Waterford wizards weave tapestry of grit and guile

Waterford 1-21 Clare 0-17: Maybe now we can talk about Waterford as contenders and not as the black sheep of hurling. Maybe now the most blatant fact about them can be accepted – that they are a team that can score and quite a lot too.

Yesterday was the third time in five championship games they have registered more than 24 points, the sixth time this year they have added 20 points to their name. Pariahs? More like powers.

Here, the questions about their bottle following last month’s league meetings were put to bed and tucked up tightly.

Again, they found the net early, this time the distracting influence of Austin Gleeson allowing Maurice Shanahan a ground-stroke past a couple of Clare defenders. Again, Clare recovered. Again, Waterford led at half-time. Again, they sprinted into a seemingly convincing lead but that’s where the parallels with their most recent encounter end.

Waterford would not be denied again, their defiance so obvious in the opening and closing 10 minutes of the second half where they outscored Clare 0-8 to 0-4.

The signs that they had learned aplenty from the May jousts in Thurles were evident in the first half, which they finished 1-9 to 0-8 to the good. In that time, they feasted on Clare’s puck-out strategy and the league champions were also the poorer in winning breaking ball, the sight of a white jersey emerging from a congregation of bodies a frequent occurrence. And they weren’t reliant on frees either - their first of the half coming as late as the 26th minute.

So it’s yet another year when Clare don’t tick the Munster box. That shouldn’t bother them all too much. Looking at the crowd that failed to hit the 20,000 mark, the status of the provincial championship mightn’t be as strong as the council would like it to be.

This, after all, was a game built up as the one to bring the championship to life.

What will upset the Banner is that they have lost their sense of indomitability having seen Waterford end their unbeaten run of 13 games this year. Waterford looked to have them twigged in so many areas particularly in stifling Tony Kelly who had a remarkably quiet afternoon. The tag team of Philip Mahony and Darragh Fives can pat themselves on the backs for a job well done on that count.

Kelly will come again as, you expect, will Clare but until they meet Waterford again this itch will want to be scratched. At the same time, it might be the type of irritant that can propel them for the rest of the summer.

For sure, Kelly will hardly be as quiet nor Conor McGrath, who misfired on six occasions, as erratic in finding his range when they next tog out on July 2.

“You need to get it between the posts,” shrugged Davy Fitzgerald. “We had some bad wides from players who’d normally score, but they’ve been phenomenal. We were 13 games unbeaten and I’m not going to criticise them.”

Their wide count of 15 will be quoted extensively, particularly the 11 they accumulated in the first half, but the four they struck in the second half was indicative of the possession stakes Waterford were dominating.

Waterford themselves were off the boil for a couple of periods too, amassing one less than Clare’s overall total.

But when Waterford were good, they were damn good. In the opening 10 minutes of the second half, they went ahead by seven points on four occasions. Four of the points came from Pauric Mahony, three from placed balls, as Clare conceded needless frees.

How they put distance between themselves and Clare was almost reminiscent of how Kilkenny stun their prey but Derek McGrath wasn’t accepting that compliment. “I don’t know if it’s shades of Kilkenny now. I’m not sure we’re at their level of kick-on yet. But we’re certainly targeting that time. even in the dressing room at half-time, we’re trying to recreate the start of the game so that psychologically, it feels like the start when they go out for the second half. We’re very happy with that.”

Waterford had enjoyed similar leads in both Division 1 final games and there was a hint history was about to repeat itself when Clare scored three points in as many minutes without reply. But then Gleeson stepped over to convert a sideline cut in the 56th minute and captain Kevin Moran then sent over a point either side of a Colin Ryan effort.

Clare searched in vain for a goal and had to make do with a Cathal O’Connell free as Waterford went out looking like winners, Gleeson sending over a magnificent score. Shanahan directed one over from close to the sideline and substitute Jake Dillon rounded it all off with another sweet strike in injury-time. No sign of inferiority, as Ger Loughnane attached to them prior to the game. No need to win a sideline battle, as claimed by John Mullane. Just no nonsense and no mercy.

Scorers for Waterford:

Pauric Mahony (5 frees), A. Gleeson (1 sideline) (0-6 each); M. Shanahan (1-2); K. Moran (0-3); D. Fives, Shane Bennett, Philip Mahony, J. Dillon (0-1 each).

Scorers for Clare:

C. McGrath, C. O’Connell (0-3, 2 frees each); P. Collins, C. Ryan (1 65’) (0-2 each); C. Cleary, C. Galvin, T. Kelly, J. Conlon, B. Bugler, D. Fitzgerald, D. Reidy (0-1 each).

WATERFORD:

S. O’Keeffe; B. Coughlan, N. Connors, S. Fives; D. Fives, T. de Burca, Philip Mahony; J. Barron, K. Moran (c); M. Walsh, Pauric Mahony, Shane Bennett; A. Gleeson, M. Shanahan, P. Curran.

Subs:

T. Devine for S. Bennett (54); J. Dillon for P. Curran (57); B O’Halloran for Pauric Mahony (63); C. Dunford for M. Shanahan (70); Stephen Bennett for M. Walsh (70+5).

CLARE:

P. Kelly; C Dillon (jc), P. O’Connor, C. Cleary; O. O’Brien, D. Reidy, B. Bugler; D. Fitzgerald, C. Galvin; P. Collins, T. Kelly (jc), C. McGrath; D. Honan, J. Conlon, S. O’Donnell.

Subs:

J. Browne for C. Cleary (blood, 25-27); C. Ryan for D. Honan (43); C. O’Connell for C. McGrath (50);D. McInerney for D. Fitzgerald (54); A. Shanagher for P. Collins (58); A. Cunningham for C. Galvin (67).

Referee:

J. Owens (Wexford)


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