Clare were banished to the qualifiers on Sunday after Waterford overwhelmed the newly-crowned league champions with a seven-point victory in Semple Stadium, Thurles.
The result is in startling contrast to the League final replay, which saw Clare triumph after a last-gasp Tony Kelly point. Derek McGrath’s side now progress to the Munster final for the second year in a row with Clare facing the qualifiers.
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald said in a post-match interview that he was “very disappointed” with the result and performance but more importantly vowed that Clare will return with greater hunger and will be stronger than ever. After all, Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland-winning campaign did begin with defeat to Cork at the same stage so who is to say that history won’t repeat itself? No team in the country will relish meeting this Clare team in the next few months.
Waterford were the better team on Sunday but that’s not to suggest that they’re that far ahead of Clare. A lot of the Banner’s key men simply had a day to forget, with Conor McGrath shockingly inaccurate, Podge Collins and Shane O’Donnell well marked by the Waterford defence and a poor start also set the tone for a lacklustre Clare display, which we haven’t been accustomed to seeing in 2016.
Perhaps this was coming for Clare. A month without a game after dominating Division 1B and the subsequent knockout rounds meant that they may have just lost their momentum while Waterford were licking their wounds and regrouping after the 160-minute thriller finale to the league campaign. A Waterford backlash was inevitable and the break was certainly a benefit to Waterford as the sides travelled back to Thurles for the third chapter of their 2016 rivalry.
Now we will see the opposite happen for Clare, they’re now back down to the ground and will be made well aware of where they stand by Davy and Donal Og Cusack. The league triumph is well forgotten and the only thing on the players’ minds will be that they have to perform, to right the wrongs of the Waterford defeat, and with the calibre of players they have any confidence lost in Thurles on Sunday will be regained if their qualifiers surge goes to plan.
The Banner emerge with David McInerney gaining some valuable game time as a consolation from the defeat and won’t fear any team in their way, with Cork and Wexford among the high profile teams also exiled to the qualifiers.
Cork and Wexford have their own problems and won’t fancy being drawn against Fitzgerald’s side. If the draw is slightly favourable to the Banner they will at least be looking at reaching the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
If they reach the last six then who knows what could happen. The championship always springs up a surprise or two but I wouldn’t regard a Clare All-Ireland challenge a surprise.
With the skill, fitness and experience of the panel at Davy’s disposal one thing is for certain, we have not seen the last of Clare in this year’s championship. Mark my words.
Gavin Quinn, Pundit Arena