Kieran Shannon: Clare are now a reflection of their manager 

The workrate and doggedness that characterised much of his own play wasn’t just evident in the display of the Clare defence. It was also exhibited by his forwards
Kieran Shannon: Clare are now a reflection of their manager 

22 May 2022; Clare's Peter Duggan supported by Robin Mounsey, is tackled by Ian Kenny and Conor Gleeson, 3, during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 5 match between Clare and Waterford at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

After entering Cusack Park at the same time as the Waterford team to take up our spot on the townside west terrace, we couldn’t help but both notice that playing over the PA was the most modern playlist we’ve ever known for the venue – the Croke Park template is now obviously being rolled out around the country – and assess how appropriate it was given the identity of the visitors.

Shortly upon the conclusion of the junior camogie curtain-raiser, Glory Days got a blast. At the time we thought it was fitting given the audience could include that huge Springsteen head and Déise wizard, Paul Flynn, but it turned out to be eerily prescient as to the extent of how fleeting Liam Cahill’s team’s world-beating form this year really was; made us and Derek McGrath feel like a fool, boy. 

Don’t Stop Believin’, a Waterford anthem from the ’07-08 era, also got an airing, only for us to remember that it was also playing on the jukebox diner when the bell tolled for Tony Soprano.

Eye of the Tiger? It turned out that it was the home team who brought that mindset, even though they were already through to a Munster final and the All Ireland series. Ditto Brewing Up A Storm, as Brian Lohan’s men followed the lead of their fellow countymen, the Stunning and Walls from Ennistymon. 

But as for the Horslips track playing just as the warm-ups were finishing up? That one was for Waterford alright. Trouble, trouble was chasing them. Trouble with a capital T.

It was encapsulated in the duel that played out right in front of us as we watched from behind the Clare goals.

Jamie Barron curiously lined out far away from his usual domain of midfield, though obviously in hindsight because he was restricted by some form of injury.

Assigned to mark him or whoever ran in at corner forward was a Cian Nolan from Smith O’Brien’s. He didn’t know for Clare this was a dead rubber; as the Rocky stable that brought us the Eye of the Tiger would say, he thought it was a damn fight. It was his first-ever championship game for Clare; in fact it was the first time in 44 years that someone from his club had played championship for Clare. 

He and not Waterford were the hunter in this equation and that Trouble with a capital T shadowed Barron relentlessly. And infuriatingly.

For the 10 minutes they spent in each other’s company – a brief period you would think, but which must have felt like an eternity to Barron – the ball was a tertiary consideration for Nolan. He only had eyes for Barron – and arms, continuously putting them around the two-time All Star without actually holding him. 

His personal space constantly invaded, Barren repeatedly motioned to the umpires for an intervention in vain. Everything for Waterford was in vain.

When Barron did shuffle off and was shortly followed in the dugout by Tadhg de Burca – their early departures frighteningly reminiscent of the latter’s and Noel Connor’s first-half exits in Ennis four years ago which derailed that season – there was no let-up from Nolan or Clare. 

Indeed Barron’s replacement, Stephen Bennett, was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card after an entanglement with Nolan that left the latter with some blood on his shirt as well as a yellow card of his own; upon consultation and indeed reflection, the umpires must have adjudged that some form of retaliation was inevitable and even justified given Nolan’s level of attention bordering on aggravation.

Clare, and Nolan, who would go on to play his share of ball, would continue to frustrate and stymie Waterford in every way possible. And it wasn’t just through sticky defending and in-your-face aggression that had echoes of the 1998 Munster final replay. It was primarily through stylish stickwork from some obvious and not-so-obvious sources.

David Fitzgerald, who would have played most of his hurling for Clare in the halfback line, finished with 2-3 from midfield.

The half-forward line of Cathal Malone, David Reidy and Shane O’Donnell combined for 1-10. O’Donnell in particular was a delight here, in keeping with his form of this early summer. In many ways his evolution is not unalike that of Jason Sherlock, another teenage starlet and All Ireland matchwinner initially known for his goalscoring prowess and playmaking ability before then in the second half of his career developing into a fine point-taker, often from range. 

What makes O’Donnell’s latest incarnation all the more joyful is just how hazardous he found even playing the sport last year after sustaining a head injury. There was a real danger that he’d be lost to the game and the game would be lost to him. Now he seems to be in synch and in love with it as he has at any point in his career.

In maintaining a couple of other numerous runs and reputations – Ennis being a fortress, their unbeaten record this summer – Clare also shattered another notion: that they’re a one-man team. Tony Kelly being an NBA talent, you could say as they do in that league that he was rested on the grounds of load management. 

In that sense Brian Lohan followed the advice of Micheál Donoghue offered last week which seemed in contrast to that of his 2017 All Ireland winning talisman Joe Canning who in his newspaper column vehemently recommended that Clare should not hold anything back against Waterford. As it turned out it wasn’t a case of either-or. Clare got the best of both worlds. They left off Kelly, and John Conlon and others –yet they did not let off Waterford.

It spoke volumes to their competitive integrity, reflecting the values and personality of their manager. Even more than proving that Clare are not a one-man team or Tony Kelly’s team, yesterday emphatically proved that this is very much Brian Lohan’s team.

The workrate and doggedness that characterised much of his own play wasn’t just evident in the display of the Clare defence where he used to play himself. It was also exhibited by his forwards, best epitomised when in the 40th minute, David Reidy, after initially seeming to be flattened by a Waterford back coming out with the ball, got back up and turned over that defender before offloading to Fitzgerald for his second goal and Clare’s third.

But if the performance also had echoes of Lohan the player, it also clearly indicated how fine a coach he and the people he’s surrounded with himself are: polish as well as passion is informing this Clare campaign. Some of the points scored by subs Shane Meehan and Robin Mounsey featured stickwork you’d normally associate with subs from other counties. 

Almost every player on this Clare panel seems to have got – and be getting even – better. And as a collective that’s four consecutive championship games in which they’ve delivered serious performances. When have they managed that level of consistent excellence before? As far as we can figure, probably 2013, and definitely 1997. You know what happened those years. Not that history will repeat itself – but after this you can’t say it won’t either.

Yet as good as Clare were yesterday, it hardly explains how lame and flat Waterford were. It’s hard to think of the last time a league-winning team, certainly one that wasn’t Galway, flamed out so badly in championship. This looked more like the team Liam Cahill inherited rather than built. But now he has to rebuild it or at least reassess his construction methods.

This is the third time his side have been flat this summer – and the third time in 12 months they’ve been flat against Clare. They lost tamely in Thurles last year. They lost abysmally yesterday. They also lost here by a point in Ennis back in January. 

After a one-point Munster league defeat Cahill said, “It’s very frustrating when you’re working continuously on stuff in training and the same little mistakes keeping appearing. You just wonder are these players able to go up in class when the time comes.”

Yesterday was when that time came and the answer was a resounding now. Which has to leave Cahill asking questions of himself and his ways.

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