Thursday, 6 June 2013

Déise heads down but not out - Clare 2-20 Waterford 1-15

Don’t be deceived by the scoreboard; this game was within Waterford’s grasp. They could have been halfway home if their mastery around the middle was cashed in. Instead, Clare clung on and when they enjoyed their own period of supremacy, doubts crept in.

Those many misses chipped away at confidence. Before and after half time, the half back line (led by the flambouyant Jamie Nagle) and Shane O’Sullivan’s leadership allowed them to monopolise possession. Even after hitting those four wides on the resumption, they were still ahead but it wasn’t sufficient to kill off Clare who saw a sliver of hope. Waterford became uncertain in their shooting and the Banner pounced on that insecurity. At this level, prolificacy is punished.

The disappointing part was how the team folded up and allowed Clare to fill their boots towards the end. They were outscored 2-7 to 0-4 in the final quarter. Fitness wasn’t the only factor. 15 wides had taken the air out of the tyres. They didn’t show the mental reserves to mount a recovery mission.

That desolation was evident in the Semple Stadium tunnel. The players understandably evaded the dictaphones and sought out the sanctuary of the dressing room. They let it slip through their fingers. A shattered Michael Ryan didn’t throw out any excuses. "We lost the game in the six or seven minutes after half time. We had four good chances and we needed to take one or two of those. We missed those chances and that gave Clare a lifeline and they got a bit of a run on us. Well done to Clare they are an excellent team and they fully deserved their victory no qualms about it.”

He again showed graciousness in defeat but deep down he would have realised that very few breaks came Waterford’s way. James McGrath’s erratic showing on the whistle gave cause for irritation in the stands. At the start of the second half, Clare were the beneficiaries of a number of dubious calls which Colin Ryan took full advantage of. It’s difficult to disagree with John Mullane’s assessment from Monday’s Independent. “I don't like being critical of referees but between the 45th and 50th minutes, he gave soft frees to Clare and that enabled them to push on and win the match.” The two goals also came in unfortunate circumstances as Kevin Moran made an uncharacteristic error of judgement and Patrick Kelly’s booming free fell kindly for Conor McGrath.

Make no mistake about these were two teams on edge. This nervousness meant that the quality suffered. The Banner roar was heard early as Tony Kelly and John Conlon set out their stall. They were soon quietened when Jake Dillon ruthlessly finished from Patrick Donnellan’s slack clearance and it settled down the Déise. They were tentative but with Michael Walsh offering an oasis of calm, they dictated the terms. On the wings, Jamie Nagle launched clearances into enemy territory and Kevin Moran grew into the game with a trademark point towards the end of the half. Shane O’Sullivan provided assists for four points and Darragh Fives dashed forward. The match-ups were spot on. Maurice Shanahan destroyed David McInerney in the air and Noel Connors kept a lid on Conor McGrath. The men on the line also didn’t hesitate to change free takers when required. Kelly (who traded blows with the Brick all afternoon) and Conlon landed a couple of punches before the break and a four point lead didn’t accurately paint the picture.

Clare weathered the storm at the start of the second half and once Shane O’Donnell grabbed his goal, the game opened up. They targeted Darach Honan and he was humming at full forward. The puck out stats turned totally in Clare’s favour as Brendan Bugler and Patrick Donnellan drove on their less experienced colleagues. Com Galvin also recovered from a quiet opening to rub salt into the wounds with two late points.

1-15 is yet another below par total. Five times in the last eight championship games, Waterford have failed to break the 20 point barrier. Michael Ryan admitted in the aftermath that the persistent absence of goals is hindering their efforts. “We spoke about goals and we felt that we needed two goals to win the match. We had one good goal chance and Jake took it very well. We didn’t even make a second goal chance and that’s something we’ll look it as well. It’s been a weakness in our team over the last couple of years.”

Davy Fitzgerald displayed a restrained sort of satisfaction afterwards. Despite their jittery spells, he expressed the belief that they had shown their superiority. “Apart from the fifteen minutes where we went asleep in the first half, I thought we didn’t do too bad. We started out of the blocks and we started very well. We gave away a soft goal let’s be honest. We were four points up and looking good and that soft goal put us on the back foot for the rest of the half. It rattled us a small bit. We showed a lot of composure and off we go. We were the better team by a bit. They are a fair team, they are a good team but we deserved our victory.” It will be hard to keep down the hype but Fitzgerald is doing his best. "I keep saying that this is a process. If people want to build us up it’s not a problem. We are just not buying into that stuff we know we have a process ahead of us.” After remaining quiet in the build-up to Sunday’s match, he may perform another disappearing act before the semi final.

Jamie Nagle’s all action display earned him the man of the match award in many quarters apart from the Sunday Game. In his debut senior season, he was close to being Waterford’s best in the semi final win over Tipperary with a busy performance. After making his breakthrough with four starts at midfield on the way to that All Ireland final, Nagle found it hard to fit in. Before last Sunday, his last championship start came against the same opposition back in 2010. A consistent league run this term however made him a cast iron certainty and he offered the launch pad with his neat touches and relieving deliveries.

The season is far from over. They will be able to get the defeat out of their system on the club circuit next weekend. Seven teams go into the hat on Monday as the backdoor adventure commences in late June. A road of redemption can be found if Waterford show more steadiness in front of goal and shuffle the deck somewhat. Paudie Prendergast looked uncomfortable in the corner and Darragh Fives may be better suited to the number two shirt. Brian O’Halloran and Shane Walsh will also boost the attack if they can shake off their injuries in the nick of time. A couple of wins would rebuild confidence and gather momentum for the All Ireland quarter finals. After all, Waterford have only lost two qualifier matches since the system was introduced in 2002. Heads fell to their floor on Sunday but there were signs of hope in how they took control of the contest. Putting things together for seventy minutes and eradicating the incoherencies in performance will be the challenge for management as the safety net is removed.

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