Kelly's extra quality can edge another mad scramble in Clare's favour
Published 04/06/2016 | 02:30
There's one absolute certainty about the Clare-Waterford game, which neither side is considering today but which will be of great comfort to one of them tomorrow evening.
The Munster title will be a lost cause for the losers, but the All-Ireland won't - not by a very long shot.
There will be deep disappointment in the losing camp immediately after the game but it won't take long to subside as the much bigger picture begins to come into focus.
The losers will return to action in the Qualifiers in early July against Leinster opposition they will be expected to beat.
After that, they will be one win away from the All-Ireland quarter-finals, building up a steady momentum as they go.
Of course, none of that will have had any impact on how the teams prepared for tomorrow's game or indeed how intensely they go about winning it, but it's worth bearing in mind in terms of how the season could unfold.
Inevitably, we're drawn back to the drawn and replayed League finals to see if there's anything that might provide a clue as to how the latest drama will act out.
Actually, there's not a lot. But then we already knew that there's damn all between the talent levels in the two squads and there's little enough difference in how they go about their business either.
In that scenario, it was always likely to be very tight, as indeed it turned out on both days.
So tight, in fact, that if Waterford had been awarded a free on a borderline call involving Jamie Barron when they were a point up late on in the replay, they would be heading for Thurles tomorrow as League champions. Instead, Tony Kelly was awarded a free shortly afterwards, which he pointed before landing the winner from play. Tiny margins and all that.
So while Clare might appear to have grabbed a psychological edge, it's so minimal that it won't have had any impact whatsoever on Waterford's confidence.
Why should it, since they lost by just one point after two games, one of which had extra-time?
There is, however, a small niggle which Waterford will have taken from the replay, one which they will be very anxious to sort out.
They led by six points coming up to the three-quarter mark, and while that's never a match-winning lead in hurling, it was still fairly substantial. And they led by three points quite late on, before being overtaken.
Granted, Clare's last-second grab was akin to a horse winning on the nod but, whether in hurling or horse-racing, it's not how much you win by that counts.
Derek McGrath will have talked about the need to be more ruthless if Waterford open up a decent lead. And he will definitely remind them that the final seconds of a close game can change the whole complexion, as it did four weeks ago.
Another interesting aspect of the replay was that Waterford scored two goals and still didn't win. That might not seem important in itself, but the way Waterford set themselves up, they don't lose very many games when they score two goals.
The fact that they raised two green flags will have driven Davy Fitzgerald mad. Barring flukes, goals are scored from very close in and since Clare keep plenty of manpower in front of Patrick Kelly, they would have been disgusted by conceding two goals.
I don't expect any big surprises in how the teams set up. You'll hear talk about how both managements were holding some grand plan back for the Championship, but don't believe a word of it. Both play a certain way - as they have been doing for quite some time - and there's won't be any major deviation from that.
It will, once again, lead to a mad scramble in the middle section but then both are used to that too. In fact, they thrive on it.
An important element of Waterford's approach will centre on how they cope with Kelly.
He made a big impact after coming on in the second half against Kilkenny, did even better in the drawn League final was devastating in the replay, scoring 1-5 from play, plus that magnificent long range free which brought the sides level.
He can expect to have a Waterford man beside him, even if he runs down the tunnel. Despite the close attention, he could still turn out to be the key man.
Conor McGrath and Colm Galvin are back to their best too, which is another major plus for Clare.
Waterford's options are increasing too at the right time so it will be interesting to see exactly how they line-up, in particular whether they start Maurice Shanahan.
He's a fine player in so many ways but his style doesn't fit all that well with Waterford's approach, which involves hooking, blocking and relentless running by everyone.
If he does start, it will be as a target man close to the Clare goal, where he has done damage in the past. And even if he's not in at the beginning, he's one hell of an impact sub to bring on.
But then, both sides have plenty of ammunition in reserve in yet another example of how close they really are.
It's difficult to see it being anything but tight again tomorrow. Waterford will feel that they let the League title slip away and are itching for this chance to make a big statement.
Despite that I expect Clare to book a Munster final place and Waterford to do well enough to play a major part in the All-Ireland series later on.