Thursday, 19 November 2020, 17.30
Ideal draw for both teams, but it favours Clare.
Two evenly pitched teams with nothing to lose. Waterford look to be enjoying themselves, and are performing far above expectations this year. Meanwhile, Clare are developing their identity as a hard-grafting, no-frills outfit.
For Clare, this year has notes of 2013 about it: they are not rated, but dangerous. In the same way that dogs take on the characteristics of their owners, against Wexford, Lohan's team were aggressive and uncomplicated. The team is finding its identity as workers, looking emboldened and, unencumbered by any intricate tactics, play with abandon and simplicity that winter conditions can reward. They are also finding form and flying nicely under the radar. With aggressive players like Pat O'Connor, Rory Hayes and the McCarthy brothers, fighting and grappling through these wintry matches suits them just fine.
Last weekend, Wexford tried to rollout their intricate, complex, unconventional passing game, whereas Clare, in the November elements, kept it simple. Making obvious adaptations -- such as pushing up on the Wexford short puc-out when Mark Fanning was against the wind -- won ground for Clare. Moreover, Tony Kelly has been granted a license to shoot and his accuracy has proven to be assassin grade.
Image: Shane O'Donnell against the Waterford full-back line.
Waterford, a mix of the new and the familiar, are warm favourites. Beating a decent Cork team in their first game was a surprise but another credible performance against Limerick stated clearly that the team is on an upward curve after two bad years. They have shown that they are threatening to teams perceived as much better than them, but Clare will have a slight psychological advantage as Waterford will be favourites for the first time, and they're coming in off a loss too. It's also probable that Waterford will be tired after an attritional game against Limerick, may be down in morale after the loss, and have had one day less than Clare to recover. Getting psychologically ready for this game will be a bigger effort for Waterford than for Clare.
Tony Kelly's form is so red-hot that he will have to be man-marked which is a slight boon to Clare as it means that, from the off, the opposition are adapting to you rather than trying to dictate all terms. Moreover, he's likely to start in the half-forward line and then roam, which tampers with Waterford's central tactic of leaving Tadhg de Búrca free. Some say Calum Lyons will pick up Kelly, and he'll move around, which means that de Búrca may have to oscillate between playing free and picking someone up. de Búrca is a marvel every day, and it'll be interesting to see if he's able to pull the strings with as much freedom as usual. Also, Clare might mark him, which I'd recommend.
Image: Tadhg de Búrca and Tony Kelly.
As a pitch, Páirc Uí Chaoimh will slightly favour Waterford as Clare would rather play on a softer, more wintered field (such as Thurles), where the game would have a bigger component of fight, for which the likes of Pat O'Connor would be champing at the bit. Waterford can also take comfort from Clare's threat thus far being entirely contained in Tony Kelly. All teams have players to whom they look, but Clare have reduced that sauce to it's minimum. They look like a team that doesn't have a second best forward, rather that have Kelly plus five other forwards. Clare's momentum will be increased with David McInerney's return from suspension; while John Conlon and Aron Shanagher are back in full training.
Stephen O'Keeffe in goals is excellent, the backs are overall solid, but the forwards are unconvincing. Austin Gleeson remains enigmatic. He has as much verve and élan as Kelly but is still without a defined best-position and shows flighty form. Jamie Barron is flying: the epitome of the midfield dynamo. Stephen Bennett is in fine form from play and frees, and looks comfortable in himself, but I don't see another forward apart from Gleeson who might reliably pick off 3+ scores.
Clare offer just about as much as Waterford. Eibhear Qulligan in goals is still somewhat unproven. The backs are taking shape as a scrappy, gallant set without necessarily hosting any big stars. Hayes, Stephen O'Halloran, Aidan McCarthy and Séadna Morey are all very quick. Kelly is player-of-the-year at the moment, but the rest of the forwards lack real scoring threat. That said, the team overall look happy to fight and, in November, that's not nothing.
Prediction: Clare by couple of points. And if they draw Kilkenny in the semi-final, I wouldn't bet against them.