1. Clare bounce back from last November
The value of comparing championship meetings with the previous year’s fixture can be debatable but Clare and Waterford came together in Thurles yesterday, only seven months since they had clashed in an All-Ireland quarter-final. There is value in contrasting the two games then, particularly in Clare’s response.
They achieved a 13-point swing, from losing by nine to winning by four. There was a marked improvement at the back, shipping 3-27 then to a more manageable total of 0-21 this time. Their defensive improvement was symbolised by how they curbed the threat of Dessie Hutchinson, destroyer in chief last year. There was also a focus elsewhere, according to Clare boss Brian Lohan.
“The big thing from last year was our fitness, we were blown out of it in the last 10 minutes last year. So we had a huge amount of work to do over the summer, but we have good faith in our lads.”
2. Kelly back fit to cause scoring damage
Another point from that 2020 clash cropped up here. Tony Kelly struck 0-8 that day but his influence was diluted after injuring his ankle in the warm-up. Yesterday he hit 1-12, a scoring increase that demonstrated the greater threat he posed. Waterford had to contend with a fully fit Kelly and having Calum Lyons detailed on him again, had the effect of robbing the Deise of a player powering them forward from wing-back.
It’s not an original point to speak of Kelly’s importance to Clare. But days like this reaffirm his worth – the early scoring burst of three points inside five minutes, the game’s solitary goal in the 29th minute and then Clare’s last three points of the day, two from play.
Tony Kelly hits the net from a penalty.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
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3. Waterford’s missing players
A new year has meant for Waterford a different team. Beaten All-Ireland finalists seek to mount a renewed assault the following season but Waterford do not have all the assets at their disposal, which carried them so far last season.
Goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe has opted out, centre-back Tadhg De Búrca is a long-term miss after tearing his cruciate, while full-back Conor Prunty and midfielder Jamie Barron were the most recent injury losses. That’s a sizeable list of absentees, cutting the spine out of the Waterford team. Perhaps a performance drop-off was inevitable but Liam Cahill was confident beforehand that they could cope.
“They’re all massive players. They’re big game players. Hard to replace them. But we’ve trawled the club scene in Waterford and I really felt we’ve a good strong panel assembled. I know we were without them through injury and what have you but we had guys stepping in to take on the mantle and well equipped to do it.”
A dejected Shane McNulty after the game.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
4. Clare’s missed chances
It felt like an unnecessarily nervy ending for Clare. They were ten points clear by the 52nd minute and ahead by eight in the 60th minute. Yet Waterford built up the momentum down the closing stretch, aided by four of their subs hitting a point apiece in the second half, and cut the gap to three before that insurance score by Tony Kelly.
Clare should have been out of sight. Scoring 22 points was striking due to the fact that they matched that with the same number of wides, 14 of those arrived in the first half alone. Their shot selection from that distance was an issue as they squandered opportunities to service their attack.
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It ultimately didn’t cost them and the volume of chances they created was a good sign of the control they exerted around the middle third. But they’ll need to sharpen up before next Sunday.
5. New challenges swing into view
The prize for winning is a quick turnaround, the flipside for the losers is three weeks to figure out where to go next. Clare must push on with a Munster semi-final date on Sunday against Tipperary in Limerick. They don’t look to have incurred any significant injury issues in defeating Waterford and will hope they get a bounce off this success to carry them towards their next challenge.
Waterford are out on the weekend of 17-18 July, where they will take on the preliminary round winner or one of the beaten Leinster semi-finalists. They have a few weeks to assess their options, hope their injury situation improves and Liam Cahill indicated afterwards that team changes are likely after the flatness of this display.
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