John Horgan: Clare impressed but Munster hurling opener didn't excite

Lack of crowds and poor effort from understrength Waterford took from the occasion in Thurles
John Horgan: Clare impressed but Munster hurling opener didn't excite

Waterford supporters watch on as Tony Kelly of Clare prepares to take a free at Semple Stadium. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

THE lift-off to the hurling championship that was anticipated last weekend certainly did not come to pass.

The two games in Leinster were totally lop-sided affairs with Wexford against Laois and Dublin against Antrim having it all their own way.

On to Thurles on the Sunday and the collision of Clare and Waterford could not be included in the long list of Munster championship epics.

For this observer anyway, it was almost the opposite, a very flat encounter that ignited for a few minutes nearing the end when Waterford came within three points of a Clare team that were well over them for the vast majority of the proceedings.

Credit to Waterford for making some sort of a game of it coming down the home stretch but from the outset it was a contest that was just a bridge too far for them.

Any good student of the game would have been in Clare’s corner given the lack of real depth in the Waterford squad.

They went into this game minus some key players, some of the country’s best in fact, Conor Prunty, Jamie Barron, Tadhg de Búrca, Pauric Mahony were all marked absent and it’s very difficult to replace players of that calibre.

In fact, any team in the championship bar Limerick, maybe, would have been struggling without those types of hurlers.

And it showed from the outset, Clare taking control of matters in most areas, exerting their dominance and they could have been out of sight at half-time if they had translated possession into scores.

Over the course of the 70 minutes they shot over 20 wides, some of them downright poor and in that area next weekend against Tipperary there will certainly have to be major improvements.

But they got the job done and that was their only objective, getting a championship win under their belt and moving on And they have certainly travelled some distance since their opening league encounter when they lost to Antrim.

They will have been kicking themselves for having been in the precarious position that they found they were in when Waterford produced that late rally but in Munster championship hurling, any win is a good one.

The old adage that a good start is half the battle certainly was the case in Thurles last Sunday and Waterford, for the most part, were chasing a game that was not in keeping with those great days that we have experienced in this great hurling home.

Clare have now got something that the rest of their Munster rivals haven’t got, they have got 70 minutes of championship hurling done and that may well be a significant factor when they take on Tipperary next Sunday, They might have lacked the real cutting edge that decides major championship games, that sharpness in front of the posts but who is to say it won’t be much better the next day out.

There was still a whole pile to admire about some of their play and some of their individual performances were first class.

John Conlon was in majestic form at centre-back and his move back there might prove to be a masterstroke as the season ages.

Clare's John Conlon is now playing centre-back. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Clare's John Conlon is now playing centre-back. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Tony Kelly hit some very poor wides but that should not take away from his overall top-drawer display.

His opening brace of points early in the game were sublime efforts and he executed his penalty with real aplomb even though many were of the opinion it was not a penalty in the first place, a free maybe but not the one on one situation that Kelly found himself in when he drilled past Billy Nolan.

Aidan McCarthy fired over some excellent points as did David Reidy, Ryan Taylor and Diarmuid Ryan but far too often they were given too much space and time to get their shots away by Waterford.

Waterford are done as far as Munster is concerned but if they can get a few of their injured players back in, they could still cause serious problems for a lot of teams in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

Team boss Liam Cahill will have been delighted with the resilience they showed after the final water break, another instance how that particular stoppage can influence a game.

Austin Gleeson of Waterford in action against Cathal Malone of Clare. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Austin Gleeson of Waterford in action against Cathal Malone of Clare. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

For Clare, it was very much a case of enough done on this occasion but a lot more to do if they are going to catapult themselves into the list of serious Munster and All-Ireland title contenders.

Brian Lohan produced a master move with the placing of Kelly in the full-forward line and alongside Alan Shanagher, that duo have the potential to do some serious damage even if the latter failed to score last Sunday.

Once again the absence of crowds at all the games is having a major effect and similar to so many of the league games, there is a glaring absence of real intensity.

In the three hurling games last weekend that was certainly very evident.

Surely those types of intensity levels that we associate with the big hurling days will be much greater next Saturday and Sunday when for many the real championship begins with Limerick and Cork, Clare and Tipp, Wexford and Kilkenny and Kilkenny and Dublin battling it out.

For now, though, it’s first blood to Clare and for that they deserve credit.

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