*Clare Hehir shields off her opponent to aid Ciara Grogan. Photograph: Veronica McMahon
Clare’s National Camogie League hopes took their first dent as Waterford ground out a gritty away victory in Cratloe on Saturday afternoon.
Venue: Páirc Uí hEithir, Cratloe
Perched at the top of the Group 1 table following back-to-back triumphs over Leinster duo Offaly and Kilkenny, the Banner certainly didn’t lack confidence for their opening tie on home soil. However, a lacklustre first half performance left Clare with a mountain to climb as they trailed by seven points and faced into the conditions.
The response was emphatic as Aoife Power’s opportunist goal only two minutes into the new half offered renewed hope but any thoughts of a full reprieve would be frustratingly thwarted.
Chief target Aine O’Loughlin was influential in Clare’s only goal, had a blistering shot on the turn somehow tipped away by Waterford goalkeeper Ciara Jackman before also being prevented from grabbing an injury-time goal by a late controversial call from referee Justin Heffernan.
A robust challenge on Greta Hickey as she delivered towards the square was not blown for until Aine O’Loughlin had the ball in her hand, with that subsequent strike nestling into the top left corner of the net. Not only was the goal ruled out but Clare were actually penalised as the ball was instead thrown in at the 20 metre line.
O’Loughlin did have two further efforts at the target but both just cleared the top of the crossbar for a relieved Waterford to prevail with all three points from Páirc Uí hEithir.
With the wind at their backs, Clare actually seemed to settle better early on as a four point burst through the ever-inspirational Eimear Kelly (2), Laura McMahon and Orlaith Duggan lifted the hosts 0-4 to 0-2 clear by the 11th minute.
However, the tables would turn dramatically before the end of the opening quarter as first Beth Carton cut in from the right wing to billow the net before Sarah Lacey did likewise two minutes later to hand Waterford a 2-3 to 0-4 advantage.
It was a lead that they would not relinquish thereafter, with Carton (3) and Niamh Rockett (2) over-riding Kelly’s solo haul to take a merited 2-8 to 0-7 lead into the dressing rooms with the wind to come.
The only way was up for Clare and they duly answered the call, centred around the early lifeline of a goal in the 32nd minute when Eimear Kelly’s high delivery was broke by O’Loughlin for the waiting Aoife Power to pull to the net.
Clare were back to their battling best as they hunted in packs and upped the work-rate and aggression levels. Kelly tacked on a free while Clare were denied an equalising goal in the 38th minute when goalkeeper Jackman managed to get a hurley to O’Loughlin’s driving shot.
Now it was Waterford that were struggling for air but thanks as ever to All-Star Beth Carton, they did manage to weather the storm and even restore a five point cushion by the 55th minute.
As the weather worsened, the injuries started to mount, with six minutes of additional time providing Clare with plenty of time to make up the ground.
The ill-timed call to rule out an O’Loughlin goal only seemed to motivate Clare further. However, the full-forward’s luck wouldn’t change as first a 20 metre free went over the bar as did a last minute chance that just skimmed the top of the crossbar.
Despite only one team advancing from the group, all is not lost for Clare as they still have to host Cork in what could be a winner-takes-all showdown in their final outing in a fortnight’s time following the postponement of the tie last weekend.
Scorers for Waterford: Beth Carton (1-8, 7f); Sarah Lacey (1-0); Niamh Rockett (0-2); Lorraine Bray (0-1)
Scorers for Clare: Eimear Kelly (0-6, 5f); Aoife Power (1-1); Aine O’Loughlin (0-2, 1f); Laura McMahon, Orlaith Duggan (0-1 each)
1. Ciara Jackman (Gaultír)
2. Sibheal Harney (St Anne’s)
3. Iona Heffernan (Ferrybank)
4. Clare Whyte (St Anne’s)
5. Aoife Landers (An Rinn)
6. Shona Curran (Lismore)
7. Lorraine Bray (Cappoquin)
8. Caoimhe McGrath (An Rinn)
9. Orla Hickey (Dungarvan)
10. Beth Carton (De La Salle)
18. Fiona Morrissey (An Rinn)
12. Jenny McCarthy (Cappoquin)
15. Sarah Lacey (Dungarvan)
14. Niamh Rockett (St Anne’s)
11. Aisling Power (Cappoquin)
21. Kate Lynch (Gaultír) for Landers (28)
22. Annie Fitzgerald (De La Salle) for Power (44)
17. Claire Murphy (St Anne’s) for Morrissey (57)
19. Kate McMahon (Butlerstown) for Lacey (63)
1. Sarah Loughnane (Sixmilebridge)
2. Ciara Grogan (Clooney-Quin)
3. Clare Hehir (Inagh-Kilnamona)
4. Roisin Minogue (Bodyke)
15. Sinead Conlon (Tulla)
6. Ciara Doyle (Scariff-Ogonnelloe)
5. Alannah Ryan (Kilkshen)
8. Michelle Caulfield (Truagh-Clonlara)
9. Orlaith Duggan (Clooney-Quin
10. Gretta Hickey (Whitegate)
7. Laura McMahon (Newmarket-on-Fergus) (Captain)
12. Máire McGrath (Sixmilebridge)
11. Eimear Kelly (Truagh-Clonlara)
14. Aine O’Loughlin (Truagh-Clonlara)
25. Aoife Power (Scariff-Ogonnelloe)
13. Robyn Conway (Feakle) for Caulfield (HT)
20. Bridín Dinan (Tulla) for McGrath (51)
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Wexford)