So then, after a league final that was settled after two games and by the thinnest of margins, after all the talk of systems and the traditionalists war upon them and after the sideline pyrotechnics from the assorted coaching staffs, it’s safe to say we all expected the Hurling Championship to be ignited by the final part of the Clare/Waterford trilogy at Semple Stadium.
Truth be told, it was an average game. The Hurling version of a holding episode of Game of Thrones. You’re damn glad it’s on and Lord knows you’ll have to wait a while for it to come back, but really, you’re here for blood not plot development.
Waterford arrived with the chip on the shoulder from that cruel league final defeat while Clare pitched up as the Kilkenny slayers in waiting and the game did stutter to life from the off. Stephen O’Keeffe pulled of a fabulous save from a David Reidy effort within ninety seconds which was to prove to be Clare’s only real goal chance and two minutes later, Maurice Shanahan was bobbling the ball into the corner of the net to give Waterford the type of cushion their famed system is made for.
Shanahan was responsible for a glorious looped backwards pass within those ten minutes but while undeniable quality was evident from both sides, the opening twelve minutes also brought eight wides and a share of aimless passes.
Both sides settled for letting their archers let fly from distance and the game started to resemble a pot shot exercise. For Clare, the question must be asked as to why they played the game on Waterford’s terms. Twice Podge Collins got something resembling decent service in the first half and twice he darted away from his marker and planted over a point.
Tony Kelly was a far too regular visitor to his own half back line and while the Clare brains trust no doubt felt they had to counter the Waterford system, they ended up stifling their biggest assets.
For Waterford, Darragh Fives was outstanding in the first half, full of ranging running and popping up to put out fires while every so often Austin Gleeson punctuated the game with his class. One point with fifteen minutes to go summed up Waterford and Gleeson’s day as he calmly intercepted a Clare pass deep in his own half and pinged a long range strike effortlessly over the bar.
What league ? Dancing manager league jig
— Ken McGrath (@kenmcgrath78) June 5, 2016
When David McInerney made his much welcomed return off of the bench for Clare in the second half, the first thing he did was exchange half a dozen shoulders with Gleeson. The two clanged off of each other like deer breaking antlers but by then, Gleeson had already feasted on Clare from a distance. Give thanks that this tyro is around for the next decade.
Waterford had retreated at that point with their lead banked. It’s not made for a spectacle and in essence this Waterford system takes the unpredictability out of the game. It takes away a bit of the madness. There’s something of a classic Italian football team about Waterford in these moments when they apply the padlock and dare a team to score a goal. With a lead and with the likes of Gleeson and Kevin Moran hitting them over, it’s a system that could bring them all the way.
Derek McGrath is trying to cut down the variables in hurling and reduce chance. Everyone knows what Waterford are going to do, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be devilishly difficult to stop.