Clare hero Tony Kelly claims late call was 'stonewall' free as Deise cry foul over ref
Hero of the day Tony Kelly reckoned the late decision that went his way was a “stonewall” free.
Waterford selector Dan Shanahan just about managed to keep a lid on what he thought of the decision to give Kelly a chance to level the scores, though not before giving a strong hint at his level of dissatisfaction.
“I’d rather not comment on that lads,” Shanahan said when asked about the late call. “I’ll leave that up to yourselves. It’s tough to take – not only that but there are a lot of decisions that have to be questioned.
“I’m not giving out, they won the game, we meet again in four weeks.”
Yesterday’s league final ended in both controversy and brilliance. Referee Diarmuid Kirwan denied Jamie Barron a free before giving a soft-looking one to Kelly in the same passage of play. Kelly would then own the next 90 seconds in a way that would make Roy of the Rovers blush.
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald roared on that Kelly, and not the ever reliable Colin Ryan, should hit the long-range free and he made no mistake to tie the game up.
Having trailed for the vast majority of the afternoon, Clare might have taken extra-time but Kelly wasn’t done and he fired over a winner from the touchline with the last action of the game.
Of the 74 minutes that had been played in Semple Stadium, Clare led for around three minutes. Kirwan’s final whistle came before Waterford even knew their pockets had been picked.
“I’d say it’s worse to be up in the stand looking down at it,” Kelly beamed. “I suppose a lot was made of us maybe losing those games last year by a point or two in the league and the championship.
“I suppose from the off this year we’re looking to finish strong in games and I suppose it was the same last week and the same again this week. Once we went that point or two down with three or four minutes to go, maybe last year we might have lost that game by two or three points.
“But I suppose it just goes to show the character that we’re building this year.”
Two first-half Waterford goals put them in the driving seat. Patrick Curran torched Pat O’Connor for the first goal of the game after 17 seconds. It would get worse for O’Connor who saw his cross-field pass intercepted in the build-up to Waterford’s second major.
Still Clare kept close enough to deliver the killer blow late on and win a first league title for the county since 1978.
“You don’t really pay attention to how long the gap is between winning things,” Kelly said. “We weren’t around then and there are a lot of lads that mightn’t be around now. I suppose when you’re a player you just want to win as much as you can.
“It’s a small prize at the end of the day because championship is where it’s at and you’ll be judged on that, but it’s a nice thing to win.”
Waterford manager Derek McGrath insisted that the decision to award Kelly the late free was a "mistake" but didn't look to make much of an issue of the call.
"I thought it was a mistake. But as I said previously, we make many mistakes on the line ourselves and any referee is entitled to make a mistake. And that is my honest opinion on it. I actually thought the free was wide on top of that, but it probably wasn't.
"But I thought it was a mistake on Diarmuid's behalf, but that is the way the game goes. And that is the invariables of sport. Clare came at the right time."
Shanahan, however went a little further and suggested Clare were awarded frees easier than his side.
"What can I say lads? It's tough to take. Clare seemed to get the frees easier than we did. Ye heard the reaction of the crowd coming off the field there. That tells its own story.
"I shouldn't have to answer that question. It tells its own story when you hear the crowd like that.
"Credit Clare, credit their lads, they've won it for the first time since 1978. It's a great victory for them, let's be honest. They are a great bunch of players, they're going to be there or thereabouts for the All-Ireland. I can assure you one thing lads, we're not a bad team either."
And while there was a brief explosion of joy for Clare, there was a realisation that this league final win will be framed by what happens in the championship clash between the sides at the same venue in four weeks' time.
"I'm extremely proud of all my lads, as I know Derek McGrath is of his," Banner manager Davy Fitzgerald (above) said afterwards.
"Listen, let's be realistic, it was great for us, we hung in, we got the win but they could equally have got it too - what a battle. That augurs unreal. They'll have the bit between their teeth on June 5 and we will too.
"I think they're going to have a massive say this year, I really believe that.
"Maybe I'm a bit biased because I was down there for three years and I absolutely loved my time down there. But I think they're going to be tough.
"June 5 … we've seen two unreal battles. Jesus, what more is going to come on June 5. Because we know that they probably say to themselves, 'They beat us by a point, they're not going to beat us the next day'.
"We're going to say to ourselves, 'No matter what, we're going to have to fight even harder'. So it's going to be crazy out there but I'm looking forward to it."