It only took Tony Kelly 90 seconds to leave Waterford men speechless
Clare 1-22 Waterford 0-21
Even the Waterford subs were smiling.
You know that look, that shake of the head you give when something stupid is after happening. It was only ninety seconds into this Munster championship quarter final in a sunlit and disappointingly deserted Thurles, when Tony Kelly had the boys gasping.
Gasping at the realisation that he was in one of those moods and that it was going to be one of those days, when he trapped it like a swatter on a fly, then stuck it over without even turning around. It was a warning as if Calum Lyons needed one that he had a job on, and that it was in its nelly going to be easy.
The Clare bench punched the air to celebrate the omen that was, their 100 supporters made a racket like they hadn't seen a score in a year and the Waterford boys just stopped and stared.
Listening to Marty you'd think this was run-of-the-mill from Tony Kelly.
What a scorepic.twitter.com/lX7RPe1cOI
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) June 27, 2021
The game was only five minutes old but you could already tell that Diarmuid Ryan was like a man who, before he left his home in Cratloe this morning, had seen the light of God. He was hurling like his brother used to, cleaning out the half back-line before drilling into that ripper of a two man full forward line - Kelly and Shanagher - before mixing it up to score a point from so far out that he was nearly back in the Town terrace.
That's a half back and a half and contrary to what many will have you believe, Clare are a long way away from a one-man team. But still, that man is some man.
Kelly repeated the trick five minutes later, robbing Lyons along the sideline just before scraping the clouds to raise another white flag, his second of the day. Brian Lohan later explained that Conor Prunty's absence had convinced him to test the waters and to throw Kelly into full forward. If that was the experiment, this was a result but you have the feeling anyway, that even if he played him in goals, Tony Kelly would still find a way to score points.
There and then, it wouldn't have took a genius to notice that Clare, with David Reidy dancing, John Conlon dominating and Páidí Fitzpatrick kicking, were singing like birds in the summer sky. By contrast, the zip, energy and abandon that has made Waterford the contenders they are was nowhere to be seen. Liam Cahill was tearing his hair out because no matter where he looked, his team didn't seem to know who or what was hitting them.
15 minutes in and Clare led by 0-7 to 0-2. Waterford needed much more than a water-break.
Confirmation of that came within a minute, when Ryan Taylor came from about five yards behind him to beat a Waterford defender to the break. The Clooney-Quin forward has always been athletic but it was when he scored his second point of the day when you knew, you knew then for sure, that he's a more composed and confident player now.
20,000 seater stand.
What a joke. pic.twitter.com/evbc5W8xVq
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) June 27, 2021
Half-time and Clare led by eight but it could and probably should have been 12. Aron Shanagher will probably hold his hand up because for all his athleticism, for all his threat and for all his brilliance, it is absolutely astonishing that he went this full game without scoring. The man won high ball after low ball, he won penalty after free, he created chance after chance but whenever he shot at the posts, he was left shaking his head.
Brian Lohan was doing more than shaking his head and if you were watching him, if you'd seen him stretch his arms out wide, if you'd heard his reaction to those wide-balls, you'd have probably said to yourself that those Clare boys are lucky boys that they won this game.
But for now, Lohan will be happy. He will be happy because if it wasn't for their wastefulness, if it wasn't for the Bennetts and for Austin Gleeson, it's no exaggeration to say that the Banner could have won this game by something closer to 15 points.
Waterford rallied late on and when they brought it back to three with the clock ticking for 70, it was a hairy time to be a Clare person. It would actually be unthinkable how much it would have hurt them to lose this game. Kieran Bennett and Austin Gleeson had them fearing the worst but like Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating a penalty, one man landed in to calm them down. He made it look so stupidly easy to score that last point of the game and you probably already know that that man was Tony Kelly.
"Jesus, I'd love to see more fans at the games," said Brian Lohan.
They missed out on a masterclass today.
Eibhear Quilligan, Rory Hayes, Conor Cleary, Paul Flannagan, Diarmuid Ryan (0-1), John Conlon, Paidí Fitzpatrick, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly (1-12, 1-0 pen 0-4f), Cathal Malone (0-1), David Reidy (0-2), Ryan Taylor (0-2) Ian Galvin (0-1), Aron Shanagher, Aidan McCarthy (0-3)
Subs: David McInerney for Fitzpatrick (40) David Fitzgerald for Ian Galvin (57), Domhnaill McMahon for Colm Galvin (63), Shane Golden for Aidan McCarthy (70)
Billy Nolan, Shane Fives, Conor Gleeson, Shane McNulty, Calum Lyons (0-1), Iarlaith Daly, Kevin Moran, Austin Gleeson (0-5, 0-1f), Darragh Lyons, Peter Hogan, Jack Fagan, Stephen Bennett (0-11, 0-9f), Dessie Hutchinson, Shane Bennett, Jack Prendergast
Subs: Kieran Bennett (0-1) for for Kevin Moran (27) Patrick Curran (0-1) for Jack Fagan (43), Neil Montgomery (0-1) for Jack Prendergast (46), Billy Power for Darragh Lyons (52), Michael Kearney (0-1) for Peter Hogan (62),