By Michael O Connor
The intense heat and faster ground that welcomed both teams to Thurles was light years away from the conditions prevalent when they met in the two league finals less than a month ago. Clare were delighted to win the league final but with respect to the Decies June 5th was the first time they could say they were putting on the field their best or close to same 15 players. The return of Maurice Shanahan and Mahony were warning signs that Clare could not ignore. From a Clare perspective David McInerney, Aaron Cunningham and John Conlon were deemed long term injury victims and it simply amazing to see that they could play any part on Sunday. Great to see such unnaturally fast recoveries but will it have long term consequences?
Waterford had a sensational start to proceedings when Austin Gleeson was accurate after 20 seconds and the ball was in the Clare net with less than two minutes played. A high ball sent in from the side was missed by all and Maurice Shanahan had the unexpected easy finish to the Clare net. David Reidy was denied a Clare goal just before this action when his well hit shot was saved brilliantly by Stephen O Keeffe at the expense of a 65 that was sent wide by Conor McGrath.
This body blow to Clare and concession of scores was curtailed by Clare when they settled and the game began to see saw from end to end. Conor McGrath got the Bannermen off the mark as Conor Cleary added a second after six minutes. Seven minutes elapsed before the next score that once again fell the way of Davy Fitzgerald's side as a booming effort from Colm Galvin. Waterford team captain Kevin Moran who had been underperforming in the league final meetings hit over a well taken effort after 14 minutes before Padraic Collins levelled matters within a minute. Austin Gleeson and Tony Kelly in particular scored wonderful efforts in the 20th and 22nd minutes respectively. Maurice Shanahan, Padraic Collins, Shane Bennett were amongst those who scored in the final ten minutes as neither side could stamp their authority on proceedings and thankfully from Clare's perspective they contained Waterford despite not making greater inroads on the scoresheet. Half time Waterford (1-9) Clare (0-8)
The first action of the new half saw Tony Kelly drive a 65 wide from out near the sideline as Clare no had used three different freetakers. It was now apparent that Clare needed Colin Ryan on the field to at least fix this issue as it was now gone beyond redemption. Just as Clare urgently required a solid scoring start to the second half it was Waterford who effectively closed out the game with three points in the opening four minutes from Pauric Mahony and Austin Gleeson who was now to all intents scoring with each touch to leave Waterford (1-12) to (0-8) clear.
Conor McGrath from a 40th minute free and Philip Mahony exchanged points as Brendan Bugler took matters into his own hands with a booming effort from inside his own half. Mahony (2), Colin Ruan (65) and David Fitzgerald from play all by the 48th minute still saw Clare in arrears by six points.
A huge cheer greeted the arrival onto the field of Davy McInerney who was greeted with hard shoulders by Waterford defenders. McInerney's His first touch saw the Tulla man solo upfield and was just wide. However, he gave up the ball twice that led to two Waterford scores including Austin Gleeson's score that put five between the sides once more at a crucial time. That score stifled the Clare fightback that had gained momentum and reduced the deficit to four points as David Reidy and Cathal O Connell had been on target. Kevin Moran increased the lead to the previous six points in the 57th minute. Colin Ryan and Moran once more after 62 minutes ensured this gap remained in place.
It must be accepted that Clare whilst playing within themselves did keep taking the battle to Waterford who now simply had to contain and attack from deep to win the game as Clare required goals to ensure a competitive last five minutes. Austin Gleeson, Cathal O Connell, Jake Dillon, Maurice Shanahan with one outlandish score rounded off the second half scoring. The early concession of a goal by Clare, the save by O Keeffe from Reidy, the off colour nature off Clare freetaking and simply being out hurled for 40 minutes sent Clare on the qualifier route and a possible clash with Laois, Wexford, Westmeath or Cork.
Waterford dominated and controlled the game with strong performances from Stephen O Keeffe, Austin Gleeson, Kevin Moran Pauric Mahony, Maurice Shanahan, Shane Fives and Tadgh DeBurca. Once again Cian Dillon played his role to a high standard even though a little more under pressure than during the league. Others who tried hard but seemed to fade in the second half included Conor Cleary, David Reidy, Brendan Bugler, Colm Galvin early on, Padraic Collins, Tony Kelly as Cathal O Connell looked busy when introduced.
CLARE: P Kelly; C Dillon, P O'Connor, C Cleary (0-1); O O'Brien, B Bugler (0-1), D Fitzgerald (0-1); D Reidy (0-1), C Galvin (0-1), P Collins (0-2), T Kelly (0-1), C McGrath (0-3, 2f); D Honan, S O'Donnell, J Conlon (0-1), Subs: C Ryan (0-2, 65) for Honan 43m; C O'Connell (0-3, 2f) for McGrath 51m; S Golden for Fitzgerald 53m, A Shanagher for Collins 58m; A Cunningham for Galvin 66m;
WATERFORD: S O'Keeffe; N Connors, B Coughlan, S Fives; D Fives (0-1), T De Burca, Philip Mahony (0-1); J Barron, K Moran (0-3); Pauric Mahony (0-6, 5f ), S Bennett (0-1), M Walsh; M Shanahan (1-2), A Gleeson (0-6, I sideline, P Curran. Subs: T Devine for Benett 54m; J Dillon (0-1) for Curran 57m; B O'Halloran for Pauric Mahony, C Dunford for Shanahan 70m; Stephen Bennett for Walsh 74m.
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).