FUNNY old game this hurling, because it definitely wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Yes, Davy was on the money when he said at the start of his stewardship last Autumn when he addressed clubs in the West County Hotel that his was a longterm project for Clare and that there would be some disappointments along the way.
But, it still wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Yes, there was a strange kind of glory attached to this case of Clare dying with their boots on and with that last puck of the game, unlike what went down in Poland with supporters cheering the ‘Von Traps’ to the echo, despite the humiliation Spain inflicted upon them. The GAA equivalent would have been Clare football supporters cheering their team after the Miltown Massacre – mercifully it didn’t happen.
That’s because, in the harsh world of championship there’s never really any glory in defeat, whether it’s the 36-point defeat endured in Miltown in ’79, or the two-point reverse on Sunday. Is there?
Ask Declan Kidney about his Irish rugby team in Christchurch – he didn’t want to be showered with praise in the mixed zone after the game after his side’s near brush with immortality.
Same with Davy and his players too. They gave it every last ounce; they threw a marker down for the future; they slugged it out and kept believing to the very death; they know there’ll be better days and winning days; they know the broader picture is a three-year plan or more than that even – but what they know most of all that championship is always about the here and now, not tomorrow.
That’s why it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
All because Clare expected, while we were led or lulled to believe that for much of the winter and early spring that Waterford were in turmoil. Losing selectors, losing players, losing games and losing faith.
All of the above is probably true, but it wasn’t a ruse by the Deise to suck Clare in and it didn’t, but if it ever was one, it was another classic case of the darkest hour coming before the dawn, just like what happened under Davy Fitzgerald’s watch in 2008 when he assumed the reins from Justin McCarthy.
We should have known from Waterford’s last two league games against Dublin and Galway, but still we remembered the winter of discontent more than those to games from which they saved their Division 1 status.
They were still in disarray and we had collective myopia, forgetting what a clutch of these players and more have achieved and their know-how when it comes to winning Munster championship games. Clare didn’t have that and coming from Division 1B of the National League, this maiden voyage was always going to be a baptism of fire.
This proved especially true because Waterford got it tactically right. From the time John Mullane ghosted out to the half-forward line for the first time, the Clare defence was taking in water – the half-back line was under pressure, it had a domino effect onto the full-back line.
James McInerney’s lack of game time and training time through injury that kept him out for long stretches of the spring told in the pivotal centre-back position, to his left Maurice Shanahan’s height advantage gave him the upper-hand on Patrick O’Connor, while Brendan Bugler encountered a John Mullane who was very much in the mood.
Still though, Clare could feel aggrieved with the way things panned out in the first half, which ultimately gave Waterford the platform to go on and reach a landmark fourth Munster final in a row.
Aggrieved with the referee and then themselves, because of the two goal that tipped this tie firmly in Waterford’s favour. Cian Dillon should have been awarded a free out after Eoin Kelly’s blatantly tried to take the helmet from his head before he retaliated and had a penalty awarded against him.
Either Dillon or Patrick Kelly should have dealt with Stephen Molomphy’s long delivery that ended up with Shane Walsh gleefully dispatching the sliotar to an empty net.
On those two incidents did this game turn, but Clare still looked like seizing the day when Patrick Kelly’s monster free from behind his own 50-yard line edged Clare a point just before the 50 minute mark.
That was Clare’s sixth point in a row, but from a position where you’d expect their fitness to come to the fore, it was Waterford who found the extra gears, leaving Clare to chase the game at the death.
Ironically, that’s when match fitness, or Darach Honan’s lack of it effectively meant it wasn’t going to be Clare’s day. Had he not been injured all winter, had he been able to travel to McGillyscuddy’s Reeks like the rest of the team, he would have snapped that ball, buried it and Clare would have been in the Munster final.
It’s as simple as that, but it still wasn’t supposed to be like that.
That said, maybe it was always going to be like that.
Remember back in 2004 when Greece proved that football is a funny old game by winning the European Championship, there was a letter to The Irish Times from a Greek tourist in praise of all blue and white that was festooned around the sunny south east – in praise of Greece he thought, not knowing anything about the sweet science of hurling and Waterford’s exploits in winning the Munster title after an epic final against Cork.
Greece proved by beating Russia that they haven’t gone away just yet; Waterford did the same on Sunday.
You see, it’s a funny old game.

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Joe Ó Muircheartaigh graduated from University College Dublin in 1989 with a degree in history and politics. After completing a Diploma in Journalism at The College of Commerce, Rathmines in 1991, he embarked on a career in journalism. Joe spent four years with Clare FM from 1992 and was with The Clare Champion from 1996 to 2005. He has won two McNamee Awards for GAA journalism and has published two books. Contact Joe on [email protected]

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