Clare 1-18 Waterford 2-17
Waterford are through to a Munster GAA Hurling Championship final for the fourth year in a row after a thrilling two-point win over Clare at Semple Stadium, Thurles on Sunday. But the Déise were made to live on their nerves in the closing stages, as Clare spurned several late chances to win the game in a breathless finale. Debutant Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe will rightly get all the plaudits having pulled off a super save to deny Conor McGrath in the 70th minute and then to block a 20-metre free from his opposite number, Clare ‘keeper Pa Kelly, who had the chance to win the game for Davy Fitzgerald’s side with the last puck of the game.
It wasn’t to be for Fitzgerald against his former charges. Two missed dead balls, both hit wide by the normally reliable Nicky O’Connell, as well as another wasted late goal chance from sub Darach Honan, who spilled possession at just the wrong time, contributed to their downfall. However, Waterford probably deserved the win, as they shaded a full-blooded contest before the harum scarum finish, with Eoin Kelly and Shane Walsh netting first half goals to give them a commanding lead. Clare refused to die, though, and they hit five points in a row at one stage in the third quarter, goalkeeper Kelly doing a wonderful impression of his manager to land a long-range free, to give the Banner County the lead. Waterford’s experience came to the fore in the final quarter, as Michael Walsh played his cards cleverly to add some vitality from the bench to aid the Désie’s experienced hands, including the excellent Michael Walsh, Stephen Molumphy, Seamus Prendergast and John Mullane.
Clare made all the running in the opening exchanges and were 0-4 to 0-1 ahead inside 10 minutes. McGrath opened the scoring, before Jonathan Clancy added a point and O’Connell landed two well-struck frees. Waterford’s only response in that period was a Philip Mahony point in the third minute, but after a shaky start the Déise soon imposed themselves on the game, with Michael Walsh, in particular, making his presence felt at centre back. Mullane started a brilliant spell with a fine score from play in the 10th minute. Remarkably, Waterford hit 2-4 over the next nine minutes to take complete control of the game. Their first goal came when Clare full back Cian Dillon was penalised for fouling Eoin Kelly, and the former GAA All Star forward dusted himself down and drilled a penalty to the roof of the Clare net on 12 minutes. Two successive scores from Maurice Shanahan nudged Waterford even further ahead, before they grabbed a second goal, when Shane Walsh beat Clare goalkeeper Kelly to a breaking ball and poked the sliothar into an empty net.
Fitzgerald’s side were six points in arrears, 2-5 to 0-5, and needed an instant response. Conor McGrath grabbed a relieving point, before John Conlon gave them a shot in the arm when he pounced on an Aidan Kearney mistake and buried a shot past Waterford goalkeeper O’Keeffe. Shanahan hit back with his third score for the Déise, before debutant Gavin O’Brien forced a fine save from Clare goalkeeper Kelly. O’Brien, one of four Waterford debutants, should have passed to Eoin Kelly who was in a much better position, but he made amends when he snaffled his first score moments later. Still four points down going into first half added time, Clare goalscorer Conlon, brimming with confidence, scored two points in a row to bring the Banner County right back into the game at half-time, 2-8 to 1-9. It was Waterford who made the better start to the second half and two quick scores, from Mullane and Shanahan, stretched their lead to three points.
However, in keeping with the tone of the game in which each side enjoyed period of dominance, Clare hit a rich seam of form and struck five points without reply, goalkeeper Kelly rounding off that purple patch with a beautifully hit long-range attempt that no doubt would have pleased his manager. Waterford’s response? They hit five points of their own in a row and were back in the lead by the 57th minute, when Richie Foley matched Kelly with a massive free.
McGrath notched his fourth point from play and Colin Ryan tapped over a free to leave just one point in it with five minutes left. O’Connell then missed a great chance to level matters from a free, before Waterford sub Martin O’Neill hit what proved to be the final point of the game. It was then that O’Keeffe made what will surely prove one of the saves of the season, diving spectacularly to save McGrath’s angled shot. O’Connell and Honan then fluffed their lines and it was left to goalkeeper Kelly to save the day, but it just wasn’t to be for Clare.
Waterford Scorers: P Mahony 0-1, J Mullane 0-3, S Walsh 1-1, E Kelly 1-0 (1-0 pen), M Shanahan 0-7 (0-5f), G O’Brien 0-1, S Prendergast 0-1, S Molumphy 0-1, R Foley 0-1 (0-1f), M O’Neill 0-1.
Clare Scorers: C McGrath 0-4, N O’Connell 0-5 (0-4f), J Clancy 0-3, C Ryan 0-3 (0-3f), J Conlon 1-2, P Kelly 0-1 (0-1f)
Waterford: S O’Keeffe; A Kearney, L Lawlor, S Daniels; R Foley, M Walsh, P Mahony; K Moran, S Molumphy; M Shanahan, S Prendergast, E Kelly; J Mullane, S Walsh, G O’Brien.
Clare: P Kelly; D O’Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney; B Bugler, J McInerney, P O’Connor; N O’Connell, P Donnellan; E Barrett, P Collins, J Clancy; C Ryan, J Conlon, C McGrath.
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)
Attendance: 12, 296