Waterford 3-27 Clare 3-18
WATERFORD will take on Kilkenny full of confidence next Saturday night after putting up a serious tally at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
One win away from becoming unlikely finalists in this most unusual winter All-Ireland series, Waterford won't have any fear of the Leinster champions at Croke Park.
The Déise followed up their fine victory over Cork and dogged efforts in the Munster final loss to Limerick, with another hugely impressive display against the Banner. Tipp might be out but Premier native Liam Cahill will be there after doing an outstanding job in reviving Waterford's fortunes.
Having failed to win any of their eight championship outings in 2018 and '19, they're back hurling with the intensity that categorised the Derek McGrath era, and no little skill.
Semi-finalists in 2015, '16 and '17, Cahill has Tadhg de Burca, Stephen O'Keeffe, Austin Gleeson and Jamie Barron, the official Man of the Match here, firing again.
They also have an edge up front where Stephen Bennett is hurling superbly and clinically nailing frees in the absence of Pauric Mahony and Dessie Hutchinson is a bundle of energy. The former professional soccer player was afforded too much space by Clare but took his two goals cooly and brilliantly assisted another for Jack Fagan.
He should thrive on Jones Road with the right supply.
It helped their cause that Tony Kelly picked up an early ankle injury which made Callum Lyons job man-marking him far easier.
Being the wizard he is, Kelly still clipped a couple of points from play and exits the championship with 1-53 to his name after four games.
Cathal Malone maintained his rich vein of form too while the returning Aron Shanagher struck for 2-1. Waterford were the better side for long spells but when Aidan McCarthy raised Clare's third green flag it was 3-19 to 3-14 after 57 minutes.
The favourites were calm and focused in the closing stages, even if O'Keeffe had to be alert twice to deny sub Aaron Cunningham.
Subs Conor Gleeson and Patrick Curran split the posts in the closing stages while Neil Montgomery, a regular for UCC in recent years, made his mark after coming on at half-time.
Now for Kilkenny. Waterford are more than capable of beating them, though tightening up the full-back line will be a concern.
Scorers for Waterford: S Bennett 0-10 (0-7 f), D Hutchinson 2-2, J Fagan 1-1, K Bennett 0-3, A Gleeson, C Gleeson, J Barron 0-2 each, N Montgomery, C Lyons, P Curran, T de Burca, D Lyons 0-1 each.
Clare: T Kelly 0-8 (0-6 f), A Shanagher 2-1, C Malone 0-4, A McCarthy 1-0, S O’Donnell 0-2, D Reidy, R Taylor, D McInerney (sideline) 0-1 each.
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; I Kenny, C Prunty (c), S McNulty; C Lyons, T de Burca, K Moran; J Barron, J Dillon; J Fagan, K Bennett, S Bennett; D Hutchinson, A Gleeson, J Prendergast.
Subs: N Montgomery for Prendergast (h-t); D Lyons for Dillon (45), P Curran for Fagan (60), C Gleeson for A Gleeson (66), C Kirwan for Hutchinson (70).
CLARE: E Quilligan; R Hayes, C Cleary, S Morey; P O’Connor, S O’Halloran, J Browne; A McCarthy, D McInerney; J McCarthy, T Kelly, C Malone; S O’Donnell, A Shanagher, R Taylor.
Subs: D Fitzgerald for Browne (h-t), D Ryan for J McCarthy (52), A Cunningham for McInerney (56), D Reidy for Fitzgerald (55), C McInerney for Taylor (61)
Referee: P O’Dwyer (Carlow).