Sunday 17 December 2017

Budding Banner have the talent to buck trend

10 March 2013; Jamie Barron, Waterford. Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Waterford v Cork, Fraher Field, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
10 March 2013; Jamie Barron, Waterford. Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Waterford v Cork, Fraher Field, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Clare have not won a Munster senior championship game since 2008; Waterford's last defeat in the first round was in the same year.

Clare have not reached a Munster final since 2008; Waterford qualified for the last four finals, winning one.

Clare have not reached an All-Ireland quarter-final since 2008; Waterford qualified for three semi-finals and one quarter-final in the last four years (plus they reached the final in 2008).

Clare lost to Waterford in their last two championship clashes (2010 and 2012) and in their most recent league meeting (last February).

Surely that makes Waterford strong favourites to beat Clare tomorrow. Actually, it doesn't. The betting shows Clare as well fancied to emerge from their Munster first-round dungeon and book a semi-final date with Cork on June 23.

Why so? For some unknown reason, Waterford are always unloved in the markets. But just as that has remained consistent, so too has Waterford's stubborn refusal to accept their perceived rating which, as they understandably point out, has never been based on fact. Results, they argue patiently, speak for themselves. It's a fair point.

DIFFERENCE

"We don't mind in the slightest being written off. People can keep at it as much as they like and it still won't make any difference to us. We believe in ourselves – that's all that counts," said team manager Michael Ryan at a time when they were doing a whole lot better in the league than some fancied rivals.

Waterford lost out on a semi-final slot, but unlike Clare were safe from relegation after four rounds. Clare dropped into the drop zone, but survived in Division 1A by beating Cork in a play-off.

For a variety of reasons, Waterford have undergone a lot of change since last year's championship, but still retain solid experience across every line except, perhaps, the full-forward trio.

However, in Jamie Barron, Pauric Mahony and Jake Dillon, they have three excellent young forward talents whose battle with the Clare full-back line – Domhnall O'Donovan, David McInerney and Seadna Morey – will be fascinating. Mahony is in his third season as a senior, but is still only 21.

Davy Fitzgerald has chosen eight U-21s in a youth policy which he hopes will underpin a new era for Clare hurling. Only four (Patrick Donnellan, Patrick O'Connor, John Conlon and Conor Ryan) of the starting team that lost Clare's opening championship game two years are named for tomorrow.

Another big difference for Clare this year is that they were in NHL 1A, where they beat Cork (twice) and Galway, while losing to Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford. Last year, they came out of 1B, which didn't provide them with anything like the level of intense engagement they were to experience this spring.

A curious aspect of both sides' displays in the league was their low goal return. Clare scored four in six games, while Waterford manager only three in five games, drawing a blank in three of them. However, good defensive work against Cork and Tipperary enabled them to take three of a possible four points.

Clare's game involves a lot of long-range shooting, a tactic which proved sound against Cork, against whom they landed a total of 53 points in two games, one of which went to extra-time.

On the evidence of their most recent league and championship meetings, there's very little between the sides, but Waterford will feel that their superior record in recent seasons gives them an edge. However, all sequences come to an end, so while it has been all positive for Waterford and all negative for Clare in early Munster action over the last four years, that brings no certainty of a continuation. Indeed, it actually makes change all the more likely.

Verdict: Clare

Clare – P Kelly; D O'Donovan, D McInerney, S Morey; B Bugler, P Donnellan, P O'Connor; C Galvin, Conor Ryan; J Conlon, T Kelly, Colin Ryan; P Collins, S O'Donnell, C McGrath.

Waterford – I O'Regan; D Fives, L Lawlor, N Connors; J Nagle, M Walsh, P Prendergast; S O'Sullivan, K Moran; M Shanahan, S Prendergast, B O'Halloran; J Barron, P Mahony, J Dillon.

Clare v Waterford,

Live, RTE2, 4.0

Irish Independent

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