Waterford 2-13 (19) Clare 2-12 (18) – Minor – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

I wonder what the results would show if a monitor was attached to the heart of an ardent hurling fan for a game like the Waterford/Clare minor semi-final on Wednesday night. The machine would probably blow every fuse and gasket it had long before the game was over. Is there any evidence that hurling fans have shorter life spans or greater vulnerability to heart failure than the rest of the population?

Think of the exhilaration of the first seven minutes as Waterford cut Clare to ribbons with some marvellously quick and accurate hurling to go 1-6 to 0-0 ahead, and it should have been 2-6 had the Clare goalie not got his body in the way of Patrick Curran’s shot from the edge of the square.

Then, all of a sudden, the scoring tap was switched off. To an extent it may have been due to Clare raising their game boosted by Aaron Shanagher’s two-goal burst in the 10th and 12th minutes. However, the fact is that Waterford continued to create scoring chances, but managed to hit nine wides during the remainder of the half, and some of them were really bad misses. Perhaps the concession of those goals served to undermine their self-belief.

The worst miss was when Peter Hogan (I think) soloed through the Clare defence and then managed to hit the ball wide of the post from the edge of the square. They were also unlucky when a Waterford forward (Aaron O’Sullivan, I think) at the edge of the square got his hurley to Cormac Curran’s super sideline cut but the ball was stopped on the line by a Clare defender.

At the same time, Waterford were lucky that Clare’s shooting was equally inept at the other end of the field. They missed five scorable frees, including two from the 20 meter line by the usually reliable Shanagher.

The Waterford mentors can take no credit in allowing (or instructing) corner back Eddie Hayden to follow his man who was brought out to midfield by Clare. This made it much easier for the tall, skillful and athletic Shanagher to both get possession and make ground when he had possession. You will never see Joe Canning one-on-one with his marker when playing at full forward against Kilkenny. In situations like this a team should move one of their own corner forwards out to midfield to pick up the free man if he is causing problems.

Having said that, Shanagher was very lucky with his first goal, as he was hooked from behind as he took his shot only for the rolling ball to slip under Billy Nolan’s hurley as he came out to collect. That wasn’t Nolan’s only mistake. Later in the half, after he blocked out a high ball into the square and went after it, he made the basic error of turning back infield with the ball only to lose possession which was compounded by one of the defenders doing the same thing. Clare worked the ball into the goalmouth only for MJ Sutton to make a desperate (and brilliant) clearance off the line. However, fair dues to Nolan for an excellent second half performance, capped by that unbelievable save from point-blank range at the death.

Waterford appeared to regain the initiative just before half time when Patrick Curran offloaded an excellent long pass out of defence with a superb sideways pass to the inrushing Shane Bennett who flew past the Clare last line of defence and blasted the ball to the net (although the Clare goalie might have done better as the shot went right through him).

The sending off of Clare’s Michael O’Malley five minutes after half time should have further strengthened Waterford’s hand. However, rather than buckling at this setback, Clare really got stuck in and completely dominated play for the next 15 minutes, moving from six points down to two points ahead.

A major problem for Waterford in this phase of the game was the persistence and predictability of aiming all puckouts to Cormac Curran on the left wing. Not only was Curran not at the top of his game, but Clare were able to crowd the landing area and repeatedly win possession. Waterford should have varied the puckouts more and in particular made more use of the extra man who should have been deployed in midfield, where Waterford were finding it impossible to get possession.

However, just as it appeared that Waterford’s goose was cooked, they managed to turn the tide. There were a number of factors involved in this. Switching centre back Colm Roche and centre forward Conor Gleeson proved to be a master stroke. Bringing on Eddie Meaney gave Waterford a lot more possession on the right side of the attack. As Meaney had a similar impact when brought on in the first game against Clare, one wonders what he needs to do to get a starting place.

As the game became more open in the closing stages, the advantage of the extra man became increasingly important for Waterford. And, given that Waterford won the first game with a similar late spurt, it might be that they were simply fitter than Clare.

This game will have brought Waterford on a ton. I would not rush to move Colm Roche out of the centre back position, as this was his first competitive game in several months. However, I do believe that Shane Bennett would be of most value to us at left half back. I also think we need a ball winning presence in midfield which could be provided by Cormac Curran or Eddie Meaney. We might also need a rethink in the full back line, as Limerick have three very nippy full forwards.

I was at the Limerick-Cork game on Thursday night, and Limerick certainly did not look world-beaters in a game in which there was a lot of poor play (again, the long lay-off for both teams may account for this). Cork lost two of their starting players to injury in the first half, missed a penalty, and had a late free saved. They panicked a bit when they went five points down early in the second half and, despite getting a lot of possession, they repeatedly ran at the Limerick defence looking for goals which, with one exception, never came. Had they taken their points, the game could have had a different result.

The Limerick full back line looked solid, Ronan Lynch is a strong presence at centre back, Colin Ryan did well at centre field (and at free-taking) and their captain Cian Lynch won a lot of aerial ball at left half forward. Their star turn was Tom Morrissey at full forward who scored five points from play. This is the guy whose goal, after taking 12 steps, brought Limerick back into the game in last year’s final. He is a very different proposition from Aaron Shanagher, not particularly tall but very skillful and fast and he likes to take his man on. That said, Limerick never forced the Cork goalie to make a save and seemed content to keep taking their points (they got 23 of them).

Two interesting features of this game were the very low number of wides (seven by my count compared with 22 on Wednesday) and the fact that all the officials were from Waterford. The referee was Paul Foley (who did a good job, I thought – which you couldn’t say about the referee in Dungarvan) with Michael O’Brien and Michael Wadding running the lines and Alan Kissane as 4th official).