Waterford’s Tadhg de Burca is tackled by Clare’s Tony Kelly during that disaster of a game for Waterford in Ennis last May. Let’s hope for much better luck for the Déise on Saturday in Walsh Park. Photo Maurice Hennebry.
Saturday Next, March 16 – Walsh Park 3 p.m. Allianz N.H.L. Quarter-Final: Waterford V Clare
BY PHIL FANNING
It was the draw neither county really wanted. Next Saturday’s clash between Waterford and Clare in the Allianz League quarter-final in Walsh Park will be eagerly watched by followers of both counties seeking clues as to just what may transpire when the same teams meet at the same venue in the Munster Championship on May 12th next.
For Waterford the situation is much as it was in 2015 when they came up from Division 1B to beat Cork in the League final with the next competitive outing to be against Cork in the Munster championship some six weeks later. Waterford were still regarded as outsiders against Cork but repeated that league final victory in Thurles. Whatever the final result on Saturday neither side will take too much notice of it as the championship is a different animal. The losing team on Saturday will be fired up to take revenge in the championship while the winner will take some confidence from the result but will know that nothing is guaranteed going into the next game.
ENNIS A BETTER OPTION?
There would have been some opinion out there that it might have been better for Waterford to have lost the toss and so travel to Ennis this weekend in preference to giving Clare a ‘dry run’ in Walsh Park to prepare for the championship. I do not believe playing in Walsh Park on Saturday makes much difference to Clare where preparing for the championship game is concerned. It is just twelve months since the teams met at the same venue in the league, a game which Waterford won on a score of 1-23 to 1-20 but still ended up being relegated when losing the playoff to Cork.
Things have moved on a lot over the past year when one considers that of the six Waterford defenders in last year’s league game only Philip Mahony started there against Galway last Sunday and only four other players from that starting fifteen started against Galway namely Kevin Moran, Michael Walsh, Stephen Bennett and Mikey Kearney. The Clare team that drew with Limerick last time out featured eight of that side beaten by Waterford while others such as Jack Browne and Niall Deasy, though missing the league game, played for Ballyea in the Munster Club semi-final against Ballygunner.
Since losing the 2016 League final to Clare by a single point Waterford have had the better of matters in the two league meetings between the teams, preceding last year’s win in Walsh Park with victory in Ennis the year before when Tom Devine’s late goal plundered a 2-21 to 1-22 victory.
CLARE IN DENIAL?
As the championship draws closer people tend to draw conclusions from how teams fare in the league when assessing their championship chances and it was interesting to see Anthony Daly commenting on how he had Clare looking good to clinch an Munster final place for the second year running based on the situation in Munster where he saw his home county beating Cork and Tipperary in Ennis and getting the better of ‘homeless’ Waterford in neutral Thurles. He was now revising his forecast in the wake of last week’s Munster CCC decision, not being at all certain that Clare would beat Waterford in Walsh Park.
To me it would appear that Clare folk can be in denial when it comes to viewing what came to pass in the championship last year. When Waterford and Clare met in the opening round of the inaugural Round Robin Championship format in Ennis Waterford were totally on top until hit by the injury to Tadhg de Burca and the following catalogue of injuries that was to cost them dearly for the remainder of the championship.
That much said the relevance of Saturday’s fixture where the championship is concerned will be played down by both camps. This is a stand alone league quarter final which both sides will want to win with a view to getting at least one extra competitive game before releasing players back to their clubs for April.
Clare have been reasonably settled throughout the league with most of their big names involved such as goalkeeper David Touhy, David McInerney, Jack Browne, David Fitzgerald and Conor Cleary in defence, Conor Galvin in midfield and Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan, Ian Galvin and Niall Deasy in attack.
Being in 1B has seen Waterford giving game time to players across the panel while at the same time being hit by injuries forcing changes. Shane Fives has not played since leaving the field injured in the opening game against Offaly while Conor Prunty was ruled out last Sunday as a result of the injury received against Dublin. While the Abbeyside man will have benefitted from the initial postponement of the Galway game and may come into the picture for Saturday’s game it is not clear if Shane Fives is close enough to full fitness to be risked just yet. It is not expected that Tadhg de Burca will be in the mix for Saturday as he has been ruled out since receiving a heavy knock in the league game against Laois. With Conor Gleeson and Darragh Fives still on the way back from long term injuries it is likely that the Waterford selectors’ options will be confined to the players who featured in the recent games against Dublin and Galway.
BENNETT A BIG DOUBT
There are doubts concerning Shane Bennett’s fitness for Saturday’s game as a result of some heavy knocks received last Sunday. The Ballysaggart player was on the receiving end of some bruising tackles and may not have recovered sufficiently to take his place in the starting fifteen. Either way Tommy Ryan must be expected to return on Saturday having recovered from his injury against Dublin and Peter Hogan certainly remains an option following his performance against Galway.
I would not be expecting either side to be holding anything back on Saturday. The players involved have come to know each other well in recent years from under age through to senior and there will be no surprises in store. Each game comes down to what happens on the day though both managements will be hoping to learn something from this game.
Let us hope that the bad weather of the past two weeks abates somewhat and we have a big crowd to watch a game of hurling to whet our appetite for what is to come down the line.