Waterford 0-22 Clare 0-22 (AET)

Maurice Shanahan pulls it out of fire to earn Déise replay – RTÉ
Deise and Banner must meet again (and again) – HoganStand.com
Clare and Waterford put on Championship-like show – Irish Times
Shanahan’s sweet strike saves Deise – Irish Independent
Maurice Shanahan shows nerves of steel to send hurling league final to a replay – the42.ie
Tactics order of the day as Clare and Weaterford [sic] managers play chess – Irish Examiner
Slow start, but episode one sets up intriguing Munster trilogy – Irish Examiner


You always look for a hook when writing anything – Enda Kenny’s Walter Mitty tendencies must be manna from heaven for political hacks – and so it was that Seán Stack’s surprisingly candid pre-match dismissal of Waterford was going to be my hook. If Clare won, credit would have to be given for actually saying something honest that might have been seen as ‘motivation’ for Waterford. If Waterford won, time to relish the reverse ferret as a county that once revelled in League success – me oul’ mucker Rachael English waxed lyrical recently about the arrival of the trophy at her school when they won it back in Seán Stack’s day – would dismiss it as not being the Championship. The potential for media-driven mischief was endless, and what is this blog if not one long repetitive riff on media mischief?

In the end, none of it mattered as Waterford and Clare served up as category-defying a game as you are ever likely to encounter. It was the best bad game of hurling ever.

Unofficial GAA on Twitter summed up the first half:

It was dull, and that was almost entirely down to Waterford. The question throughout the winter was whether Derek McGrath was going to pivot away from The System. If this game is anything go by, his response has been to double-down on it. You could almost understand that in the opening 15 minutes as Waterford struggled to cope with Clare’s forward power. But gradually Waterford began to make their dominance of the possession count and Clare on several occasions were happy to give away frees well out the field. Unfortunately Patrick Curran had a bad day at the office from the dead balls, our long-range shooting was dire, and there were repeated instances of the ball being lobbed in for Shane Bennett to beat the three men. If you are going to strip out all the forwards, surely you have to work the ball forward and put in runners? There was one excellent example of this with Waterford managing to get Colin Dunford free for what would be our only point from play in the half, and Stephen O’Keeffe deserves credit for his targeted puckouts towards halfway rather than just hitting aimless bombs or terrifying short grenades, but otherwise it was completely calamitous from Waterford. To have all that possession and be grateful to be only a point down at half-time . . . not good, not good at all.

No doubt there were a few rockets fired in both dressing rooms, and the game threatened to spark into life when Derek McGrath’s delight at the award of a disputed sideline ball to Waterford was met in kind by Davy Fitz in full-on med-as-a-hetter mode. The adrenaline rush only seemed to make Waterford even more careless though as yet more shots drifted wide. One effort from Tom Devine where he curved the ball wide after it was cheered over by some of the Waterford crowd left one in despair. Never mind worrying about leaving this one behind at the finish, by the midway point of the second half it had already been left behind. Clare were hitting some poor efforts themselves but they had a better excuse as the Waterford backs, swollen with the extra numbers in general and marshalled by the magnificent de Búrca in particular, were playing brilliantly and making them work for every score. Moving three points clear as the game ticked into the final quarter looked like it could be decisive in such a low-scoring encounter.

Gradually though order began to emerge from the Déise chaos. Shane Bennett did not let his free-taking woes disrupt his general play with a couple of excellent scores to reduce the deficit to manageable proportions and when Austin Gleeson finally managed to land a long-range effort we were suddenly, miraculously, in front for the first time with only ten minutes left. The chess game of the first hour ended and a hurling match broke out. Clare edged back in front thanks to Conor McGrath’s superior free taking and once again it looked like curtains but it was the man Bennett who stop up tall, first with a free then a ridiculously casual catch-run-and-strike to put Waterford in front in injury time. Could close it out and win a game that had suddenly and undeservedly taken on the hue of a classic?

Alas, no. O’Keeffe got away with a poor clearance when the return shot went wide, a let-off he celebrated by smashing the post thus confusing those of us who put great stock in the keeper’s reaction as to whether it it has gone over the bar. His puckout was worked up the sideline by Clare and de Búrca went to push the Clare player over the whitewash . . . free-in! I know I’m biased (duh) but the decision was out of kilter with Brian Gavin’s previous laissez-faire attitude to that kind of challenge, and no less a neutral personage than Ollie Moran was in agreement. McGrath held his nerve with the free and the people who were preparing to scoff that this wasn’t the All-Ireland celebrated as if they had won the All-Ireland.

The GAA can’t make its mind up about extra-time and replays. They persist with replays in the summer when they mess up schedules yet decided to play extra-time here when there are weeks in hand before the Championship starts. They sensibly decided years ago that 30 minutes was too long but maddeningly have the most interminable pause between the end of the normal time and the start of extra-time. We mournfully speculated that the effort expended by the Waterford backs in keeping the forwards in the ball to which they were accustomed would prove fatal against a team managed by someone fond of training sessions involving running up dunes in Tramore/Lahinch.

Yet it was Waterford who sprang out of the blocks, a super over-the-shoulder effort from Brian O’Halloran giving Derek McGrath a taste of what he can bring to the team, and scores from subs Devine and Thomas Ryan left Waterford sitting pretty in such a low scoring affair. But as noted earlier, this was now more akin to an old school hurling match with the ebb and flow that comes with that. Clare struck back, one of their scores after a short puckout to Noel Connors went Pete Tong, and while Tom Devine had a chance to land a hammer blow when he got in behind the defence he didn’t get much behind his ground shot as he raced towards goal, and they levelled matters right on the stroke of the end of the first half. Is there any sport where ‘momentum’ is so useless?

Points were exchanged at the start of the half but a fortuitously intercepted clearance was pinged over the bar by Clare then a Hail Mary effort dropped short and gave Clare a rare clear sight of goal, only for O’Keeffe to get across brilliantly to bat it out. Waterford quickly levelled and it was now tit-for-tat. Amidst all the sound and fury Maurice Shanahan and Pauric Mahony, now on as subs, combined for yet another equalising score. Maurice was being his usual, shall we say, mercurial self. Twice he reacted to being stranded up front by giving away a cheap free and when Clare took the lead as the game ticked into the last minute, I bitterly opined that those careless moments at a juncture when there were only seconds on the clock were going to prove costly. A minute of added time was announced – where do they get these minutes from in a ten-minute half when they rarely get more than two from a 35-minute period? – and the ref predictably gave Waterford one last chance from a free inside our own half. I thought O’Keeffe would have been the man in those circumstances but back went Maurice, taking an eternity over it before striking it so perfectly that you could see it was over from the moment it left the bas.

What a roller-coaster of a game. If ever there was a proof of concept of the self-congratulatory notion that a bad hurling match is better than the best of most other things, this was it. It was awful for large periods but it was, as Brian Flannery noted, absorbing, and played in a tremendous spirit – how lovely to see Davy Fitz offering his appreciation to Maurice at the final whistle. We went toe-to-toe against the team who being built up into Kilkenny slayers. We proven we can be obdurate with the best of them. Whether we can display the flexibility that is surely necessary to make the final leap remains to be seen.

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