Tuesday 23 January 2018

Incredible drama as Waterford force league final replay after monster 70m free

Waterford 0-22 Clare 0-22

Sean McGoldrick

Maurice Shanahan rescued Waterford with a dramatic equalising point from a free inside his own 65 to secure the defending champions another chance against Clare in the Allianz Division 1 League final after a 0-22 to 0-22 draw following extra time.

Level at the end of normal time, and again at half time in extra time, it was appropriate that the contest – which only truly engaged the attendance in the latter stages of normal time – finished all square. The replay has been fixed for Thurles' Semple Stadium next Sunday.

It was as tactical as everybody had expected; goal chances were created but none were scored and one suspects neither manager wanted a replay given that the sides meet again in the championship next month.

Waterford, in particular, squandered a host of scoring chances in the first half when they had a serious malfunction in their free-taking department but they produced a storming finish in the second half when Clare's shooting went awry.

They looked to have won the title at the end of normal time until Clare's Conor McGrath – who was the game's top scorer with a 0-13 tally – converted an injury time free.

It was a measure of the lack of excitement in the first half that it was a sideline confrontation between rivals managers Davy Fitzgerald and Derek McGrath which finally got the crowed engaged in the match. Or maybe they were all tuned into the Manchester United v Leicester contest!

The incident between the two bosses was sparked by a clash moments earlier between Clare's Tony Kelly and Waterford's Colin Dunford. The former was fortunate to escape with a yellow card while Dunford had to retire to receive treatment for a head wound.

Otherwise, however, the first half was entirely predictable with both teams relying on their counter attacking format to bore holes in the opposition's defence.

The most interesting tactical switch saw Clare's Podge Collins switch to midfield where he policed Austin Gleeson, who was perhaps unnerved by his presence as he reverted to his bad habit of shooting on sight and was responsible for five of Waterford's 12 first half wides.

Worst still, Waterford's normally reliable free-taker Patrick Curran was off target with two placed balls even though the defending champions had the advantage of a fresh breeze.

Even though the Clare forwards struggled to make a real impact against the massed Waterford defence in which Shane Fives operated as the sweeper, overall they were far more economical in the scoring department hitting just six wides.

Brendan Bugler did an excellent man marking job on Waterford's key player Michael Walsh who was the target for the majority of Stephen O'Keeffe's re-starts but Waterford won only five from a total of 12 in the half.

On the other flank David Reidy had the measure of Kevin Moran who possibly wasn't one hundred percent match fit – in the warm-up he had ice applied to his knee.

Even though the sides were level on two occasions in the opening ten minutes by the midway point in the half Clare had gone 0-6 to 0-3 ahead. Clare were content to take short puck outs – they only lost four in the period – and work the ball along the flanks.

With Shane Bennett making two huge plays late in the half for the beleaguered Waterford side they levelled the game at 0-6 apiece just before the break but a Conor McGrath free - his forth in the half – gave the Banner a deserved one point lead at the break.

The fact that Clare had 62 possessions compared to 47 for Waterford underlines the overall trend of a dull half of hurling.

Both teams changed their puck out strategy in the second half – possibly because of the breeze with Waterford's Noel Connors becoming a target for short re-restarts while Clare's Patrick Kelly went long.

But Waterford's free-taking woes continued with Bennett missing three scorable frees in the first eight minutes of the second half. But it was the teenage centre forward who ultimately dragged Waterford back into the game as Clare's finishing let them down with ten second half wides – Tony Kelly was particularly culpable.

Even though Clare had extended their lead by three points by the 52nd minute Waterford reserved their best form for the final quarter. Three points from Bennett – two from play – in a four minute spell brought the sides level for the first time in the second half.

From there to the end there was nothing to separate the sides as the excitement levels mounted and we finally got a game worthy of a National League final. Even though goal chances were at a premium and the shooting was erratic at both ends there was no shortage of tension.

It culminated in a grandstand finish. An Austin Gleeson free gave Waterford the lead for the first time in the half with 11 minutes left but points from Conor McGrath (free) and Podge Collins restored Clare's slender advantage and when McGrath converted his eighth free after a foul on himself to put the Banner two points clear with five minutes remaining, they looked on target to secure the title.

But it was Waterford who finally found their mojo at the business end of the game. Three unanswered points from Bennett (2) – one from a free -and Jamie Barron left Waterford on the brink of winning back to back titles as the game ticked into its three minutes of injury time.

When Tony Kelly squandered a chance to equalise it looked lost for Clare but as Cork discovered in the 2013 All-Irel-+ and final the game is never over until the final whistle sounds. One last attack along the left flank yielded a free as substitute Cathal O'Connell was pushed over the sideline by Tadhg De Burca. The peerless McGrath held his nerve to slot the free and bring the game to extra time with the sides tied at 0-15 each.

Tom Devine had the game's best goal chance less than a minute into extra time when he got clear on the right but the shot was brilliantly smothered by Clare keeper Patrick Kelly who got it clear at at the second attempt.

Another substitute Brian O'Halloran hit a magnificent point from the right flank moments later to give the Deise the lead and they dominated the early stages of extra time with further scores from another substitute Tommy Ryan and Bennett's fifth free .

But his error and another from Michael Walsh allowed David Reidy and then Tony Kelly pull points back for Clare . In lost time at the end of the period Podge Collins was fouled – he hobbled off clutching his ankle – and McGrath converted the resulting free to leave the sides locked together again at 0-18 each.

Clare maintained their scoring rate at the start of the second period with Colm Galvin – who replaced Collins – giving them the lead. Shane Bennett equalised with a free before Tony Kelly edged Clare back in front.

It was tit for tat from there to the finish as the game finally opened up as players got tired before Clare substitute Colin Ryan looked to have won it with point from distance in the 89th minute.

Waterford though had the final say with a dramatic equaliser in injury time – a monster free from inside his own 65 was directed straight between the posts by substitute Maurice Sheridan.

It was a fittingly dramatic finish to a contest which finally engrossed everybody in the end.

The official attendance was 19,498.

Clare: P Kelly; O O'Brien, C Dillon, P O'Connor; B Bugler, C Cleary, D Fitzgerald; D Reidy (0-1), C Galvin (0-2) P Duggan (0-1), T Kelly (0-3), A Cunningham; P Collins (0-1), D Honan, C McGrath (0-13, 10f) Subs: S O'Donnell for Duggan 46m; C O'Connell for Honan 49m; C Ryan (0-1)for Cunningham 53m; A Shanahan for Galvin 62m. ET J Browne for Cleary 77m; C Galvin for Collins 80m. S Morey for Bugler 85m


Waterford: S O'Keefe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; T De Burca, A Gleeson (0-2, 2 f), P Mahony (0-1); J Barron (0-1), D Fives; K Moran, S Bennett (0-9, 6f), M Walsh; P Curran (0-4, 2f), J Dillon, C Dunford (0-1). Subs: T Devine for Dunford 46m; M Shanahan (0-1f) for Dillon 56m; B O'Halloran (0-1) for Gleeson 63m; C Gleeson for S Fives 66m; T Ryan (0-2) for Curran 67m. ET: C Dunford for Bennett 86m; Pauric Mahony for Walsh 88m :

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)

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