Sure, it was only a league final. Sure, it’s too early to make too many comparisons with 2013 and Munster remains the gauntlet that has caught Clare out so often. Sure, the defining battle against Waterford is likely to be in four weeks’ time. But this daylight robbery – and we make no reference to the late refereeing decisions in using that phrase – was symptomatic of a team who don’t know what it is to lose.
Clare were struggling for so much of this game they led for just three minutes. They found themselves six points down until Tony Kelly’s goal jumpstarted their revival in the 48th minute. But when the game reached boiling point it was they who stepped out of the pot last, taking the last four scores.
Moving onto June 5, who will be more motivated? Or, should that be, who will be the most indignant? It should be Waterford who will damn Diarmuid Kirwan for all eternity after taking an unfavourable look on Jamie Barron when Cian Dillon looked to have impeded him.
Sure, a converted free would have likely been the insurance point but they should be frustrated as much with themselves that they did get their just rewards on the scoreboard and had to rely on such a call when they were ahead by more than one point for so long and superior in general play.
Maybe Clare will deem the shine of their first Division 1 title in 38 years has lost some of its lustre because of the suggestions they didn’t merit this win. The free award to Kelly seconds after Dillon’s foul on Barron was on the softer side but then nothing was dubious about his 80 metre-plus free nor his winner from the following puck-out, which had been initially won by the promising David Fitzgerald and laid off to Kelly by Jack Browne.
The inspiration may be with Waterford but the air of invincibility about Clare will grow further after yesterday when they brought their unbeaten run for the season to 13 games comprising 12 wins. Waterford have cracked plenty of nuts these last 17 months but Clare remain intact.
It wasn’t without effort, mind. After just 17 seconds, Patrick Kelly was picking the sliotar from his net after Patrick Curran had rounded Pat O’Connor to shoot home. Clare, with Conor McGrath once more showing the way, recovered to such an extent they led 0-6 to 1-2 after 16 minutes but O’Connor then fired an errant pass in the direction of Curran who carried before offloading over the cover to an unmarked Jake Dillon and the net was bellowing for a second time.
For a team who were so miserly conceding goals this spring, it had the potential to shock them.
“The two goals… I’ll tell you exactly how they happened,” opened Davy Fitzgerald. “The first one happened because we hadn’t our extra man back. It happened right at the throw in. So we made a drastic mistake. Our extra man wasn’t in place the time he should have been in place. Because I don’t believe the first goal would have happened.
“The second one, Pat O’Connor was trying to clear the ball and it fell short,” he offered with a wry smile. “He was unlucky. But they’re two things we can’t give up. All this year we’ve prided ourselves on how tight we are at the back. But Pat O’Connor was in a small bit of trouble early but I have to admire him. Because when you’re in that full-back position and things go wrong, you’re the last line of defence. And when that happens, your head can play tricks with you.
“I thought Pat O’Connor showed tremendous composure to come back and deal with that. He gave short balls after that we encouraged him to do that. It wasn’t easy after giving away those two goals to come back again.”
O’Connor was a different player in the second-half as was Darach Honan who struggled on occasions in the opening period. But before that Waterford were still ruling the roost. Barron was putting in another hefty shift in midfield while Curran’s prodigious skills extended beyond his early goal and goal assist. Austin Gleeson, subdued in the drawn game, was much improved here too and looked a match-winner at time. Yet Waterford, having had the wind, led by just three at the break, 2-9 to 0-12.
Four straight points between the 43rd and 48th minutes gave them a fully deserved six-point cushion only for them to be stung by Kelly’s goal, a result of a long Patrick Kelly puck-out being retrieved by McGrath who put Kelly in space. Derek McGrath felt his team’s composure was upset by the refereeing decisions, adding “I don’t think Clare timed their run, but if you could time your run that’s the best possible time to have it. They had huge momentum, they came at that time and there’s very little you can do to fix it.”
Four weeks, though, is plenty to mend and repair. But then there’s not all that much Waterford need to put right. The same goes for the winners too.
C. McGrath (0-8, 5 frees); T. Kelly (1-6, 0-1 free); D. Honan, C. Ryan (1 free) (0-2 each); P. Collins, A. Cunningham, P. O’Connor, D. Fitzgerald, D. Reidy (0-1 each).
P. Curran (1-9, 0-7 frees); J Dillon (1-0); A. Gleeson (0-3); J. Barron, S. Bennett (0-2 each); K. Moran, D. Fives, B. O’Halloran (0-1 each)
P. Kelly; C. Cleary, C. Dillon, D. Fitzgerald; J. Browne, P. O’Connor, B. Bugler; D. Reidy, C. Galvin; T. Kelly, C. McGrath, P. Collins; D. Honan, A. Cunningham, S. O’Donnell.
C. Ryan for C. Galvin (44); C. O’Connell for P. Collins (55); A. Shanagher for S. O’Donnell (65).
S. O’Keeffe; B. Coughlan, N. Connors, S. Fives; D. Fives, K. Moran, Philip Mahony; J. Barron, T. de Burca; M. Walsh, A. Gleeson, S. Bennett; J. Dillon, P. Curran, T. Devine.
C. Dunford for T. Devine (46); B. O’Halloran for J. Dillon (57); M. Shanahan for A. Gleeson (blood, 64-66); M. Shanahan for S. Bennett (68); T. Ryan for M. Walsh (70+1).
D. Kirwan (Cork)