Munster Senior Football Championship Quarter Final
Mac Dara Mac Donncha at Cusack Park
Waterford’s footballers were overwhelming outsiders travelling to Cusack Park last Saturday but came within a whisker of pulling off a sensational victory, losing by the cruellest of margins to their Division Two opponents.This was yet again one of those matches which would be stored away in the ‘strange’ drawer. Clare sprinted out of the starting blocks and had two points registered by the fourth minute. Their scoring slowed down but still, Dean Ryan’s point in the 25th minute stretched their lead out to six.
Nobody could have forecast that they would only add one more score in the remaining 50 minutes but that’s exactly what transpired. Waterford realised in the second half that this game was actually there for the taking and perhaps their only fault was not doing so earlier.The general consensus was that this game was lost in the first half, due to a tentative start and the lack of a left-footed freetaker.
Shane Aherne faced two very difficult frees on the right wing and my thoughts went back to the superbly reliable Brian Wall, whose trusty left foot converted scores of similar frees in days gone by.That’s not to lay the blame at the hands of Shane Aherne, as they were very difficult angles for a right-footed placekicker. There were also a few other scoring opportunities missed in those opening 35 minutes, (six in all) which would ultimately prove their downfall.
This wasn’t a good game of football. As unfortunately is the norm now in the game, there was mass defence utilised by both sides and both sets of attack failed to penetrate the walls of bodies between them and the respective goalposts.We also saw a series of misplaced passes, poor shot selection and indeed execution. Clare were the victors as had been expected beforehand but they now face Kerry with Waterford having a qualifier match the following weekend. Which of them has the better prospect of advancement?
A crowd of 2,136 were present on a sunny evening in Ennis, the vast majority of which were home supporters. Clare had almost total dominance in the possession stakes in the opening quarter. Two early Eoin Cleary frees got them off to a positive start, with Tadhg Ó hUallacháin picking up a yellow card for the second of those fouls.
The home side failed to add to their tally for another nine minutes, however, until Cleary kicked a fine effort from play, leaving them 0-3 to 0-0 in front by the 13th minute.Cormac Murray added a fourth three minutes later and the prospect of a long and difficult evening for Benji’s men loomed large.Ever so gradually, they played themselves into the match and Shane Aherne kicked their opening score in the 19th minute from a free.
An easy spill of possession shortly afterwards presented Eoin Cleary with his fourth point of the day, and when Jamie Malone and Cleary again(f) added minors, there was clear daylight between the sides, 0-7 to 0-1 after 23 minutes. Conor Murray put in his usual shift in a Waterford jersey and his 25th minute point, from the right wing, was a terrific effort. This was almost immediately followed by a rare event in this game, a fast and purposeful attack which saw wing back Dean Ryan kick Clare’s eighth point.I can safely state here that if one went to a bookie right then and waged that Clare would only add one single point to their tally that the odds would have been spectacularly generous. Waterford’s share of possession increased dramatically but they failed to make this count on the scoreboard. From then to the interval, both sides struck the woodwork, Jack Mullaney for Waterford and a Gary Brennan 45’ for Clare, leaving the half-time score reading 0-8 to 0-2 in Clare’s favour.
The first score on the resumption was Jamie Malone’s second point of the match, once again after a Déise giveaway. For whatever reason, Clare failed abjectly for the remainder of the clash, leaving them barren for an entire 38 minutes, including the almost six minutes of injury-time.Dessie Hutchinson had been introduced by the Waterford management and he brought thrust to the attack, as did his brother JJ on his arrival some time later.Hindsight is of course always impeccable but had these men been on the field earlier they could have made all the difference. Dessie clipped over a 40th minute free and then Conor Murray kicked his second lovely point of the match a minute later.
They were definitely improving but still defending en masse which led to a number of occasions where there weren’t sufficient players up front when they went on breakaway attacks.Clare kicked some terrible wides at this juncture with their play getting extremely sloppy and one could palpably see the confidence levels increasing in the white and blue jerseys. Unfortunately, the scores weren’t coming as quickly as they’d have liked and it was the 55th minute when Dessie Hutchinson’s free cut the gap to four points.
Clare were then dealt a further bow with the awarding of a black card to centrefielder Darragh Bohannon. Tadhg Ó hUallacháin advanced two minutes later to kick a lovely point from the right wing and it was back to three.The brothers Hutchinson then combined for JJ to kick a typical minor and Clare were getting very nervous. Had the Deise been able to add a quick score, I’ve no doubt but they would have had at the very least brought this game to extra time but it was the 71st minute when JJ’s second point left the smallest margin between the sides. They ran out of time unfortunately and it was a mightily relieved Clare who greeted the final whistle.Waterford will know their qualifier fate next Monday week when the draws for the opening round is made and here’s hoping that they will get a home draw. It’s the very least that they deserve after a series of brave performances to date this year.