Tuesday 18 June 2019

Kelly on fire as slick Banner survive dramatic late surge from Waterford

Clare 1-20  Waterford 0-22

No way through: Shane O’Donnell finds his path blocked by Waterford players (l-r) Shane Fives, Conor Prunty and Shane McNulty. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
No way through: Shane O’Donnell finds his path blocked by Waterford players (l-r) Shane Fives, Conor Prunty and Shane McNulty. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

The venue itself was a raised fist of Waterford defiance, but all those old sounds coursing through Walsh Park yesterday settled on uncomplicated Banner candour in the end.

That it took a 74th-minute Ryan Taylor point to see Clare home seemed mildly absurd given what the 11,012 attendance had witnessed, yet it spoke too of the home team's flat refusal to acquiesce tamely against sharper, more coherent opposition.

Clare goalkeeper Donal Touhy dives to his right to save a late Waterford free. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Clare goalkeeper Donal Touhy dives to his right to save a late Waterford free. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Clare looked to be coasting with 70 minutes completed and a five-point lead that their hosts appeared ill-equipped to threaten, never mind rein in. But then play began tilting inexplicably towards the Keane's Road end, tugged there by some, strange gravitational pull that set the old place jumping.

With Aussie Gleeson having just had a 20-metre free deflected out for a '65', Stephen Bennett was put on duty for a similar award only to see his effort deflected over for a point. Then Maurice Shanahan scored and Bennett added a free, before Aussie nailed his fourth of the day and, well, from facing their last will and testament, Waterford were just a point adrift now with two minutes of added time still to run.

Frazzled

On the line, Donal Moloney - arms apart and frazzled - looked like he'd seen some snakes in the grass.

And you'd have heard the thunder on the quays had Waterford stolen from there, but Taylor - just nine minutes on the field - eventually restored some semblance of order with, essentially, Clare's winning point, a solitary minute remaining. Seconds later, Tommy Ryan brought it back to one again, but James Owens was already looking at his watch as he did so.

Shane ODonnell of Clare in action against Noel Connors of Waterford. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Shane ODonnell of Clare in action against Noel Connors of Waterford. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

So the whistle settled it then, but Lord God this old place had some life in its stone while Waterford were charging.

Páraic Fanning didn't need to be told afterwards that the right team had won, but he was defiant too about what the game had told us. When someone suggested his men had almost 'nicked' a point, he replied: "If you were to look at the last 20 minutes there was one team driving forward and you know we had every chance.

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"The game lasts for the time the game lasts. They got their scores just before half-time, towards the end of the game, we were the team coming. We're far from done."

Tony Kelly was key to Clare's win, the Ballyea man returning 0-5 from play in the first big Championship game to be played at the city venue since Tipperary's visit in '96.

Shane ODonnell of Clare in action against Noel Connors of Waterford. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Shane ODonnell of Clare in action against Noel Connors of Waterford. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

But for 70 minutes Clare had been a whole team in harmony, quickly taking any tribal sting out of the atmosphere with John Conlon firing home a third-minute goal after great work by Shane O'Donnell. It was precisely the start Fanning would have been hoping to avoid for his debutant full-back Conor Prunty, albeit the entire Waterford defensive structure seemed to come undone for the goal rather than it being down to any individual lapse.

O'Donnell looked remarkably sharp in a two-man inside line, with Clare happy to crowd the middle third out of which Kelly's runs always looked problematic for Waterford.

That early goal gave Clare a lead they slowly built upon, Donal Tuohy surprisingly having the freedom to pick short puck-out targets at will as that middle third came to resemble Picadilly Circus at rush-hour.

Waterford also had the misfortune to lose captain Noelie Connors with apparent concussion not long after a ninth minute collision with Conlon in the build-up to a disallowed goal for O'Donnell.

Philip Mahony of Waterford in action against John Conlon of Clare. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Philip Mahony of Waterford in action against John Conlon of Clare. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

When Tuohy did choose to go long, the big hand of Peter Duggan was a dependable outlet and the Clooney Quin All-Star had the eye in for his free-taking too, getting to the break with an impressive 0-6 to his name.

By then Clare led 1-13 to 0-10, the locals left frustrated by Waterford's tendency to hit long into an attack where the Bennett brothers, Shane and Stephen, were being well man-marked by David McInerney and Pat O'Connor respectively.

Stephen Bennett did have a fifth-minute goal chance, his flicked effort spinning wide of a post and, minutes later, Tuohy tipped his piledriver over the bar, with Waterford chasing early momentum.

But Clare had gained early dominance at the half-back line and, frankly, never quite relinquished it.

Stephen Bennett's frees kept Waterford just about in touch and when Aussie caught a 49th-minute Tuohy puck-out and fired over a spectacular point, they looked to be building real momentum.

Clare, though, nailed three of the next four scores, the third a Kelly point put on a plate by Kevin Moran's misplaced clearance.

That was the tenor of it then, the tone. Waterford always having to work that bit harder for scores, at least until that late outbreak of emotional chaos.

Had either of those 20-metre frees found the Clare net, who can say what might have unspooled here?

As Clare captain, O'Connor, conceded: "Let me tell you they were very close to going in too. Very close. But lads threw their bodies in front of it and when you approach the game as honestly as that, I find, over my career, that you'll get the break. Sooner or later."

For too long Waterford had depended almost exclusively on Stephen Bennett's free-taking to keep them in touch, only Maurice Shanahan's 65th-minute introduction seemed to bring fresh energy.

Energy that brought that late, improbable and, ultimately, futile charge.

SCORERS - Clare: P Duggan 0-8 (7f), T Kelly 0-5, J Conlon 1-1, C Galvin, S Golden, A McCarthy, P Collins, S O'Donnell and R Taylor 0-1 each.

Waterford: Stephen Bennett 0-11 (9f), A Gleeson 0-4, J Barron 0-2, C Gleeson, M Kearney, Shane Bennett, T Ryan and M Shanahan 0-1 each.

CLARE - D Tuohy 7, P O'Connor 7, D McInerney 8, J Browne 7, S Morey 7, C Galvin 7, D Fitzgerald 7, S Golden 7, C Malone 7, P Duggan 8, T Kelly 9, D Ryan 7, S O'Donnell 8, J Conlon 7, P Collins 7. Subs: A Shanagher 6 for Collins (53 mins), A McCarthy 7 for Golden (57 mins), R Taylor for Ryan (65 mins).

WATERFORD - S O'Keeffe 7, S McNulty 7, C Prunty 7, N Connors (not on long enough), Philip Mahony 7, T de Burca 6, K Moran 6, J Barron 6, C Gleeson 6, A Gleeson 8, M Kearney 7, Pauric Mahony 6, Shane Bennett 7, Stephen Bennett 8, P Hogan 6. Subs: S Fives 7 for Connors (18 mins), T Ryan 6 for Hogan (half-time), J Prendergast 7 for Barron (56 mins), P Curran 6 for Shane Bennett (56 mins), M Shanahan for Pauric Mahony (65 mins).

Ref - J Owens (Wexford).

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