Friday 19 January 2018

Cyril Farrell: Banner's young stars can shine bright after Munster breakthrough

Cyril Farrell

The importance of this win for Davy Fitzgerald and Clare can't be underestimated. For this team's progress and development, and for Clare hurling in general, they just had to come away from Thurles with the right result.

If they had beaten Waterford by 0-3 to 0-2, it wouldn't have mattered as long as they got the victory. As it turned out, their second-half performance was very encouraging. To score 2-12 and only concede 0-6 in 35 minutes is impressive stuff at this level.

The monkey is off the back now in terms of getting that elusive Munster championship win under their belts. The likes of Tony Kelly and John Conlon showed they are more than capable of mixing it with the best of them and taking their scores from far out.

Kelly showed his courage in going for the goal from the 21-metre free that was blocked and eventually got volleyed in by Shane O'Donnell.

They had seven or eight fellas who are really young, and a game like this will do more for the squad than three weeks of training. These lads will improve and the cobwebs will be blown off. Cian Dillon and Darach Honan also came through and got good game-time after injuries.

FAVOURITES

It will take the pressure off too because, even though there was no title at stake, they were favourites coming into this game, so they needed to respond.

But it wasn't a typical Munster SHC game. I expected both teams to be massively motivated and for there to be heavy belts and hard hurling from the start. The first period was the complete opposite, however. There was very little hard hitting and it lacked the intensity we have become accustomed to.

Clare were trying to play a short possession game and it wasn't working. Fitzy had obviously told his fellas that keeping the ball was key but the short sidelines in the first half, in particular, were not working.

The Waterford goal came as a result of Pat Donnellan trying to play a short ball from defence. Credit to Jake Dillon for the finish, but he should never have been given the chance in the first place.

It took the sting out of the Banner, who had started off brilliantly. And from there Waterford had it spot on. They were the better team for 30 minutes of the first half. 'Brick' Walsh grew into it while Jamie Nagle hurled a massive amount of ball and did so effectively.

The big difference at that point was the contrast in styles.

Waterford were reaping great rewards from the long, direct ball into the likes of Maurice Shanahan, who was causing all sorts of problems. They will kick themselves looking back, because they should have been much further in front than four points after a lot of bad wides.

Clare, on the other hand, were huffing and puffing to an extent. Their full-forward line was starved of supply and the movement of the ball was slow so it meant the Waterford half-back line and midfield were able to smother it and send it back down the field.

But, just as they proved in the league, Clare are a second-half team. And when they got the first goal they took over. 2-20 is a fine score to get and I would make them favourites against Cork in the semi-final.

Waterford won't be too disheartened overall. They are very much a team in transition. The likes of Pauric Mahony, Jamie Barron and Dillon are still very young.

It's not easy when a manager has to replace the marquee hurlers they have lost, even since last year. They will replace them, but it's going to take time to do it.

As for the other hurling game yesterday, I wasn't surprise to see Laois win. I saw Laois in the Walsh Cup on a cold and miserable day in Rathdowney last February. It was anything but ideal conditions for hurling, but there was enough evidence to suggest these lads were finally on the right track.

Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett has them well organised and there was no shortage of commitment. The key thing has been ensuring that the best hurlers in the county turn out and, from all accounts, that seems to be the case.

There has always been top-class talent in Laois but the last few years have been tough. Okay they are playing Galway next, who are red hot favourites, but it's bonus territory now. It's a first Leinster semi-final for a long time, so no matter what happens, the season has been a success.

Irish Independent

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