Gleeson folds the Banner as Déise drive on
Young Mount Sion maestro leads Waterford’s powerful surge past out-of-sorts Clare men
Clare just can't get the hang of this Munster championship business. They have endured a dismal time in the provincial campaign over several seasons and the misery continued in Semple Stadium yesterday where they were beaten just as comprehensively as the scoreline suggests.
Waterford 1-21 Clare 0-17
It doesn't end their All-Ireland ambitions, of course, but it severely dents them, having been out-manoeuvred under several important headings by a Waterford team that raised their game well above the level displayed in the Allianz League drawn and replayed finals.
That was always their target and they hit it quite comfortably with a very enterprising performance which bodes very well for the rest of the season.
Still, Waterford had squandered a six-point lead in the League Final replay, so even when they went seven points ahead (1-15 to 0-11) in the 44th minute, their supporters could not rest easy in the warm June sunshine.
A feisty Clare response was always likely and it duly came, with three unanswered points taking the game into its most interesting phase.
Would Clare press on, complete the recovery and book a place in the Munster Final for the first time since 2008 or would Waterford quell the rebellion?
It was crucial they did, as losing another game to Clare from a winning position would have been a shaky base for the qualifier relaunch.
Conversely, Clare's confidence tanks would have over-flowed if they had racked up their 14th successive win of the season from such a difficult position.
Unfortunately for them, it wasn't to be. Waterford calmly evaluated the situation and reacted with coherent authority, regaining the initiative in the final quarter, which they won by 0-6 to 0-3.
The point which settled them back into a smooth rhythm was struck by Austin Gleeson from a sideline cut in the 56th minute.
It was a defining moment in that it ended a 12 minute spell without a score and gave Waterford the impetus to drive on to a victory that books them a place in the Munster Final against Limerick or Tipperary on July 10.
It was one of many highlights for Gleeson on a day when the Mount Sion 20-year-old showcased his wide variety of exceptional talents.
He started in the full-forward line, from where he scored the opening point, before drifting outfield as part of Derek McGrath's strategy to increase his influence.
It worked and by half-time he had added another two points from open play.
By the end of the day, he was back in his familiar half-back haunts, an area he reinforced to such a degree that Clare were thrown into deep frustration as their attempts to get anywhere near Stephen O'Keeffe's goal were repeatedly beaten back.
O'Keeffe had made a very important early intervention in the second minute when he saved a goal-bound drive from David Reidy, deflecting it out for a 65, which Conor McGrath drove wide. It was doubly significant as it denied Clare an early breakthrough while also pointing to a fault line which troubled them throughout the entire first half.
McGrath's wide was one of 11 they struck before half-time and while Waterford's pressure marking undoubtedly played a part in Clare's wayward shooting, they would still have expected to convert more of their chances.
Waterford had inaccuracy issues too - shooting nine wides in the first half - but with more of the play going their way, they could afford the misses more than Clare.
They were helped too by an early flick of opportunism by Maurice Shanahan, who exploited an error by the Clare defence by whipping a ground stroke to the net in the fourth minute.
It was the third goal Waterford scored against Clare in their last two games and while that's a modest enough return, it was still two goals more than the Bannermen returned.
It's an area Clare need to review before returning for the qualifiers. It looked as if they might have improved that aspect of their play when they hit Kilkenny for four goals in the league semi-final but have since scored just one in 230 minutes against Waterford.
Granted, the security locks installed by McGrath aren't easily picked, but it's still a serious indictment of Clare that they could only break it once in almost four hours of trying.
A draw and a win in the two League Final clashes glossed over that difficulty but it became a big issue yesterday when Clare needed to make a breakthrough in the second half. Waterford led by 1-9 to 0-8 at half-time, making it hugely important for Clare to make a good start after the interval.
Instead, it was Waterford who sprung from the blocks. Tony Kelly missed an early 65 for Clare before Gleeson and Pauric Mahony (two) fired over Waterford points, which left Clare facing a massive challenge.
Ultimately, they were unable to figure a way out of their difficulties, even if no fewer than 11 of them got on the scoresheet.
However, they managed only 0-12 from open play, compared to 1-15 by Waterford, who were also well served on the free-taking front from where Mahony hoisted five points.
Gleeson scored 0-5 from open play while Kevin Moran landed 0-3, as well as putting in a huge amount of work between the two 65 metre lines.
But then non-stop toiling is very much at the heart of the Waterford model, with veteran Michael 'Brick' Walsh still a key component in the overall framework.
Clare weren't short of energy either but it wasn't as well channelled. Kelly, who was a dominant figure in the League Final replay, couldn't get into the game - a setback that Clare would never have anticipated.
Curbing Kelly was a massive boost for Waterford and with Gleeson rising to such great heights, they were always on a winner.
The only brief spells when they looked slightly troubled was when Clare pared their lead to four points in the second half and early on when their 1-1 to 0-0 lead after four minutes was wiped out by four successive Clare points.
Briefly, it looked as if Clare had got their game functioning solidly but Waterford responded by raising their own levels, which steered them safely on their way to victory.
Scorers: Waterford: A Gleeson (1 lineball), Pauric Mahony (5f) 0-6 each, M Shanahan 1-2, K Moran 0-3, D Fives, Shane Bennett, Philip Mahony, J Dillon 0-1 each. Clare: C McGrath (2f), C O'Connell (2f) 0-3 each, P Collins, C Ryan (1'65') 0-2 each, C Cleary, C Galvin, T Kelly, J Conlon, B Bugler, D Fitzgerald, D Reidy 0-1 each.
Waterford: S O'Keeffe 8; N Connors 7, B Coughlan 7, S Fives 7; D Fives 7, T De Burca 8, Philip Mahony 7; K Moran 9, J Barron 7; Pauric Mahony 7, Shane Bennett 6, M Walsh 7; M Shanahan 8, A Gleeson 9, P Curran 6. Subs: T Devine 6 for Shane Bennett (54); J Dillon 7 for Curran (57), B O'Halloran for Pauric Mahony (63), C Dunford for Shanahan (70), Stephen Bennett for Walsh (74).
Clare: P Kelly 7; O O'Brien 7, C Dillon 7, C Cleary 7; B Bugler 7, P O'Connor 6, D Fitzgerald 6; D Reidy 7, C Galvin 6; C McGrath 5, T Kelly 5, D Honan 5; P Collins 6, S O'Donnell 6, J Conlon 6. Subs: C Ryan 6 for Honan (42), C O'Connell 6 for McGrath (50), D McInerney 7 for Fitzgerald (53), A Shanagher 5 for Collins (58), A Cunningham for Galvin (66).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).