IT HAS been a year filled with shattering lows for Clare hurling, but last night in Fraher Field Dungarvan their fortunes enjoyed a soaring high.
After a compelling Bord Gáis Energy Munster U21HC final, Clare swept to a famous five-point success as they atoned in style for the harrowing nature of their failure at this stage 12 months ago.
The U21 hurling grade has provided a series of traumatic tales for Clare but this victory ensured their name will finally be inscribed on the Munster roll of honour. The effects of that achievement could be accurately gauged by the raucous post-match celebrations when captain Ciaran O’Doherty hoisted the trophy into the air from the podium.
It was a match that was feverishly anticipated and 6,635 souls filed into the ground. They were served up with 60 minutes of cracking fare as the sides battled for dominance before Clare made the critical push for the line in the closing stages.
The strike that sealed their win was a glorious one. The prospects of a replay were starting to circulate in the 58th minute as Clare lead 1-16 to 2-12 with Waterford pushing hard for a levelling score. Clare wing-back Domhnall O’Donovan executed a relieving clearance from the defence towards the right wing for the tall figure of Darach Honan to chase. The simple option seemed to be to attempt a point, yet Honan went for broke and slalomed his way past the despairing Waterford defence before unleashing a rocket to the net.
That stunning goal shoved Clare four points ahead and when Cormac O’Donovan clipped over a point soon after, a historic win was assured. Waterford rained high balls down on the Clare goalmouth late on but a defence – in which Eamon Glynn and Ciaran O’Doherty were in supreme form throughout – were never going to submit the scores Waterford needed.
Yet Clare endured plenty of testing moments in this game. In the opening stages they looked nervous and struggled to get to the pace of the match, as Waterford, backed by their home following, hurled with confidence. Maurice Shanahan began imposingly as he fired over two quick points, while Phillip Mahony and Stephen Daniels gave them a firm foothold in defence. Thomas Ryan was in electric form close to goal and he smashed a splendid strike to the net in the 13th minute, after a perceptive long ball by midfielder Karl Duggan. That left Waterford 1-3 to 0-3 ahead and in fine fettle.
But Clare settled admirably. Accurate free-taking helped their bid for recovery, Nicky O’Connell diligently taking care of the long-range duties and Colin Ryan, who was tenaciously marshalled by senior defender Noel Connors, providing expert marksmanship closer to goal. In addition, the Clare management astutely switched Ciaran O’Doherty across to police Thomas Ryan and he nullified that threat successfully for the rest of the game.
Clare began to cope better with the congested nature of the middle third play and the ferocious pressure that Waterford were placing on them. By the 25th minute it was a level game 1-4 to 0-7, and then they stitched together a handsome run of scores before the break with Darach Honan prospering from a move to full-forward. Clare entered the interval with enhanced prospects as they led 0-11 to 1-4, and after the break they powered on again.
Caimin Morey clipped over an early point and then Morey challenged around the Waterford square to break possession for Honan, and the Clonlara youngster deftly scooped his shot to the net. 1-12 to 1-5 was indicative of the supremacy that Clare held and Waterford’s hopes looked seriously dented.
BUT the Déise camp never hoisted the white flag. David O’Sullivan had a storming second half in defence, Shanahan’s long-range free taking was marvellous and Shane Casey burst into the match from open play. By the 44th minute they had pared Clare’s lead to 1-14 to 1-10, before Casey skilfully batted a shot to the net after a flowing team move. A point soon after by substitute John Gorman tied the match and the impetus lay with Waterford.
It was then Clare firmly asserted their rights to success. They never panicked and refused to let Waterford creep into the ascendancy on the scoreboard. Cormac O’Donovan landed a mighty score from play and Ryan chipped in with a crucial free. Thomas Ryan arced over a sideline at the other end to leave Waterford trailing by one, but any thoughts of a replay were smashed by Honan’s sublime intervention.
Scorers: Clare: D Honan 2-2, C Ryan 0-7 (0-4f), N O’Connell (0-3f), C O’Donovan 0-3 each, C Morey, J Conlon 0-1 each.
Waterford: M Shanahan 0-6 (0-5f), S Casey 1-3, T Ryan 1-1 (0-1 sideline), A Power (0-1f), J Gorman 0-1 each.
CLARE: D Tuohy; J Gunning, E Glynn, C O’Doherty; D O’Donovan, C Duggan, E Barrett; N O’Connell, L Markham; J Conlon, S Collins, C O’Donovan; D Honan, C Morey, C Ryan. Subs: C Tierney for Collins (half-time), P O’Connor for Duggan (half-time), C McGrath for Markham (56).
WATERFORD: A Power; N Connors, S Fives, J Maher; P Mahony, S Daniels, D O’Sullivan; S Walsh, K Duggan; T Connors, P Murray, M Shanahan; B O’Sullivan, S Casey, T Ryan. Subs: J Gorman for Maher (inj) (34), S Power for B O’Sullivan (51), D Twomey for Connors (60).
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).
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