Clare 1-23 -
Patrick Curran of Waterford celebrates scoring the opening goal of Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League Final Replay in Semple Stadium, Thurles after just 17 seconds. Photo: Inpho.
NHL FINAL REPLAY: WATERFORD V CLARE
Making my way out of Semple Stadium in Thurles on Sunday, along with thousands of Waterford fans, there was only one topic of conversation. Diarmuid Kirwan and the role he played in the dramatic conclusion to this National Hurling League replay.
As the game ticked towards the second minute of three minutes of injury time to be played at the end of an absorbing replay, and Waterford leading on a score of 2-19 to 1-21 and looking set to win back to back league titles for the first time in the county’s history, Jamie Barron was unceremoniously dragged back in the middle of the field, right in front of referee Kirwan. Amazingly the Offaly native waved play on and seconds later he was pointing in the opposite direction for what looked like a very soft free to Clare. Tony Kelly banged it over from well over 80 yards and it looked as though we were bound for extra-time for the second week in a row but 30 seconds later, Kelly scored a brilliant point on the run under the New Stand to win Clare’s first league title since 1978 with the last puck of the game.
Heartbreak for the Deise. Heartbreak that should never have come their way. The foul on Jamie Barron was 100% a free, one which Patrick Curran would almost certainly have slotted over to mean that Waterford would have led by two with a minute of injury time to play. Instead Kirwan was attempting to get the game to extra-time and instead only managed to tee up the win for the Banner.
Waterford fans were furious leaving the ground and many still are, and rightly so. A terrible decision which cost Waterford a national trophy and God knows such things are hard enough to come by.
CLARE’S ONLY LEAD
It’s hard to believe that when Tony Kelly pointed on the stroke of 73 minutes, it was the first time in the entire game that Clare had been in front. On three separate occasions Waterford led by six only to have the game and the title snatched from their grasp.
Should Waterford have won the game? I’d say without doubt, yes.
The Deise got the perfect start when Patrick Curran had the ball in the Banner net inside 20 seconds. Jake Dillon raised Waterford’s second green flag on 19 minutes and the boys in white and blue were rampant. At this juncture it looked as though they could put the Banner to the sword but somehow Davy Fitz’s men stemmed the tide and were flattered to go into the solace of the dressing room at the halfway stage trailing by just three points.
A big part of Waterford’s success in the first half was their route one approach. Playing with a strong breeze, time and time again Stephen O’Keeffe dispensed with the short puck out and just let it fly down on top of the Clare defence and it paid dividend. In that opening half Waterford scored 2-9 (2-7 from play), while Clare scored 0-12 (0-6 from play).
Waterford also started the second-half well and when Austin Gleeson pointed in the 48th minute, the Deise led by six (2-15 to 0-15) and looked destined to kick on and claim a first league back to back for the county.
However the closing 22 minutes is where Clare won this game and Waterford lost it. During that final spell, Clare outscored the Deise 1-8 to 0-4 (two from frees and two from play). The Tony Kelly goal, which arrived in that 48th minute was the real turning point of this game. It lifted the Clare players and supporters and re-energised them to chase a game that only seconds earlier seemed to be slipping away from them.
Waterford were living off scraps for the majority of the second-half, a fact backed up by the statistic that Brian O’Halloran’s wide on 68 minutes, 33 minutes into the second period, was the Deise’s first since the interval.
Clare on the other hand scored 1-11 in the second period (a point shy of their whole tally for the opening 70 plus minutes a week previously) and their main man, as well as being the match winning hero, was Tony Kelly. This man really is a class act and while he went quite for a big chunk of the middle of this game, he really stepped up to the plate when his side needed him in the final quarter. He ended the game with 1-6 (1-5 from play) in a real man of the match performance.
From a Waterford point of view the players and management will be hugely disappointed that this game was lost. Not only for the circumstances that unfolded at the end but for the fact that this game was there to be won, to be closed out with 20 minutes to go and it didn’t happen. They had their foot on Clare’s throat and they left them back up. You can’t do that at this level.
CHIP ON THE SHOULDER
That said, I’m sure that fact and they way the game finished will give Waterford all the motivation they will need to turn up again at Semple Stadium in three week’s time to face the same opposition in a Munster Semi-final and put right the wrongs of last Sunday. A chip on the shoulder is often not a bad thing to have going into a massive game and Waterford certainly have just cause for that after Sunday.
Of course away from the disappointment of the result and the manner of the defeat, there were plenty of positives, the main one being the continuing emergence of Patrick Curran as a top class inter-county forward. Anyone who saw this lad in juvenile hurling growing up would have vouched that he would have a big future at inter-county level but now he’s really doing it and on a consistent basis which is fantastic. He scored 1-9 (1-2 from play) on Sunday and was top class throughout. Austin Gleeson scored three great points from play. Jake Dillon took his goal really well, while Shane Bennett and Jamie Barron both chipped in with two points from play. Brian O’Halloran also got a point and impressed again when introduced. In defence Tadhg de Burca (even if he gave away one or two clearances), Philip Mahony, Shane Fives and especially Darragh Fives all put in fine displays so despite the result, there’s plenty to be a happy about going into the championship in three weeks.
The drawn game got plenty of stick for its quality or lack of but this replay was much better fare. Both teams contributed to a thoroughly entertaining spectacle of real quality and the only disappointing thing (apart from the result) was that only 14,210 paid in to watch it, compared to nearly 20,000 a week earlier. The GAA have to take their share of blame for that by not dropping the price of the tickets. 25 euro a ticket (neither terrace were open) two weeks in a row is too much for many in this day in age.
That said I predict there’ll be twice that come June 5th when these two sides will square up once again for round three, I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.