Wednesday 21 February 2018

John Mullane: Not a final for the purists but Thurles clash whets the appetite for more

Darach Honan, Clare, and Jamie Barron and Tadhg de Búrca, Waterford, in a tussle during the game Photo: Sportsfile
Darach Honan, Clare, and Jamie Barron and Tadhg de Búrca, Waterford, in a tussle during the game Photo: Sportsfile

John Mullane

A slow-burner in Thurles and it took until the half-hour mark before both sets of players realised what was at stake.

While some might have argued for a red card when Tony Kelly challenged Colin Dunford shortly before tempers flared on the touchline, I think referee Brian Gavin got it right.

It was a yellow card in my view but some of the frees awarded, to both sides, were dubious enough. Then again, the referee is the man in the heat of battle and it's difficult to get everything right.

As a spectacle, we knew before travelling to Thurles what way it might pan out.

Davy Fitzgerald said during the week that it wasn't going to be one for the purists, that it wouldn't be the "prettiest" of spectacles and it certainly turned out that way.

The traditionalists will argue that it was a poor game of hurling and let's be honest, the first half was disappointing, but overall I found it to be an absorbing, tactical affair. As the game wore on, I grew into it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

From a Waterford perspective, they would have travelled back down the road kicking themselves had they lost this game. It would have been an injustice had Clare won it but there's the counter-argument that over the course of the 90 minutes, it's probably justified that both teams will go at it again next Sunday.

The match-ups were intriguing. Podge Collins and Austin Gleeson seemed to cancel each other out, David Reidy on Kevin Moran was another interesting one, Colm Galvin against Jamie Barron, Brendan Bugler and the 'Brick' Walsh, and Oisín O'Brien started off on Shane Bennett.


To see some of this stuff unfolding in front of my eyes was fascinating. In those five battles alone, nobody was prepared to give an inch.

With the middle-third of the field hugely congested, it was a day for long-range shooters and while you can be critical of players having a try erratically from distance, if there's nobody inside, you're left with no choice.

Taking a pop from distance was the default option and that contributed to a huge amount of wides - 39 between both teams.

For Clare, 90 minutes into the legs of Tony Kelly will be a massive help and Conor McGrath, while quiet for 40 or 50 minutes, really exerted an influence when he drifted out to the half-forward line in a roaming role.

It's still finely balanced ahead of the replay but Clare will have a stronger starting 15. You'll probably see Aaron Shanagher starting, and possibly Shane O'Donnell, but both teams boast some incredible strength in depth.

Brian O'Halloran and Tommy Ryan were very good for Waterford when they came on and Maurice Shanahan hit the equalising point.


But we're only going to find out during the summer the true value of a reliable free-taker. That value sits on the Waterford bench in the form of Pauric Mahony.

Still, you've got to give credit to Shane Bennett, who was immense.

He could have dropped his head after missing those frees after half-time and said 'today's not my day' but he didn't and really dug in. He led the way brilliantly for a player who's still just 19 years of age.

To do that in the last 10 or 15 minutes of normal time speaks volumes for his leadership qualities.

Patrick Curran could have thrown his hat at it too but he, like Bennett, recovered from missing some good chances and hit a remarkable point from play early in the second half.

The worry for Waterford is that, by the 48th minute, they had a wide count of 18.

Tom Devine had a big say when he came on but goals were hard to come by, and Devine was denied at least once on a day when he could have had a couple.

I felt when Waterford went three points ahead in the first period of extra-time that it might be a match-winning lead but credit to Clare for closing that margin.

The one thing I admire about both of these teams is their refusal to panic, there's a calmness about them and they are great qualities to have during the summer and into the latter stages of the championship.

Looking ahead, neither team will want to lose the replay. It wouldn't be ideal preparation before facing each other again four weeks later in the Munster semi-final.

The losers will feel that they've put in an enormous effort over the course of two games for no reward.

Over the next few days, both management teams will go away, break the game down behind the scenes and their attention to detail is first class. They'll pore over the footage, looking for any small percentage gains that could prove decisive next Sunday.

A final word on Westmeath and Kerry, big winners in the Leinster round-robin series yesterday. I actually tipped both teams to win but the margin of victory for Westmeath over Offaly was most surprising.

Irish Independent

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