By Michael O Connor.
Oh, the early season challenge games, the Waterford crystal form and the optimism that surround’s same had Clare supporters talking of a huge win for Clare in this game and pronouncements by some close to the camp had this belief franked as official. However reality bites and Clare are now facing a relegation dogfight requiring a win against Kilkenny and Tipperary to stave off a quick return to division two next season.
Clare were floundering at the end of the first 15 minutes of action and indeed all the resulting hype that followed the early season form looked valueless as Waterford were controlling matters on the scoreboard and on the field of play. Clare allowed Brian O Halloran the freedom of cusack park and the man whom David Fitzgerald presented with a debut as a raw 19 year old three years ago repaid his former mentor with a masterclass of scores and running to skewer the Clare manager’s hopes for a opening win. The concession of two soft goals straight down the centre and the unmarked running of forwards suggested that if Clare had played any of the top four the gap could have been 8 points plus at the break. Brian O Halloran and Padraic Mahony hit minors as did Colin Ryan before Seamus Prendergast ground pulled a loose ball to the net after confusion in the Clare rearguard. At times in this game it appeared it was Waterford were the home side such was the ease they moved the ball around. Brian O Halloran added a third Waterford score before Gavin O Brien flicked the ball on into open space in front of open Clare goal as Jake Dillon doubled the ball to the net past Patrick Kelly. Clare were now seven points down after 18 minutes and needed a rapid response on the scoreboard. Colin Ryan hit a brace in three minutes and when John Conlon set Tony Kelly free he goaled from 14 yards to cut the Waterford lead to two points. The Waterford half forward line as a unit won their battle with the Clare half back line scoring the vast majority, (2-10) of the decies scores. From this juncture to the end of the game there was never more than two points in the game. Padraic Mahony, Fergal Lynch, Seamus Prendergast, Seadna Morey and Tony Kelly were scorers in the last ten minutes of the first half to leave Waterford content to lead (2-5) to (1-7). Had this been offered to them before the game an acceptance would have granted with certainty.
Three players were introduced for the second half with Clare replacing Pat O Connor and Enda Barrett as Nicky O Connell and Enda Barrett made way with Darragh Fives on for Dean Twomey. Four scores were created in the opening four minutes of the new half as Jake Dillon, Brian o Halloran and two good efforts from Colin Ryan who was Clare’s best performer for most of the game. Clare drew level and went ahead courtesy of Seadna Morey and Shane O Donnell with his first score in senior inter county hurling. Brian O Halloran levelled matters before Colin Ryan, Darragh Fives and Tony Kelly were on target in a three minute spell as Clare were ahead (1-13) to (2-9) with 46 minutes played.
Clare were beginning to be wasteful with scoring chances much like what Waterford experienced in the first half with John Conlon suffering from inaccuracy. Brian O Sullivan levelled matters for a short time before Colin Ryan and Padraic Mahony swopped scores as a draw looked a likely final result. A crucial play in the game saw Stephen Daniels hook Shane O Donnell in front of the decies goal. With neither side capable of stretching into a lead each score was like a winning score in a game that failed to rise to the levels expected. Colin Ryan sent Clare ahead in the 59th minute before a brace of Waterford points from new Waterford freetaker Jake Dillon. Clare could not shake off the visitors and with the opening win so vital to the wellbeing for the season and perhaps deciding next season’s status nerves were prominent. Colm Galvin levelled the game for the 8th time as Aaron Cunningham was forced off the field of play 10minutes after being introduced with a nasty shoulder injury that had the 20 year in obvious discomfort. Jake Dillon made no mistake seconds after Galvin’s successful effort as the Clare crowd were silenced. Tony Kelly appeared to have saved the day for Clare and at least earned a valuable point with another equaliser as the game entered the final moments of normal time. Three minutes of hard action in which referee John Sexton could have given either side at least three frees but decided to let the action flow until Brendan Bugler neck tackled a Waterford player giving the referee no choice but to award the game winning free to Dillon who obliged to set up great celebrations amongst the tiny Waterford support at the end. Clare surrendered possession on at least three occasions in the dying moments with intricate passing that allowed Waterford good fortune more than their industry to regain the ball and the rest as they say is history.
Best for Waterford included Stephen Daniels, Noel Connors, Michael Walsh, Shane O Sullivan, Brian O Halloran who was their best player, Seamus Prendergast, Jake Dillon, Darragh Fives and Padraic Mahony. Clare had solid displays from Colin Ryan, David McInerney in the second half, Shane O Donnell who threatened but was not fooling the referee going to ground so often. Tony Kelly got a number of good scores but he alongwith John Conlon and Fergal Lynch hit wides that stymied the Clare challenge when they were in the ascendancy.
CLARE: Patrick Kelly, Domhnall O Donovan, James McInerney, David McInerney, Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan, Patrick O Connor, Seadna Morey (0-2), Colin Ryan (0-9), Fergal Lynch (0-1), Tony Kelly (1-3), Enda Barrett, Padraig Collins, Shane O Donnell (0-1), John Conlon. Subs: Nicky O Connell for O Connor, Colm Galvin (0-1) for Barrett, Aaron Cunningham for Collins, Sean Collins for Fergal Lynch, Conor Ryan for Jonathan Clancy
WATERFORD: Stephen O Keeffe, Stephen Daniels, Shane Fives, Noel Connors, Jamie Nagle, Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran, Shane O Sullivan, Dean Twomey, Brian O Halloran (0-4), Seamus Prendergast (1-1), Jake Dillon (1-5), Gavin O Brien, Padraic O Mahony (0-3), Brian O Sullivan (0-1). Subs: Darragh Fives (0-1) for Dean Twomey, Jamie Barron for G O Brien, Ray Barry for Mahony,
Referee: John Sexton (Limerick).
The new stringent sideline rules has it merits but in Cusack park today it was as interesting on the sideline for the first twenty minutes as on the field as mentors and officials tested each other on the application on same. It may be relaxed for championship one may suggest as they will definitely be impringed so often to render the rule laughable.