Saturday 23 September 2017

Fitzgerald keeps cool as Clare ride out storm

CLARE 2-20 WATERFORD 1-15

Waterford’s Seamus Prendergast, Shane O'Sullivan, Michael Walsh, Brian O'Halloran and Darragh Fives battle for possession with Clare quartet Seadna Morey, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Colin Ryan at Semple Stadium.
Waterford’s Seamus Prendergast, Shane O'Sullivan, Michael Walsh, Brian O'Halloran and Darragh Fives battle for possession with Clare quartet Seadna Morey, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Colin Ryan at Semple Stadium.
Shane O'Donnell gathers the ball despite the efforts of Paudie Prendergast
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

DAVY FITZGERALD said that the Clare dressing-room was an oasis of calm at the midway point in Thurles yesterday, but it's unlikely that a similar sense of serenity spread among the Banner supporters as they reflected on what had unfolded over the first half.

DAVY FITZGERALD said that the Clare dressing-room was an oasis of calm at the midway point in Thurles yesterday, but it's unlikely that a similar sense of serenity spread among the Banner supporters as they reflected on what had unfolded over the first half.

They had seen their new-look team bound from the starting blocks like high-class sprinters, scoring four points in the first six minutes, before losing the rest of the half by 1-9 to 0-4. In addition, Waterford had shot nine wides, further emphasising the degree of superiority they enjoyed.

If Fitzgerald was as calm as he claims to have been, then he must possess some special clairvoyant powers as there was little enough to suggest that Clare would be an altogether more coherent force in the second half. That still applied in the early stages of the new term, with neither side advancing their score yield.

Adding to Clare's frustration was their failure to take a goal chance in the 38th minute when John Conlon's handpass was over-hit, leaving Darach Honan, a pre-match replacement for Padraic Collins, with no chance of making the catch as he bore down on Ian O'Regan's goal.

It looked as if it might have been a wounding mistake, but events at the other end were just as significant.

REVIVAL

Waterford shot four wides in the opening seven minutes of the second period, misses which ultimately proved hugely costly as it meant that when Clare's revival finally came, they were facing a much smaller lead than should have been the case.

"Some of our wides were from good scoring positions," said frustrated Waterford manager Michael Ryan after his county's first defeat in their opening Munster championship game for five years.

Coincidentally, it was the first time since 2008 that Clare won their opening Munster game, a success which will increase their confidence levels going into the Munster semi-final clash with Cork in Limerick on June 23.

Once Clare secured the component parts of their plan into place in the second half, they hurled Waterford into oblivion, winning the final 26 minutes by 2-12 to 0-6.

Four of Waterford's points came from Maurice Shanahan frees, while sub Gavin O'Brien landed one. It meant that of Waterford's six starting forwards, Seamus Prendergast was the only one to score from open play in the second half.

In fairness, Brian O'Halloran is exempt from blame for that power failure, having been forced out injured after 17 minutes.

Seven Clare men got on the scoresheet in the second half, including Shane O'Donnell and Conor McGrath, whose goals in the 55th and 61st minutes respectively were crucial contributions to Clare's impressive empire-building.

O'Donnell pounced when Kevin Moran's clearance spilled in his direction after a Tony Kelly drive for a goal from a free had been blocked and, six minutes later, McGrath's clever footwork took him clear of his pursuers and presented him with an unmissable opportunity from close range.

O'Donnell was rewarded for his important intervention by being replaced immediately but, crucially, his goal had given Clare the lead for the first time since the 17th minute – an advantage which they built on before finally extending it to eight points.

It represented a 12-point turnaround in the second half, a stark statistic for Waterford to reflect on before re-grouping for the All-Ireland qualifiers.

The main source of Clare's surge in the second half was the much-increased energy and authority which emanated from their half-back line.

Patrick Donnellan became a more commanding figure in the centre while Brendan Bugler did even better on the right wing, repeatedly winning one-on-one battles and supplying accurate deliveries to his forwards.

Kelly, a busy presence in several channels, Honan and Conlon all prospered amid the plentiful possession and when the pressurised Waterford defence committed fouls, Colin Ryan converted the resultant frees into points.

Jamie Nagle, who had an excellent game, bears no responsibility for his side's problems, but elsewhere the going became progressively tougher for a Waterford defence which leaked 2-7 in the final quarter.

At the other end, the Waterford attack, now asked to survive off much smaller rations than in the first half, made no impression on a Clare defence that had struggled early on.

Shanahan, posted on the edge of the Clare square, gave full-back David McInerney a torrid time in a first half where Waterford's slow start was quickly replaced by a high-octane drive.

