Friday 30 September 2016

John Mullane: This team has arrived on big stage and September glory is possible

John Mullane

Published 06/06/2016 | 02:30

Waterford’s Austin Gleeson poses for a photograph with a young supporter following their victory over Clare. Photo: Sportsfile
Waterford’s Austin Gleeson poses for a photograph with a young supporter following their victory over Clare. Photo: Sportsfile

In all my days as a player, and watching Waterford in recent years, I can't remember a result of this magnitude.

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This Waterford team has finally arrived and without wishing to get too carried away, I think they can go all the way this summer.

The players will gain so much confidence from this win but at the same time, you wouldn't write off Clare through the back door.

I made that mistake back in 2013 and they finished the season as All-Ireland champions.

They won't be as bad again as they were yesterday, either. Clare had 11 wides accumulated by half-time and even if half of those were converted into scores, it could have been a different story.

Clare missed crucial scores and frees at vital times and that allowed Waterford the licence to open up a gap and keep it manageable.

The return from injury of David McInerney will be massive for Clare and they're going to need another defender back.

Seadna Morey is an option and I don't know if Davy Fitzgerald has full trust in his defence. Still, I believe they'll be a force in the qualifiers and will have learned from those back-door exits against Wexford and Cork in the last two seasons.

I'm convinced we'll see a lot more of Clare in championship 2016 and that they'll make the All-Ireland semi-finals.

They don't need reminding, however, that one more defeat will end their season.

I've been critical of referees in the past but a word or more of praise for James Owens.

I thought he had a very good game and let the game flow. He wasn't blowing the whistle every two or three minutes, although there might have been one or two decisions each way that he could have called differently.

Overall, Waterford were by far the hungrier team and that was reflected in their performance. Derek McGrath never once mentioned revenge following the Allianz League final replay defeat but within the Waterford team, you can be sure they were driven by it.

Derek took a chance starting Pauric Mahony and was rewarded.

Reliable

You saw how vital it is to have a reliable free-taker and Clare struggled on placed balls. Conor McGrath and Tony Kelly were tried on them before Colin Ryan was introduced.

Davy will probably have to carry Ryan for the remainder of the summer for frees alone.

From a Clare point of view, I thought they were very flat, and Davy too.

They possibly needed the start that Waterford got and they'll be very disappointed with the goal they gave away but, once again, Derek won the tactical war.

You might think it's strange saying that because Clare won the league but even in defeat, I thought Derek was better in a positional and match-up sense last month.

Yesterday, he won the tactical battle of wits hands down and his approach from the start threw Clare completely. Derek set up with a conventional 15-on-15 approach for the first ten minutes and Waterford had Clare in all sorts of bother.

Clare couldn't contain Austin Gleeson and when he came out around the middle third as that spare man, he was just inspirational, out of this world.

On the Clare side, I thought Oisín O'Brien was outstanding and he's a real find. For a guy who suffered a punctured lung last month to perform like that was incredible.

He was by far Clare's best defender on a day when the game was played on Waterford's terms.

Kevin Moran was brilliant at midfield for Waterford and Barry Coughlan tremendous at full-back. Waterford were clever too in how they handled Tony Kelly. I suggested that he would have to be man-marked but whenever Kelly arrived in the Clare half-forward line, Philip Mahony picked him up.

When he went deep, whoever was closest to Kelly at the time tracked him.

So many of Clare's big performers didn't shine. Kelly had a below-par outing, Conor McGrath and Shane O'Donnell the same. Podge Collins had a decent first half but Clare didn't get a good return from their forward division.

Stephen O'Keeffe's early save was another big moment in the game and I just felt that Clare needed a goal to spark them into life.

The most pleasing aspect for me, and I was waiting for this to happen, was that when Waterford were in control, six or seven points ahead, there were questions asked. Clare had the margin back to four points in the second half and had the momentum but Austin cut over a superb sideline. Kevin Moran followed up with a point and Waterford had a six-point buffer again.

From there until the finish, Waterford did what winning teams do - breaking up the play, wasting time and closing out the game. In fact, it's what potential champions do.

In Leinster, it was a good day for Offaly and Galway, who will now meet in the provincial semi-final, but you have to ask the question: where was the reward for Westmeath after winning their three round-robin matches? Instead, they were pitched into a quarter-final with Galway, when the group runners-up, Offaly, took on Laois and beat them.

Still, great credit is due to Offaly and particularly their manager Eamonn Kelly, who was savaged after losing to Westmeath.

He and his players came under a barrage of criticism and you have two choices then: throw in the towel, roll over and accept it for what it is or come out swinging. Offaly chose the latter.

A final nod to the Dublin-Kilkenny Leinster semi-final in Portlaoise next Saturday evening. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Dublin turn them over . . .

Irish Independent

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