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Clare-Waterford clash always evokes fury of 98

Gerald McCarthy was irate.

Not only because his side had lost the 1998 Munster final but by the manner in which Clare had prevailed.

Colin Lynch’s timber felled all three men around him at the throw-in and it was the catalyst for recriminations, suspensions and High Court injunctions as the Bannermen’s metamorphosis from GAA darlings to fiends came full circle.

“I look forward with all my heart to another meeting with Clare on the day it matters most,” McCarthy said at the time.

Four years passed before the sides would again square off in championship hurling in 2002, by which stage McCarthy and public enemy No 1 Ger Loughnane had left their managerial posts.

Revenge is a dish Loughnane gave many men a hunger for but McCarthy never got to a chance to dig in. The year was 2004 before another McCarthy, Justin, finally put Clare on their backs in the championship. Lynch played and got himself a point but what use when you’ve lost by 19 of them: 3-21 to 1-8. Like spitting at a tidal wave.

Clare no longer make headlines as they did in the Loughnane days.

After all, they have featured in just one Munster and one All-Ireland final since the turn of the millennium. Heck, Dublin manager Anthony Daly was the last Clare captain to raise a championship title for them.

Waterford still command column inches but too often, since the leaving of their second McCarthy, it has been for the wrong reasons:

hammerings to Kilkenny in 2008 and Tipperary in 2011 will define Davy Fitzgerald’s reign more than the 2010 Munster title win ever will.

Davy got the Waterford job off the back of a surprise Clare win over Na Déise in the ’08 Munster series, as it happens. Again, it has all come full circle …

Why can Clare win this weekend? Because they’re a team on form and while they didn’t scare Kilkenny in the League semi-final, Cork’s death by a thousand cuts in the final put that defeat into perspective.

There are aspects to Clare that will worry their fans. All well and good winning Division 1B but their half-forward line was all taken off scoreless in the league semi. All three men that day – Fergal Lynch, Sean Collins and Enda Barrett – struggled to win enough ball, and the same line was cleaned out in the first half by Limerick in the 1B final. Again, that line didn’t contribute on the scoreboard.

John Conlon will most likely feature somewhere across the ’40 and Collins will look to move Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh out of the six position. If Tipperary’s Noel McGrath has taught us anything, it’s that drifting off Brick and playmaking deeply unsettles Waterford.

Collins has yet to prove he is in the McGrath bracket but he has speed, and he’ll need to use it.

Should Davy Fitz be crazy enough to put the likes of Conlon in on Brick to stop the centre-back hurling, it’s advantage Waterford. The Clonlara man is one of Clare’s biggest weapons but Sparrow saw what happened when he put him mano-a-mano against Tipp powerhouse Paudie Maher last year – Conlon was decommissioned.

Tony Browne – a survivor from ’98 – continues to defy age but he has at times struggled with pacy forwards. Nobody should know this better than Davy. It’s all about picking mismatches and exposing weaknesses, of course, and that’s where management comes into it.

The Banner have an exceptional full-back in Cian Dillon while James McInerney will likely resume at centre-back after a broken thumb. The latter needs to take control here, and his line must distribute the ball smartly up the field.

We lost count of how often Clare’s midfield and half-back line gifted possession to a spare Kilkenny defender when under no real pressure.

It beggared belief and starved their most dangerous forward – Conor McGrath – of go-forward ball. If the Cratloe man and Colin Ryan, who we feel can be in and out of games, get enough ball then there could be goals.

Waterford can win because they have shown us so many times how resourceful they are. They were dead in the league this year but John Mullane found a ring of life. Last year was a write-off after the Munster final massacre until Kevin Moran, Brick, Mullane and Stephen Molumphy decided to rewrite the ending.

Granted, Waterford have never been able to win their final game of the season but rarely do they not atone. There’s been trouble since Jump Street this year with the selectorial roundabout and Shane O’Sullivan leaving for a summer in Americay. No team scored less than the Decies in the top two divisions of the league and it took Mullane’s return to extricate them from relegation.

The De La Salle man, along with Brick and Moran, are the very reasons why Waterford can win. Form and experience suggest they can be the difference if it’s a tight match.

Mullane told us recently that he knows his former manager will have the Banner ready: “Clare don’t surprise me. You know, Davy being Davy.

“He’s a very good manager and he’ll have players well organised for the championship.”

You can organise a team for anything except unpredictability and that’s Waterford in a nutshell. Even if they are not the force they once were. The Banner go into the game as the bookies’ favourites and we would just about agree with that. It all chimes of 2011 when Limerick should have taken Waterford and Clare are in a similar position now.

It doesn’t feel like the Long Hot Summer of 1998 when Lynch made headlines but it only takes one match to light a fire. Old grudges die hard and somewhere, in some quiet corner of Cork, Gerald McCarthy will spend 70 minutes hoping Browne has reminded his 2012 teammates why this fixture means so much.

Twitter: @shanesaint

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Shane Stapleton is the Irish Post's GAA hurling columnist. Follow Shane on Twitter @shanesaint

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