They were helped by some defensive errors, including a stray clearance by Patrick Donnellan in the seventh minute which an alert Jake Dillon intercepted before whipping the ball to the net.

A mistake by Domhnall O'Donovan two minutes later gave Dillon a second goal chance but he fired over the bar. Waterford shot five unanswered points between the 17th and 27th minutes, a period in which Clare were hanging on grimly in the hope that the margin wouldn't be irretrievably high by half-time.

They were helped in that pursuit by Waterford's wild shooting, but Clare took a whole lot of problems to the dressing room at half-time, trailing by 1-9 to 0-8.

Granted, many of their difficulties were individual rather than system-based and once the basic errors were removed from their game, the rate of improvement presented Waterford with a challenge for which they were not equipped.

Indeed, the longer the game went, the more Clare's dominance grew. The fact that their victory was constructed on a courageous recovery will have done much for their confidence levels as they look ahead to the Cork showdown.

However, there will be some concerns over their defensive frailties in the first half as a better forward line would have dished out much more punishment.

Also, there were times when Clare appeared so tied to the system that they forgot the basics – hence some poor striking and misdirected passes in the first half. Still, they had the inner calmness to work their way through the problems, which was no mean achievement for a young team.

As for Waterford, the season still holds decent possibilities, provided they can improve on their score-to-chance ratio.

Scorers – Clare: C Ryan 0-7 (6fs, 1'65'), T Kelly 0-4, J Conlon, D Honan 0-3 each, C McGrath, S O'Donnell 1-0 each, C Galvin 0-2, F Lynch 0-1. Waterford: M Shanahan 0-7 (6fs), J Dillon 1-2, S Prendergast 0-2, P Mahony, J Barron, K Moran, G O'Brien 0-1 each.

Clare – P Kelly 7; D O'Donovan 6, D McInerney 6, C Dillon 6; B Bugler 8, P Donnellan 7, P O'Connor 7; S Morey 5, C Galvin 7; J Conlon 8, T Kelly 9, C Ryan 7; S O'Donnell 6, D Honan 8, C McGrath 7. Subs: P Duggan 5 for Morey (29), P Collins 6 for O' Donnell (56), F Lynch for Duggan (67).

Waterford – I O'Regan 7; N Connors 7, L Lawlor 5, P Prendergast 6; J Nagle 8, M Walsh 6, K Moran 7; S O'Sullivan 7, D Fives 6; B O'Halloran 5, S Prendergast 6, P Mahony 5; J Barron 5, M Shanahan 7, J Dillon 7. Subs: R Barry 5 for O'Halloran (17), G O'Brien 6 for Barron (56), M O'Neill for Mahony (63).

Ref – J McGrath (Westmeath)

The game at a glance

Man of the Match

Tony Kelly (Clare) The 20-year-old Ballyea man scored 0-4 from play in what was an enjoyable afternoon for him on the wide open plains of Semple Stadium. Never mind one for the future, he is very much one for the present too.

Turning point

Shane O'Donnell's goal in the 55th minute. It was level at the time but the momentum was very much with Clare, who had outscored Waterford by 0-6 to 0-2 in the second half. O'Donnell's goal cemented their authority.

Talking point

Did Waterford's wastefulness cost them the game? They shot nine wides in the first half and four more in the opening seven minutes of the second half, at which stage they were four points clear. It meant that when Clare's revival came, they were chasing a much lower target than should have been the case.

Magic moment

Kelly's fourth point combined touch, pace and accuracy as he bounded clear before hoisting the ball high over the Waterford crossbar.

Ref watch

Nothing contentious for James McGrath to deal with and he duly delivered a solid performance. However, like all hurling referees, he took a very generous view of hand-passing, some of which appeared suspiciously similar to throwing.

What they said

Davy Fitzgerald (Clare manager): "We hurled some unreal stuff in the last 20 minutes and took a lot of great scores. We improved an awful lot in the second half but we felt we would because we hadn't done ourselves justice in the first half. We were very calm at half-time – we felt there was a lot better to come."

Michael Ryan (Waterford manager): "We were in very good position at half-time but we missed a few good chances early in the second half, which cost us dearly. Our confidence seemed to drain a bit when Clare came back at us in the second half."

Match statistics

Wides:

Clare 10 (4 first half) Waterford 15 (9)

frees: Clare 14 (6) Waterford 16 (8)

yellow cards: Clare 3 (C Dillon 7, P O'Connor 37, B Bugler 40) Waterford 1 (P Prendergast 45)

red cards:

None

what's next?

Clare play Cork in the Munster semi-final on June 23. Waterford, meanwhile, head for the All-Ireland qualifiers on June 29 or July 6.

Irish Independent

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