Before this year, ‘here we go again’ meant another walloping. In 1998 it meant another near miss with glory. It pains me to write about this game, because we were oh-so-close, and what happened a week later only seems to exacerbate the feeling but if this is to be a complete account of 1998 then I had better include it.
It was a beautiful day for hurling, if a bit windy, and Thurles was buzzing as only Thurles can. The Clare fans were in the Square sneering at us, commiserating with us before the game. How quickly they forget. But the start of the game seemed to justify their arrogance. A long-range effort struck the bar, Alan Markham gathered the rebound and fired it across Brendan Landers for a great goal. Clare dominated the first half and Waterford were struggling to keep in touch. But a goal always eases fears and our first goal of the Championship came five minutes before half-time. Paul Flynn steamed through the Clare defence, drawing Brian Lohan to him. His low shot was well saved but the unmarked Anthony Kirwan was on hand to knock the ball over the line. Unfortunately Clare cancelled out the goal with three points just before half-time.
Eight points down and we needed a flying start and we got one. It was the very first attack. Anthony Kirwan went out to gather the ball, gave Brian Lohan the ‘slip’, moved casually towards goal before blazing a shot into the far corner of the net. Five points down and a gale-force wind to our backs, this was our moment. Yet with minutes to go, the gap was still four points. Some loose shooting on our part and an incredible performance by Jamsie O’Connor conspired to keep Clare’s noses in front. Then the powder keg was lit.
It is quite possible that all the subsequent grief stemmed from the point that might not have been. Tony Browne struck a great score from way out the field. I didn’t see it from my point of view but it struck the post and fell onto the roof of the net. Yet the umpire signalled it wide! Naturally Shane Ahearne did his Vesuvius impression and Willie Barrett, to be fair to him, gave the point. It helped keep the gap at only one score. But it also gave Clare carte blanche to behave like a bunch of terrorists. If they can intimidate the ref why can’t we etc?
Waterford still couldn’t turn the screw. As the game entered injury time there was still three points in it. Míceal White was fouled on the 21-metre line. The ref didn’t play advantage much to everyone’s disgust. Paul Flynn stood over the ball. What to do? Initially I thought ‘take the point’ but as he lifted the ball I remember saying “he should go for the goal”.
Perhaps I’m only imagining it, but I followed the flight of his howitzer all the way to the net. Bedlam ensued on the terrace. We had been chasing since the very start of the game but now we were level. Clare were stunned. How could this be happening? The puck-out was gathered by Tony Browne who got a hurley in his face for his troubles from PJ O’Connell. A blatant sending-off offence, it got what it deserved. We now had a free about 100 metres out. Since a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, Paul Flynn opted to go for the score direct. I think he was right. If he dropped it in they would probably clear it. This way it was out of their hands. We all held our breath. The distance was good but the ball drifted agonisingly to the right and wide.
And that was that. So close, and we were getting another chance. Everyone settled down and looked forward to a great replay.
Waterford: Brendan Landers, Tom Feeney, Sean Cullinane (Mark O’Sullivan), Brian Flannery, Stephen Frampton (capt.), Fergal Hartley, Brian Greene, Tony Browne (0-3, 0-1 line ball), Peter Queally, Dan Shanahan (0-3), Ken McGrath, Dave Bennett (Míceal White, 0-1), Billy O’Sullivan (Sean Daly), Anthony Kirwan (2-1), Paul Flynn (1-2, all frees)
Clare: David Fitgerald, Frank Lohan, Brian Lohan, Brian Quinn, Liam Doyle, Sean McMahon, Anthony Daly (capt.) (0-1, free), Colin Lynch, Ollie Baker, David Forde (0-1; Conor Clancy, 0-1), PJ O’Connell (0-1), Jamsie O’Connor (0-7, 0-3 frees), Niall Gilligan (0-1; Ger O’Loughlin), Eamonn Taaffe (0-2; Fergus Tuohy), Alan Markham (1-0)
HT: Waterford 1-2 Clare 1-10
Referee: Willie Barrett (Tipperary)