After over 160 minutes of memorable National League final hurling there was only a point separating Clare and Waterford, this makes the third instalment all the more intriguing, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

TWO down, and two epics at that, but at the same time they were only full dress rehearsals for the big one to come — the big one because of the chasm between league and championship.

But at the same time these were two league games played with a championship intensity — the first mightn’t have been the prettiest game of hurling, but slow-burned its way into a cliffhanger at the same time; the second never looked back or let up after Patrick Curran put the sliotar in the Clare net inside the first minute.

On that first day Maurice Shanahan rescued a draw for Waterford with a 92nd minute free, just over a minute after Clare sub Colin Ryan had brilliantly fired Clare into the lead with a  booming point from play.

This was the crescendo, in stark contrast to the early stages of the contest when both teams struggled to take the game by the scruff.

After a poor first half Clare led by 0-7 to 0-6 at half-time, with Conor McGrath showing the way with 0-5. Clare then moved 0-11 to 0-8 clear early in the second half, but Waterford gradually reeled them in with a hat-trick of Bennett points, two from play.

Gleeson’s free then handed Waterford the lead for the first time in the game but the sides were level on three further occasions in a dramatic final ten minutes, plus stoppage time, before extra-time ensued after it ended 0-15 apiece.

Waterford moved 0-18 to 0-15 ahead early in extra-time, but in the end were grateful that Maurice Shanahan’s free from his own half secured them a 0-22 each draw.

A cliffhanger, yet both sides were only warming up.

The result was the replay, with Clare grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to the heroics of Tony Kelly in the dying seconds of the game when landing two match winning points.

It looked over for Clare when Brian O’Halloran put over a 66th minute-point to fire Waterford 2-19 to 1-19 in front, but the resilience they’d shown throughout the contest came to the fore once more down the stretch.

Three times they’d been six points in arrears to a Waterford side that had goaled twice in the first half through Patrick Curran and Jake Dillon, but they always came back.

And so they did here too, reeling off the last four points of the game — Colin Ryan and Darach Honan bringing it back to two points before the free that was for Waterford, but wasn’t given, was followed by a free for Tony Kelly.

He pointed. David Fitzgerald fielded the puck-out and fed Kelly once more for a winner as dramatic as ever was scored to win a league final.

“June 5th,” gasped Davy Fitzgerald afterwards. “June 5… we’ve seen two unreal battles. Jesus, what more is going to come on June 5th.  Because we know that they probably say to themselves, ‘They beat us by a point, they’re not going to beat us the next day’.

“We’re going to say to ourselves, ‘No matter what, we’re going to have to fight even harder’. So it’s going to be crazy out there but I’m looking forward to it. They’ll have the bit between their teeth on June 5th and we will too,” he added.

It’s June 5th this coming Sunday.

Teams in Replay

Clare P Kelly; P O’Connor (0-1), C Dillon, D Fitzgerald (0-1); J Browne, C Cleary, B Bugler; D Reidy (0-1), C Galvin; T Kelly (1-6, 1f), C McGrath (0-8, 5f), P Collins (0-1); D Honan (0-2), A Cunningham (0-1), S O’Donnell. Subs C Ryan (0-2, 1f) for Galvin (43), C O’Connell for Collins (55), A Shanagher for O’Donnell (65).

Waterford S O’Keeffe; B Coughlan, N Connors, S Fives; D Fives (0-1), K Moran (0-1), P Mahony; T de Búrca, J Barron; M Walsh, A Gleeson (0-3), S Bennett (0-2); J Dillon (1-0), P Curran 1-9 (1-9, 6f, one 65), T Devine. Subs C Dunford for Devine (46), B O’Halloran (0-1) for Dillon (57), M Shanahan for Bennett (68), T Ryan for Walsh (70+1).

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