Shanahan's sweet strike saves Deise
Not even extra-time could separate the sides on a day when defences dominated
Published 02/05/2016 | 02:30
A replay wasn't exactly what either side wanted but there are times when unusual circumstances intervene to give a contest a life of its own that refuses to be influenced by anything other than the nature of the occasion.
Waterford 0-22 Clare 0-22
That was the scenario in Semple Stadium yesterday where 90 minutes of fascinating action couldn't separate Clare and Waterford, who produced the first hurling League final draw after extra-time since 1993.
Indeed, so close were the teams all the way that it looked as if they would still be level even if they hurled on until nightfall.
It fell to Maurice Shanahan to bring Waterford level deep in stoppage-time in extra-time and he comfortably found the range with a 90-metre free.
It called for an icy nerve and Shanahan, who had come in for Jake Dillon at the three-quarter stage, answered the call with a sweetly-struck shot, which brought the sides level for the 12th time.
The ease with which Shanahan hit the target raised an interesting question: would Waterford now be celebrating their first League double if he had been playing from the start? The answer is almost certainly 'yes' as it was a day when the radar failed for no fewer than three of their other free-takers.
Patrick Curran missed two scoreable frees and a '65' in the first half before handing over responsibility to Shane Bennett, who missed three in the second-half, while Austin Gleeson was off target with two long-range efforts. That's eight missed chances, an embarrassingly high number for three players who are normally so accurate.
Bennett certainly didn't let those disappointments upset him as he was one of the day's best performers, especially in the second half when his piercing runs tested Clare's massed defence.
Clare were much more reliable on frees, with Conor McGrath pointing no fewer than 10 from a range of angles and distances, while also contributing three from open play in a man-of-the-match performance.
However, McGrath's accuracy didn't spread to his colleagues on a day when Clare shot 19 wides - 16 in normal time.
Such wayward shooting would usually have catastrophic consequences but not yesterday for the simple reason that Waterford were even more wasteful. They shot 20 wides - 17 of which came in the first 42 minutes - by which stage they had scored only seven points.
The collective tally of 35 wides in normal time was five higher than the total number of scores on an afternoon when the conditions could not be blamed for the errant striking.
A fresh breeze blew into the town goal but it certainly wasn't sufficiently disruptive to spread the inaccuracy plague.
Far more relevant was the manner in which the sides reacted to each other's defensive structures.
It was quite common on both fronts for only two forwards to be posted inside the opposition's 45-metre lines, usually covered by at least four defenders.
Meanwhile, the middle third was a thicket of activity, with the ball-carrier surrounded by a posse of markers. That, in turn, produced two consequences, neither of which was conducive to high scoring.
It meant that many of the shots from long range were hit in haste, resulting in a much higher number of wides than expected at this level. And even when they didn't go wide, they were picked off quite easily by the extra defenders.
That pattern continued for all of normal time (0-15 each) before play loosened out in extra-time, which produced 14 points.
Waterford seemed to have made a decisive break in extra-time when, after Patrick Kelly made an excellent save from Tom Devine in the first minute, they scored three unanswered points.
However, Clare responded smartly and were back level by the break (0-18 each) before leading four times in a point-for-point second period. But then that was the pattern most of the way in a game where expectations of a dour middle-third battle lived up to expectations.
Still, it was very enjoyable to watch how the various manoeuvres worked as Derek McGrath and Davy Fitzgerald did their best to outwit each other, presumably without showing their full tactical hand ahead of their Munster semi-final clash on June 5.
Clare led by 0-7 to 0-6 at half-time and had surged three points clear at the three-quarter stage. Waterford's response was to score four unanswered points before Clare countered with three to lead by two.
Once again, Waterford, who have a well-deserved reputation as strong finishers, raised their game, scoring three points.
It left them one clear deep in stoppage time but McGrath saved the day for Clare with a pointed free from close to the sideline.
Extra-time settled League finals between Kilkenny and Tipperary in 2009 and 2014 but not on this occasion as the sides were so closely locked together that when one took the lead, it was as if they were waiting for the inevitable reply.
And so it went, with the scales balanced so finely that it looked from quite some way out as if it might take a re-match to produce winners.
On the broader front, neither camp will be especially happy at the prospect of another intense showdown four weeks before their championship clash but they made it abundantly clear from early on that they considered this a prize worth winning and that next month's Munster action can look after itself.
They will have been pleased at certain aspects, not least the manner in which they both protected their goalkeepers, with Kelly and Stephen O'Keeffe each having to make only a few good saves.
However, McGrath and Fitzgerald will surely examine the creative side of their game.
Fitzgerald will realise that if Waterford were more reliable on frees, they would probably have won reasonably comfortably while McGrath will be disappointed by the number of times the ball-carrier tried to get a well-marked player into the action.
It called for a precision which wasn't quite there at times and often led to Clare regaining possession.
Still, both sides see themselves as a work-in-progress for the championship.
The plan did not include a replay but it's the now the reality and they must do it all again next weekend.
Scorers - Clare: C McGrath 0-13 (10f), T Kelly 0-3, C Galvin 0-2, P Duggan, P Collins, D Reidy, C Ryan 0-1 each.
Scorers - Waterford: S Bennett 0-9 (6f), P Curran 0-4 (2f), A Gleeson (2f), T Ryan (2f) 0-2 each, C Dunford, J Barron, B O'Halloran, Philip Mahony, M Shanahan (f) 0-1 each.
Clare: P Kelly 7; O O'Brien 7, C Dillon 8, P O'Connor 8; B Bugler 7, C Cleary 7, D Fitzgerald 7; D Reidy 8, C Galvin 7; P Duggan 5, T Kelly 8, A Cunningham 5; P Collins 7, D Honan 5, C McGrath 9. Subs: S O'Donnell 6 for Duggan (45), C O'Connell 7 for Honan (49), C Ryan 6 for Cunningham (54), A Shanagher 6 for Galvin (61), J Browne 6 for Cleary (77), Galvin for Collins (80), S Morey for Bugler (84).
Waterford: S O'Keeffe 7; S Fives 8, B Coughlan 7, N Connors 7; T De Burca 7, A Gleeson 7, Philip Mahony 7; J Barron 7, D Fives 7; K Moran 7, S Bennett 8, M Walsh 6; P Curran 7, J Dillon 5, C Dunford 6. Subs: T Devine 8 for Dunford (45), M Shanahan 6 for Dillon (57), B O'Halloran 6 for Gleeson (63), C Gleeson 6 for S Fives (66), T Ryan 8 for Curran (66), Dunford for Bennett (86), Pauric Mahony for Walsh (88).
Ref - B Gavin (Offaly).