsalbeg), T Devine (Modeligo); C Dunford (Colligan), R Donnelly (Dungarvan); Stephen Bennett (Ballysaggart), A Gleeson (Mount Sion), Stephen Bennett (Ballysaggart); M Kearney (Ballyduff Upper), DJ Foran (Portlaw), P Curran (Dungarvan).
D Lyons (Dungarvan) for Harney (HT), Cathal Curran (Dungarvan) for Donnelly (40 mins), S Keating (Ardmore) for Foran (47).
J Murphy (Limerick).