*Peter Duggan, David Reidy and Ian Galvin swarm Peter Hogan. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
Yesterday’s game was equivalent to a leisurely stroll in the park for Clare as they dominated from start to finish. Waterford offered no resistance whatsoever in what was the worst display I have ever seen from the county.
Billed as ‘the team to beat’ by former manager Derek McGrath, they were overhyped and clearly let it get to them. The intensity Waterford brought was akin to a preseason warmup competition and the line-up seemed experimental and ill thought through. Austin Gleeson started the game in the half back line with marquee forward Stephen Bennett on the bench. Liam Cahill had a go at the players after the Cork team and placed the responsibility on them for their poor performance. He must have hoped that this would galvanise them into a display against Clare but it had the opposite affect and may have de motivated his team even further.
It reminded me of our own team in 2016. We won the league that year in impressive fashion and the team was in good shape heading into the championship. After a narrow defeat to Waterford in the first round, we embarked a two-week punishing training regime that drained every bit of energy out of us. We were flat thereafter and were eventually knocked out meekly by Galway in Thurles. Too often in GAA managers overtrain teams as they do not have trust in their players. It also serves their own ego if things do go right as focus is placed on ferocious nature of training as opposed to the display of the team. Liam Cahill may have bought too much into the idea that his training and not the quality of the players was the reason for their success, while in reality both can be true.
Despite the lack of opposition, Clare will take some positives from this game. Most importantly, they came through unscathed and can now focus on Limerick with a full panel of players available. They were able to reward guys on the panel who had not seen much gametime to date. It was great to see Cian Nolan get a chance at corner back. Cian has been an outstanding performer in club championship over the last three years, culminating in the intermediate success last year. Cian acquitted himself quite well and should be proud of his debut performance.
While both Peter Duggan and Shane O’Donnell played well against Limerick, there was a sense that more would be needed from them in the Munster Final. The pair have had a lay off over the last couple of years and this game was a great opportunity to sharpen their claws for two weeks time. Both players put in huge performances. Shane was incredible, his ability to pick off points at his ease is a massive addition to his game. Peter offers a different prospect entirely as he is so difficult to handle physically. He gives an out ball for our defence if they are under pressure and chases down every ball even if it appears to be a lost cause. This led to numerous scores we had no right to get.
David Fitzgerald also has been a huge to Clare’s progress. David has shown incredible form for Inagh/Kilnamona over the last couple of years and is a key factor in them becoming club championship contenders of late. However, he hadn’t nailed down a starting spot for Clare over the same time frame to everyone’s surprise. This year, David has become hugely prominent. He has it all, size, skill, athleticism and he has now added a mental focus to his play that has resulted in him being a top performer in recent weeks. David covered huge ground yesterday and is capable of scoring when he gets the chance, as he showed when picking off 2-3.
While yesterday’s game was hugely positive, it is important to put it into perspective. Waterford were abject and offered no resistance to the Clare onslaught that arrived. At the start of the year many pundits wrote Clare off as no-hopers.
If Clare are to take the next step there are many areas of their game which they will need to sharpen. Clare had eleven wides in the first half. This sort of wastefulness will be punished against a good team and can’t happen again. There was also a massive drop off in intensity from their game against Limerick. There was a casual nature to some of the defending which allowed Waterford to score 2-22 despite playing woefully bad. It may be harsh to point that out in the wake of such a positive display. However, if this team is going to get to where we all want them to go, they cannot afford to let standards slip at all, as Limerick will punish them.