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Defence inspires minor Munster victory

Clare players celebrate on the field after the cup presentation with selector Eamon Fennessy. Photograph by John Kelly

Clare 1-16   Waterford 1-11

INSPIRED by a magnificent defence, Clare ended a 21-year wait when they captured the Munster minor hurling title by defeating the holders Waterford at Semple Stadium on Sunday.
Entering the final as the underdogs, the Banner outfit deservingly booked a place in the All-Ireland semi-final next month after outplaying the favourites in a game that produced some great passages of play and some excellent scores.
The first half was an evenly contested affair and the sides were level on four occasions and went to the break at 0-6 each. Early in the second half the holders edged into a two-point advantage but once Clare struck for the game’s first goal eight minutes after the resumption, their confidence grew. From here on they played some great hurling to take the title in style.
They were four points clear at the three-quarter stage when Waterford had their goal but Clare refused to buckle and struck the next six points without reply on their way to a first title in Munster at this level since 1989.
Clare went into the game with one change in personnel from the team that started the semi-final against Limerick. Team captain Paul Flanagan moved to full-back to the exclusion of Noel Purcell and Haulie Vaughan was recalled at corner-back, a position he filled in the opening round against the same opposition in Walsh Park back in April. On that occasion, he struggled and was replaced early in the second half. On Sunday he was outstanding in a backline that was superb throughout.
Waterford had the opening two points of the game and Clare had to wait until the twelfth minute for their first score which came from a 30m free by David O’Halloran. The Éire Óg teenager had his side’s first score from play two minutes later and this score levelled the tie for the first time.
Respective freetakers Niall Arthur for Clare and Padraic Mahony exchanged points twice before a great score from midfielder Tony Kelly gave the new champions the lead for the first time. Dara Keane from county minor A champions Kilmaley, followed with a point to edge Clare two clear but two frees from Mahony tied up the teams at 0-6 each and this was how they were when the half time whistle sounded.
The second half was less than half a minute old when Dara Keane had Clare back in the lead but three Waterford points in a four-minute spell suggested that the holders were getting a grip on the tie.
A Niall Arthur-pointed free reduced the lead to the minimum and then Clare struck a vital blow. Midfielder Tony Kelly won possession and passed the ball to Paudge Collins, who cleverly placed the ball ahead of Dara Keane. The Kilmaley player’s crossfield pass found David O’Halloran and he blasted to the net to give Clare back a lead they would hold to the finish.
The goalscorer followed with a point and Arthur added another from a long range free to stretch Clare’s advantage to four points 12 minutes into the half. At the turn of the final quarter, Waterford hit back and centre-forward Eamonn Murphy showed great strength when bursting past a number of Clare defenders before powerfully shooting to the net and cutting the margin to the minimum.
The score failed to upset Clare, who powered on, and points from Arthur, Tony Kelly and an excellent effort from wing-back Stephen O’Halloran had them four ahead again with 10 minutes remaining.
Clare were very much in control at this stage and further points from Arthur, Dara Keane and a wonderful effort from Jamie Shanahan put them seven clear with five minutes remaining.
Waterford battled to the end and in the last five minutes they hit two points but despite their best efforts, they could not break Clare’s dominance and when the final whistle sounded the saffron and blue brigade celebrated a great victory before former Clare board chairman Robert Frost, now vice-chairman of the Munster council, had the pleasant task of presenting the Munster Cup to the victorious captain, Paul Flanagan.
This was a very impressive team performance from Clare in which all impressed and this was particularly true of the defence, where all six sparkled, Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin held sway at midfield while Davy O’Halloran and Dara Keane were always prominent in attack.

Clare: Ronan Taaffe (Tubber); Haulie Vaughan (Inagh-Kilnamona) Paul Flanagan (Ballyea) Captain, Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge); Enda Boyce (Cratloe) Kevin Lynch (Sixmilebridge) Stephen O’Halloran (Clarecastle); Colm Galvin (Clonlara) Tony Kelly (Ballyea); Jamie Shanahan (Sixmilebridge), Paudge Collins (Cratloe) Cathal Malone (Ennistymon); Dara Keane (Kilmaley) Niall Arthur (Inagh-Kilnamona), David O’Halloran (Éire Óg).
Subs: Alan Mulready (Sixmilebridge) for Malone (48 minutes) Cathal O’Connell (Clonlara) for Collins (57 minutes).
Scorers: David O’Halloran (1-3, 1f); Niall Arthur (0-6, 5f, 1 ’65; Dara Keane (0-3); Tony Kelly (0-2) Jamie Shanahan, Stephen O’Halloran (0-1) each.
Frees For: 15; Wides: 9; ’65s: 2

