CLARE 1-16 WATERFORD 3-10 MANAGERS lie awake at night second-guessing situations where the sides are level in a Guinness Munster hurling final, time running out, a free well over 100 yards from the opposing goal, breeze at their backs.
Yesterday in Semple Stadium, Waterford manager Gerald McCarthy acted decisively and instructed Paul Flynn to go for broke.
History may judge this decision harshly. In the closing stages of the league, Flynn frequently failed with these hugely ambitious drives; yesterday the range was right but it dropped just right of the Clare goal and the final whistle was blown before any further scoring chances were created.
There was a real edge to a comeback which saw Waterford rescue yesterday's match when experienced, clinical, streetwise Clare looked to have it bagged and tagged.
But Waterford could have taken more from the encounter: they seemed intent on blowing a game well within their grasp with seven first-half wides. In the second, both Billy O'Sullivan and Flynn tried to set up goal chances when the wise option would have been to take the certain points.
The final free will be remembered for years to come unless Waterford can finish off the job next Sunday (same venue, 3.30.). PJ O'Connell was sent off for a blow to Tony Browne's face as he came out of defence.
McCarthy came storming onto the field and when he finished an unnecessary tangle with the guilty party O'Connell, he summoned Flynn from the full-forward line.
Blessed with an extra man, Waterford might have managed to tee up a point from play. The initiative rested with the 15-man unit at that juncture.
Criticism of Flynn should not be taken out of context, however: it was a powerful strike from him which landed the dramatic match-equalising goal in the 69th minute.
And he also set up the first of Anthony Kirwan's two goals, and drew a fine save from Davy Fitzgerald to prevent another goal, in a performance that had the much-vaunted Clare defence in deep trouble for most of the game.
Anthony Kirwan was his co-conspirator, subjecting Brian Lohan to his most chilling championship outing in four years. Kirwan scored 2-1, set up another point, and wakes up this morning with the rare distinction of having revealed Lohan as a human, after all.
This was the least convincing championship display served up by Ger Loughnane's Clare. A number of key players played well below bar Brian Lohan, Colin Lynch and Anthony Daly being three.
Sean McMahon did not dominate in his usual masterful way but neither did any of the men he marked. It was just as well Jamesie O'Connor was in scintillating form from start to finish.
The passion of their play against Cork was largely absent yesterday. Time and again, defenders thought that split-second too long about clearing the ball time and again, Waterford players stole in to move the play on speedily.
For all of that, Clare were heading out the door with nine minutes left in the game, when three scores in a row put them four ahead. Waterford's first-half misses were set to enter local folklore for the wrong reason.
But they do have an indomitable spirit and will when is the last time we could say that about a Waterford team? The revival started with a disputed 62nd minute point from Tony Browne, the very epitome of all that is good about this Waterford side.
McCarthy and his sidekick Shane Aherne lost the run of themselves in the aftermath of that score. The umpire signalled it wide, but Aherne came dashing in along the end-line to remonstrate with him. Referee Willie Barrett consulted with the umpire before changing the decision to a point.
This, amazingly, did not placate McCarthy and Aherne. McCarthy was booked for his intervention but he did not depart the scene without one further volley of advice for the put-upon umpire. Aherne also exchanged a few hot words with Brian Lohan before resuming his place along the sideline.
Browne, the coolest man in Thurles, added a beautiful sideline cut in the 65th minute. Momentum seemed to be lost, however, until Flynn's goal high to the right corner. The free was dubiously awarded against Brian Quinn, involved in a run-of-the-mill piece of jostling with Michael White as the ball came in.
Waterford's performance deserved another day. It is quite an achievement to match this Clare team physically and psychologically. Waterford could evolve into a very serious force in this year's All-Ireland championship.
Browne was the fulcrum of their team. Among his many fine attributes is his insistence on playing `good forwards' ball' to his front-runners. Kirwan was thus able to time his runs out ahead of Lohan, gather, and either play it short to a colleague or take the full-back on in a run on goal.
These tactics the best we have seen to unsettle the previously impenetrable Clare defence created an abundance of action near the Clare goal. Some fine-tuning to ensure that the one-on-ones yield a greater return will also serve Waterford well.
The variety and spread of Clare's attack had been the emblem of the first-half. All of their forwards had scored by the break, at which they led by 1-10 to 1-2. The goal came in the second minute, when a long free by Sean McMahon came off the upright and into the arms of David Forde, who finished like a forward should in those situations.
Waterford needed an early start after the interval, and Kirwan's 36th minute goal carried the bonus of further unsettling Brian Lohan, who was first out to the ball only to lose his footing.
Waterford hit six unanswered points between the 42nd and 52nd minutes to draw within one point of Clare.
This revealed Clare as we had never seen them before: dishevelled, on the backfoot, and completely rattled by the raw courage and accurate shooting of Shanahan, the bubbling confidence of Kirwan, the craft of Browne, the widespread probing of McGrath, and the constant menace of Flynn roaming across the full-forward line.
But, perhaps most crucial of all is the virtual certainty that so many pillars of this Clare team will not struggle so badly again. But these two could end up contesting the All-Ireland Final - now that's what I call a ticket famine.
SCORERS Clare: J O'Connor 0-7 (3f), A Markham 1-0, E Taaffe 0-2, PJ O'Connell 0-2, O Baker 0-1, A Daly 0-1 (f), N Gilligan 0-1, C Clancy 0-1, D Forde 0-1. Waterford: A Kirwan 2-1, P Flynn 1-2 (all frees), D Shanahan 0-3, T Browne 0-3 (1 sideline cut), M White 0-1.
CLARE D Fitzgerald; F Lohan, B Lohan, B Quinn; L Doyle, S McMahon, A Daly; C Lynch, O Baker; D Forde, PJ O'Connell, J O'Connor; N Gilligan, E Taaffe, A Markham. Subs: C Clancy for D Forde, 44. F Tuohy for E Taaffe, 64. G O'Loughlin for N Gilligan, 69.
WATERFORD B Landers; B Flannery, S Cullinane, T Feeney; B Greene, F Hartley, S Frampton; T Browne, P Queally; D Shanahan, K McGrath, D Bennett; B O'Sullivan, A Kirwan, P Flynn. Subs: M White for D Bennett (ht), M O'Sullivan for S Cullinane, 44. S Daly for B O'Sullivan, 69.
BOOKING Gerald McCarthy (Waterford manager), 62.
SENDING-OFF PJ O'Connell, 70.
REF W Barrett (Tipperary.)