A Shane O’Donnell and Tony Kelly-led Clare spoiled Waterford’s Munster championship homecoming to leave the Déise playing a dangerous game of catch-up in the coming weeks.
Defeat here means Waterford must take something from their visit to Thurles next weekend if they are to have any chance of finishing in the top three. Only one county, across both provinces in 2018, managed to advance to the All-Ireland series off the back of an opening day defeat and that was the side which came out on top at a Walsh Park venue hosting its first Munster championship game since 2003.
A Clare victory looked the more likely outcome when Kevin Moran gifted Tony Kelly his fifth point of the day to leave the Banner five clear, 1-19 to 0-17, six minutes from the end of regulation time.
But, perhaps, it was foolish to think that Waterford would surrender without a grandstand finish and four points on the bounce from Stephen Bennett (two frees), Maurice Shanahan, and Austin Gleeson, left just the minimum separating them three minutes into second-half stoppages.
Sub Ryan Taylor settled Clare nerves, but there was still time for a Tommy Ryan point. Rather crucially, though, the home side could not locate an equaliser.
Waterford will have been disappointed to hit just one point from play between the 48th and 71st minute, a sign as to the extent to which the home attack struggled.
Clare were full value for their 1-13 to 0-10 interval lead, the visitors to Waterford succeeding in putting daylight between the sides when hitting five-in-a-row between the 29th and 35th minute. Shane O’Donnell, John Conlon, Tony Kelly and Peter Duggan (two frees) were all on the mark during this period of Banner dominance as last year’s beaten Munster finalists moved 1-11 to 0-8 clear.
Mikey Kearney ended a 10-minute barren spell for the Déise when finding the target from the sideline of the terrace side, but they were unable to make any inroads on their opponents between there and the call for half-time, with two more Duggan free preserving Clare’s six-point advantage.
The visitors enjoyed the dream start, with John Conlon, after a brilliant turn of foot from Shane O’Donnell, rounding Stephen O’Keeffe and tapping the sliotar into the net three minutes in. There followed white flags from Duggan (free) and the roving Kelly to send Clare 1-2 to 0-1 clear.
Waterford, who were rather jittery and collectively unsure in defence, not helped by losing Noel Connors to injury, did clip four of the next five scores – Conor Gleeson, Austin Gleeson and Stephen Bennett (0-2, one free) the providers – to cut the gap to the minimum, 1-3 to 0-5. But Paraic Fanning’s charges were unable to get back on level terms at any stage following the concession of that third-minute goal and, ultimately, that is what cost them a first Munster championship win in 16 years.
Scorers for Waterford: Stephen Bennett (0-11, 0-8 frees, 0-1 ‘65); A Gleeson (0-4); J Barron (0-2); C Gleeson, M Kearney, M Shanahan, S Bennett, T Ryan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clare: P Duggan (0-8, 0-7 frees); T Kelly (0-5); J Conlon (1-1); S O’Donnell, A McCarthy, P Collins, R Taylor, S Golden, C Galvin (0-1 each).
Waterford: S O’Keeffe; S McNulty, N Connors, C Prunty; P Mahony, T de Búrca, K Moran; J Barron, C Gleeson; A Gleeson, P Hogan, P Mahony; Shane Bennett, Stephen Bennett, M Kearney.
Subs: S Fives for Connors (18 mins, inj); T Ryan for Hogan (HT); P Curran for Shane Benentt, J Prendergast for Barron (56); M Shanahan for Pauric Mahony (66).
Clare: D Tuohy; J Browne, P O’Connor, D McInerney; C Malone, S Morey, D Fitzgerald; C Galvin, G Golden; P Duggan, T Kelly, D Ryan; J Conlon, S O’Donnell, P Collins.
Subs: A Shanagher for Collins (52 mins); A McCarthy for Golden (57); R Taylor for Ryan (65)
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).