Waterford: Darren Duggan; Jamie Barron, Stephen O’Keeffe, Luke Egan; Raymond Barry, Darragh Fives, Eoin Madigan; Padraic Prendergast, Gavin O’Brien; Jake Dillon, Eamonn Murphy, Padraic Mahoney; Stephen Roche, Cormac Heffernan, Martin O’Neill.
Subs: Colm Curran for O’Neill (40 minutes); Cein Chester for Roche (50 minutes); Tom Curran for Heffernan (55 minutes) Sam Lawless for Prendergast (58 minutes).
Scorers: Eamonn Murphy (1-2) Padraic Mahoney (0-4, all frees); Padraic Prendergast, Jake Dillon, Stephen Roche, Cormac Heffernan, Colm Curran (0-1) each.
Frees for: 16; Wides: 5; ’65s: 1
Referee: David Copps, Cork


Improved underage structures delivering results

by Peter O’Connell

NONE of the current Clare minor hurling panel had surfaced the last time the county got its hands on a Munster minor title. The challenge now for everyone involved in Clare underage hurling is to do everything to ensure that it won’t be 2031 before Clare win their next provincial minor championship.
For reasons mostly linked to an inability to plan ahead or to put coherent structures in place, the county was unable to capitalise upon Clare’s epic 1990s spell.
While the then minors won the 1997 All-Ireland, having lost the Munster final to Tipperary, it wasn’t until 2008 that a Clare underage team managed to make any discernible impact in their respective Munster championship. That infamous Tipperary ’65 cost Clare a first ever Munster U-21 title but many of the same players led Clare to Munster and All-Ireland U-21 glory last year.
Competing at the highest level in successive years underlined the ability and ambition of this group of players and their management.
However, winning an All-Ireland U-21 title in isolation does not guarantee that Clare will soon be competitive again at senior level. In fact, too much is probably expected of last year’s U-21 panel, many of whom are still eligible for that grade. Therefore unless another equally talented and driven team came through to back up their elders, last year’s win would simply be seen as a once-off in years to come.
So comprehensively defeating Waterford and winning the county’s first Munster minor title since 1989 is hugely significant. Hopefully Clare will end up in the All-Ireland minor final but even if they don’t, they have taken Clare hurling forward immeasurably at a time when the senior team is struggling to bed down and assert itself.
Look forward five years. The Clare senior team will hopefully be peppered with U-21 All-Ireland medallists and Munster minor winners. Perhaps the minors will have an All-Ireland medal around their necks as well.
If another team was to break through over the next two or three years, that would leave Clare with a pool of young hurlers who know no fear. The only danger would be that they might be either thrown into the senior panel too soon or perhaps underage success might quench their hunger at adult level.
That’s unlikely though. Clare’s new Munster champions, like their U-21 counterparts, seem fairly balanced and levelheaded. Hopefully they will stay that way and help to re-establish the county as a competitive entity at senior level.
Over the years, the Clare County Board and the county’s underage hurling structures have been lacerated as Clare failed, year on year, to field competitive minor or U-21 teams. Now that has changed and it must be acknowledged that the development squad system is proving fruitful.
Throw in the fact that St Caimin’s, Shannon qualified for their first Harty Cup final in 2009 and it is clear that quality hurlers are emerging throughout the county. It is ironic, however, to note that St Flannan’s have not won a Harty Cup since 2005.
A St Flannan’s Munster colleges or All-Ireland win was often hailed as a portent of winning a minor provincial title at least. The fact that didn’t happen indicates the gulf between colleges and minor inter-county hurling, while also hinting that the county development squad structures are clearly improving the hurling of Clare’s emerging youngsters.
Last December Brian Lohan, who coached the county’s minors in 2009, queried the resolve of the county board with reference to providing training pitches.
“What I have gone on record as saying before is that the biggest problem that I found being involved with the county minor team was the availability of pitches. We just couldn’t get fields,” the Shannon man stated at the time.
“If it wasn’t for St Flannan’s and the help we got from the Newmarket club and from Clarecastle, we’d have had nowhere to train. It’s very hard to get your team right and to make sure that the coaching is done right and the players are not getting bored, without having to worry about logistical things like pitches, organising buses and organising meals,” he added last December.
So let’s not get too far ahead here. The Clare County Board are not going to suddenly happen upon the wisdom of Solomon and a new-found ability to smoothly supply the keys to decent facilities, just because the U-21s and minors have brought badly needed championships to Clare.
However, having now delivered, the current minor management team will find it a bit easier to make any reasonable demands they deem necessary from now on. Results are the ultimate barometer and they also carry weight. Deliver and you can demand.
The players who delivered last Sunday can feel very proud of themselves this week. Remember, they lost their opening Munster championship game to Waterford in Walsh Park. Both Clare corner-backs excelled in Thurles, while Paul Flanagan, who hasn’t much experience of playing at full back, stood up superbly.
Upfield, David O’Halloran and Daire Keane inflicted terminal damage upon the Waterford defence, who had beaten Cork in their semi-final replay the previous Wednesday.
In the short term Clare will focus on preparing to bring their best form to Croke Park on August 15. Long-term, the county must ensure that they don’t revert to sitting on their hurling hands. We know what that delivers. Nothing.


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