Born-again Banner slam back door shut on Decies
CLARE 1-16 ; WATERFORD 1-13 WATERFORD loaded their trolleys to the brim in a quick dash around the Croke Park shopping aisles yesterday only to find that they had purchased inferior goods.
Meanwhile, Clare loaded up with the quality merchandise in a patient, purposeful march to their third Guinness All-Ireland final appearance since 1995.
And so, for the third time in six seasons, at least one of the teams in the All-Ireland hurling final will have gained access via the back door, having discovered that there can be more joy in heaven for a born-again first round loser than for provincial champions.
In a sense this is a whole new coming for Clare who lost three first round Munster championship games in 2000-2001-2002, only to find redemption in this season's new format which has now taken them clear of Dublin, Wexford, Galway and Waterford.
They have added substance and steel with each passing game and the manner of their recoveries against Galway and Waterford suggests that they are powered by an obsession which is a very close relation of the 1995-'97 strain.
Their captain Brian Lohan most certainly is. He rolled a massive boulder in front of Davy Fitzgerald's goal, perched himself on top, swatting and swishing at a variety of Waterford poachers.
They all fled the scene, utterly convinced that Lohan is capable of seeing around corners and can also sniff trouble irrespective of how deep it's buried in honey.
As first sentry at centre-back, Seanie McMahon only raises the alarm when he simply can't cope with opposition numbers, which was pretty rare yesterday. So with Lohan and McMahon imposing their imperious presence on the spine of the Clare resistance, Waterford had to swing left and right to improve the approach angles.
Early on, they did with a giddy flourish as they sprinted from the starting blocks and straight into the smooth groove which they had perfected in the second half of the Munster final. Their touch didn't deviate by a millimetre while their shooting looked as if it had been computer-programmed.
Four delightful points sailed high over the Clare crossbar in the first four minutes. Roared on by ecstatic fans, Croke Park was a blue and white blur as Waterford united in a show of strength which would have mesmerised most teams.
Even allowing for their proven record of stoic defiance, Clare looked in danger of being blown away in the rising storm but there were no discernible signs of panic as they busied themselves with the primary task of keeping the fundamentals in place. Still, when they led by 1-7 to 0-5 after 22 minutes (Eoin Kelly had scored three of the points) Waterford must have felt that they were on course for a first All-Ireland final appearance since 1963.
Paul Flynn had whipped in the goal from a 20-metre free in the 22nd minute, showing customary cheek in taking on, and beating, Clare's defensive wall.
That goal suggested that Flynn was heading for a most productive afternoon certainly from placed balls but as with so many of his colleagues early form was as unreliable as it was transient.
Flynn's shooting disintegrated in the second half, with two misses from vital frees feeding into the general error pool which did so much to drown Waterford's chances.
Clare won the final 47 minutes by 1-11 to 0-6 as their grinding methodology, decorated by some individual brilliance, raised the target to levels which Waterford could only stare at. The Clare defence tightened the knots on the Waterford attack; Colin Lynch, and later, sub Ollie Baker, motored on from midfield while Alan Markham, James O'Connor, Tony Carmody and David Forde pounced for crucial scores.
Niall Gilligan won plenty possession but had a shooting nightmare, hitting five wides, including one from a 20-metre free in the second half.
Clare's revival was well under way by the time Forde's perfect crossfield pass found Markham who fired in a goal in the 34th minute. When Markham and Gilligan pointed twice just before the break to give Clare a 1-10 to 1-9 interval lead, it was impossible for Waterford fans not to suspect the worst. Their side had delivered more enterprising hurling at times but Clare's counter-attacking expertise, combined with a relentless work ethic, had proved more effective.
Tony Browne's point from a line ball two minutes into the second half levelled the game but Waterford didn't score again for 22 minutes, during which Clare had added four points.
If the standard of shooting was excellent early in the first half neither side shot a wide until the 17th minute by which time 11 points had been scored it deteriorated rapidly in the second half.
The pace dropped too and there were times when Waterford showed a clear conviction deficit, feeling perhaps that they had thrown their best shots, only to find Clare still standing.
Waterford pared the lead to two points in the 61st minute but Forde and Baker stabilised Clare with two points before Andy Moloney sent over a consolation effort deep in injury time.
Clare, who lost Gerry Quinn with a serious hand injury late on, used their greater experience sensibly on a day when Waterford misfired after a brilliant start.
Tom Feeney, Fergal Hartley, Brian Greene, Brian Flannery, Eoin Murphy and Eoin Kelly all shone some bright flashes across the Waterford landscape on a day when Tony Browne, Ken McGrath and Paul Flynn, apart from his cheeky goal, were way below their best all through.
But then, apart from the first 22 minutes, Waterford were struggling with their power supplies. It raises the very valid question if it's fair to leave provincial champions in dry dock for six weeks while their opponents ride the high qualifying tides.
Waterford trained hard since the Munster final but Clare had real competitive action, which made them that bit harder when the action was at its most intense yesterday.
SCORERS Clare: A Markham 1-1; J O'Connor (1f) and S McMahon (3 '65') 0-3 each; N Gilligan (2f), T Carmody and D Forde 0-2 each; T Griffin, C Lynch and O Baker 0-1 each. Waterford: P Flynn 1-4 (1-3f); E Kelly 0-4; E McGrath, J Mullane, K McGrath, A Moloney and T Browne (line ball) 0-1 each.
TEAMS AND RATINGS
CLARE D Fitzgerald 7; B Quinn 7, B Lohan 9, F Lohan 8; D Hoey 7, S McMahon 9, G Quinn 7; J Reddan 5, C Lynch 8; T Griffin 7, J O'Connor 7, N Gilligan 6; D Forde 7, T Carmody 7, A Markham 8. Subs: O Baker 7 for Reddan (50), A Quinn for G Quinn (72). Booked: O Baker (50).
WATERFORD S Brenner 7; B Greene 8, T Feeney 8, B Flannery 8; P Queally 7, F Hartley 8, E Murphy 8; T Browne 5, A Moloney 6; E Kelly 8, K McGrath 5, P Flynn 6; J Mullane 7, S Prendergast 5, E McGrath 6. Subs: D Shanahan 6 for S Prendergast (55), D Bennett 6 for E McGrath (55), J Murray for Browne (66), M White for Mullane (70). Booked: B Flannery (53).
REF P O'Connor (Limerick).
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, a trip to Old Trafford to watch Man United take on Liverpool in the Premier League, tickets to Ireland's home games in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.