Waterford 3-23 (32) Clare 1-11 (14) – Under-21

Boost for Waterford hurling as U21 side storm into Munster final with 18-point win over Clare – The42.ie
Bennett blast for Banner as U-21s lift Déise spirits – Irish Independent
Waterford U21s blow Clare away – Irish Examiner
Stephen Bennett leads second-half blitz as Waterford put Clare to sword – Irish Times
Devastating Deise demolish Banner – HoganStand.com
Waterford trounce Clare to reach Munster Under-21 final- RTÉ


History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. And, on occasion, the rhymes are a ripoff of the original. So it proved for the Waterford Under-21’s as, three years on from crushing the Clare Minors in the notorious free game in Dungarvan, they did the same to them in front of over 4,000 paying punters in Walsh Park. It struck me as I started this that a lot of those Clare players will have donned the county jersey for the last time. They won’t be sorry to see the back of our jersey – and the back of it is all they saw for much of this game.

I’m in a gleefully vindictive mood. If we only learned one thing from last Sunday, and if it took until last Sunday to learn this lesson then you must have spent the last half-century in Alpha Centauri, it would be that you have to enjoy these moments. In the build-up to the game I managed to work myself into a right state at the failures at this level over the last decade. In the long run Cork and Tipperary will always lord it over the rest of us and you have to make hay when they are shrouded by cloud, so for Limerick and Clare to win the last five Munster titles without even an appearance in the final from us is a dispiriting thought – and it’s not as if spirits were that buoyant to begin with. The class of 2009 came and went without making an impact on this competition. Could the class of 2013 do any better? If not, it would be clear that we were doing something fundamentally wrong.

The early signs were ominous. Having deliberately decided to sit right down at the far end of the stand so there would be plenty of room, a Clare lad duly plonked himself a few rows in front of me and proceeded to greet every score with at least 15 seal-like claps, even tap-overs from frees. Yes, I was counting. Had I not suffered enough on Sunday? Events on the field were not any better as Clare looked that bit sharper than Waterford. It seemed like we were first to every ball but they were cleaning up the dirty stuff and their goal was deeply alarming, going in after three attempts by Waterford to get the ball away. They were knocking over points around Waterford defenders and to slip 1-4 to 0-1 down inside the first ten minutes was enough to bring to mind all manner of dark thoughts. What the hell were we doing to players between 18 and 21? Stuffing them full of blaas?

A couple of frees from Patrick Curran stemmed the tide and there was one brilliant score from Mickey Kearney where Waterford worked it through the middle allowing him to ram it through the posts, but the ease with which Clare responded to that, a simple sashay up the left from the puckout without a speck of ash touching one of their players, was galling in the extreme. Six points up after 20 minutes, if Clare pushed on they could be out of sight by half-time.

They didn’t push on though and, in retrospect, had they found themselves in the same position one hundred times against the same team, they would have done well to win once. It was a remarkably open game and the Clare forwards had the edge up to that point on their Waterford opposite numbers, but even a small shift in a few battles saw Waterford get on top. Yet another ridiculously precocious score from a sideline ball by Austin Gleeson (see above) contributed to the Waterford fightback and while a chance of a goal was spurned by Patrick Curran it ended up in another point and showed that Clare were going backwards. By half-time the gap was down to two and you thought that with the wind to come they just had to be able to close this one out. If they couldn’t you’d be wondering what the hell we were doing to players between 18 and 21 etc.

Having spent half-time enjoying the sight of so many girls and boys (and a few adults) engaging in the simple thrill of playing on the pitch graced by their heroes . . . I’m laying it on thick here, but sod it. It would be all of 20 seconds before Waterford had killed the match stone dead, Stephen Bennett rattling the ball home after Waterford won the ball straight from the throw-in. Two points followed immediately from each puckout and even the world’s greatest fatalist here was contemplating going down and doing an Alan Pardew in front of Mr Seal. A few people have wryly wondered whether Ger Loughnane would question Waterford’s moral fibre after the Tipp game having been so disparaging of Galway’s far less apocalyptic implosion against Kilkenny. He would certainly have plenty of cause to be obnoxious towards his own county men here if he were so inclined as Waterford racked up score after score with barely any intervention. Stephen Bennett added a second goal after a mix-up in the Clare defence and another green flag soon followed from Colm Roche.

The bottom line is that the eventual 18-point victory completely flattered Clare. The last ten minutes it was Waterford who stepped off the gas, as if just to give the backs a bit of game time, with Jordan Henley dealing competently with a series of goalward efforts. None of it was Elastigirl stuff as the efforts were of the Hail Mary variety but it would have been annoying had one of them managed to slip by. I had a mutter or two along the lines that a 22-point win would be nice . . . man, I really am leaving myself some hostages to fortune here. Tipperary and Limerick will be waiting in the wings, both confident that they defeated the 2013 Minors in the course of that momentous season. It’s important though to tell posterity how fantastic this was. You know all the guff about teams being burdened down by expectations? Here you had a big crowd yearning for some redemption after the weekend from those who lifted us all up back then, and they got it in spades. There will be plenty of mournful moments to come, so let’s revel in the joyous ones while we can.

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