Upper hand: Waterford's Jamie Nagle (left) and Jerome Meagher battle for the ball against Clare's Alan Markham and Mark Flaherty during their Crystal Cup semi-final at Ballyduff last Sunday.          | Photos: Michael Kiely

Upper hand: Waterford's Jamie Nagle (left) and Jerome Meagher battle for the ball against Clare's Alan Markham and Mark Flaherty during their Crystal Cup semi-final at Ballyduff last Sunday. | Photos: Michael Kiely

Waterford 1-17; Clare 0-8

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Davy Fitzgerald’s hurlers will be hoping to make it third time lucky when they contest the Waterford Crystal Cup Final against UCC this weekend after beating a strangely subdued Clare side at Ballyduff Upper on Sunday last.
Having appeared in two finals already under the guidance of the former Clare netminder – being beaten in the 2008 All-Ireland Final and last year’s Munster decider – Waterford will be looking for an early-season boost, and a better test than this one, when they take on the Cork students in Fraher Field.
Even though Fitzgerald and his fellow selectors Pat Bennett and Paraic Fanning have been in experimental mode in recent weeks, they still were able to field a very strong side against the Banner, with Gary Hurney the only player that played against All-Ireland Club Champions Portumna 24 hours earlier to start here.
Waterford began brightly against Ger O’Loughlin’s charges, hitting three points, two from play, inside the opening four minutes. Thomas Ryan opened the scoring and Maurice Shanahan – who finished as the game’s leading scorer with seven points, five from placed balls – soon hit his first of the afternoon. Just moments later his cousin Eoin Kelly stretched the Deise’s lead from a free.
Diarmuid Mahon pointed from a free for Clare on six minutes, but his effort was quickly cancelled out courtesy of points from Shane Walsh two minutes later and a Shanahan free.
A brace of Mark Flaherty points from frees either side of another from Shanahan had Waterford leading by 0-6 to 0-3 midway through the 30-minute half.
Centre-forward Kevin Moran extended Waterford’s lead to four and when Kelly slammed a 21-metre free to the Clare net with 17 minutes played, it gave a more realistic look to the scoreboard.
Gary Hurney hit a point with seven minutes of the first half to play – the Decies last score of the opening half. Clare did register scores from Pat Donnellan and Mark Flaherty before the interval to send them in trailing 1-8 to 0-5, though Waterford’s advantage could have been bigger at the break had a goal from Eoin McGrath not been ruled out by Cork referee John Sexton.
‘The Sparrow’ O’Loughlin took the opportunity to introduce a number of players at the start of the second half, one of whom was Barry Nugent, and with his first two touches he struck over two points for Clare to cut Waterford’s lead to just four points.
However, this was as good as it was going to get for the Banner men, even though Eoin McGrath was dismissed early in the second period after an altercation with Clare’s Alan Brigdale. Indeed, the Mount Sion man’s dismissal merely served, if anything, to spur on the 14 men.
Waterford hit a purple patch between the 34th and 52nd minutes, scoring seven points while keeping the visitors scoreless.
Rejuvenated Tallow clubman James Murray got the ball rolling and Maurice Shanahan followed up from a free and then play. Shane Walsh also bit a brace of points inside four minutes to give Waterford a 1-13 to 0-7 lead. Shanahan then hit two more points with 12 and eight minutes remaining.
Michael Hawe sent over a consolation score for Clare with six minutes left but it was nullified in the closing minutes as Gary Hurney and then Eoin Kelly raised white flags from play.
Waterford had a number of fine performers on the day. Michael Walsh continues to show why he is one of the best hurlers in the country, marshalling the defence from his centre-back berth, while Jerome Maher did his chances of staking a claim for a place in the starting 15 no harm whatsoever, and Liam Lawlor at full-back, along with Declan Prendergast and Jamie Nagle, all did well.
At the other end of the field Shanahan, Thomas Ryan and Shane Walsh stood out.
Waterford: C Hennessy; J Meagher, L Lawlor, M O’Brien; D Prendergast, M Walsh, J Nagle; J Murray, E Kelly; S Walsh, K Moran, M Shanahan; E McGrath, G Hurney, T Ryan. Subs: O Whelan for Ryan, M O’Neill for Hurney, N Jacob for Shanahan.
Scorers: M Shanahan 0-7 (5f), E Kelly 1-1 (1-0f), G Hurney, S Walsh 0-3 each, T Ryan, K Moran, J Murray 0-1 each.
Clare: D Touhy; P Vaughan, C Dillon, A Brigdale; P Donnellan, B O’Connell, G Quinn; M Murphy, J Clancy; A O’Brien, M Scanlon, A Markham; M Flaherty, D McMahon, J Cusack. Subs: D Barrett for Scanlon, B Nugent for McMahon, C O’Donovan for O’Brien, F Lynch for Clancy, M Hawes for Quinn.
Scorers: M Flaherty 0-3 (2f), B Nugent 0-2, D McMahon, P Donnellan, M Hawes (f) 0-1 each.
Referee: J Sexton (Cork).