Sunday 19 November 2017

Preview: Allianz National Hurling League Final Replay

Clare v Waterford, Semple Stadium, 3.30

Clare's Tony Kelly Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE
Clare's Tony Kelly Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

By half-time in Thurles last Sunday, with a scoreline that might be considered unduly spartan for a Gaelic football match, the crowd had been numbed in accordance with the play. Poor shooting, overcrowding, misdirected passes, and 13 points from teams who had shot the lights out in the semi-finals when putting Limerick and Kilkenny to the sword, may have been a victory for strategy, but not for entertainment. Even in war, where caution is perhaps understandable, someone has to eventually go over the top, take a punt.

Gradually, they started to find little chinks of light, become braver, sometimes through extraordinary scores from the likes of Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath, Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran, but it was a long, tedious wait until the game caught fire and found some creative expression. There followed an incomparable period of extra-time which offered some value to those who made the journey and reminded them what they had come for in the first place. Does the replay takes it cue from the extra-time or what preceded it?

There is some hope that today will be less constrained, a little more adventurous, and both will see plenty of room for improvement. Clare’s 15 points in normal time relied hugely on one player, Conor McGrath, who scored all but three, a level of dependency which might do one day but is not a lasting solution. The loss of John Conlon was as pronounced as they feared but his loss will be more keenly felt down the line, which is a worry for a team that has some big men up there, but none as effective or consistent as Conlon.

Aaron Cunningham has trouble pinning good performances back-to-back and after his big show against Kilkenny his form sank, admittedly in a much more clustered environment. Peter Duggan and Darach Honan, save the odd score, also struggled. Podge Collins had a good match, Shane O’Donnell looked sharp when introduced and Cathal O’Connell even more so.

In the middle of the field Colm Galvin made most of the extra time, scoring two points and setting up a third after being taken off in normal time scoreless and David Reidy was good throughout, very good at times. Tony Kelly is coming back to his old form, and two of his scores were exceptional. But Waterford’s defensive system starved them of goalscoring opportunities, with McGrath having a half-chance from an acute angle and Aaron Shanagher the same, shooting on the turn when it needed a serious shot to beat Stephen O’Keeffe from that range on the spin with, invariably, Waterford backs on top of him.

Clare, too, defended in relative comfort for much of the game, with Cian Dillon sweeping effectively, but they were opened up in extra-time when Tom Devine, who had a major influence when introduced, shot through the cover and came closest to scoring a goal. Waterford’s shot selection and accuracy can surely improve but Clare accumulated a big wides total too and they will surely find something more creative and varied in their attack. Waterford, with Maurice Shanahan available, and Pauric Mahony also returning, will have more options on frees where they partly malfunctioned the last day.

Ultimately, we know both teams can defend; it is now a question of which can attack more effectively and boldly. That element of Waterford’s game might be a little more down the road.

Clare: P Kelly; O O’Brien, P O’Connor, C Dillon; B Bugler, C Cleary, D Fitzgerald; D Reidy, C Galvin; D Honan, T Kelly, A Cunningham; P Collins, P Duggan, C McGrath.

Waterford: S O’Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; T de Burca, A Gleeson, P Mahony; J Barron, D Fives; K Moran, S Bennett, M Walsh; P Curran, J Dillon, T Devine.

Verdict: Clare

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