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Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
James Crombie/INPHO Waterford and Clare players battle for possession.
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5 talking points after Waterford's U21 hurlers star in Munster and Clare bow out
The home side caught fire tonight in Walsh Park.

1. Vital success for Waterford

After last Sunday’s senior pasting at the hands of Tipperary, Waterford needed something to lift their hurling spirits. Austin Gleeson, Patrick Curran and Shane Bennett started on that chastening afternoon at the Gaelic Grounds while Tom Devine and Conor Gleeson came on as subs. Picking themselves up for another championship hurling bout tonight was not easy.

The game did not exactly start brilliantly from a Waterford perspective but they steadied before the interval and ripped Clare apart in the second-half. This Waterford U21 vintage were All-Ireland minor champions in 2013 and falling at the first U21 hurdle in 2016 would have rocked them. But they claimed a victory that helps the healing process ahead of some big late July challenges.

2. That second-half turnaround

Backed by the wind, Clare settled to the tempo of this game quickest. They conceded the opening score of the game to a free before reeling off 1-4 without reply and the accuracy of their shooting put them in front by 1-9 to 0-6 in the 24th minute.

Waterford shifted the direction of this game in remarkable fashion. After that David Conroy point in the 24th minute, Waterford outscored Clare by 3-17 to 0-2 and by 3-13 to 0-2 in the second-half alone. The class of these Waterford players was undoubted and they demonstrated it to devastating effect as the match concluded in a one-sided fashion.

3. Clare can’t cause another Munster U21 upset

Clare have enjoyed some fantastic U21 hurling nights in recent years. They clinched Munster crowns in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before reaching last year’s decider. Those seasons have been characterised by the dominance Clare have exerted over Waterford at this level with a 19-point win in 2012, a four-point success in 2013 and an unexpected two-point victory last year in Ennis.

That victory last July in Cusack Park was a bolt from the blue against a star-studded Waterford team, just a few days after a bunch of the Deise players had lined out in the Munster senior final. The Banner travelled to the south-east tonight seeking another upset but despite playing brightly in the opening third of the match, Clare couldn’t sustain that level of performance to shred the form book again.

4. Stephen Bennett catches fire

An unused substitute last Sunday in Limerick and severely hampered by injuries this season, Stephen Bennett utilised tonight as a platform to offer a reminder of his talents. He didn’t get the most regular supply of possession in the opening period but wreaked havoc after the break.

Bennett clinically despatched two goals within the first seven minutes of the second-half as Waterford soared out of sight. He nearly completed his hat-trick late on yet was denied late by a fine save from Clare goalkeeper Daniel Vaughan. Still Bennett carried off the man-of-the-match award and looked in excellent form.

5. Waterford’s U21 prospects look bright

Waterford don’t have the fondest memories of Munster U21 hurling with only three titles to their name, the most recent experience of provincial glory back in 1994. Since then they have only contested two finals – 2007 and 2009 – and have only won one game since the 2009 decider, last year’s quarter-final dismantling of Cork.

There was no disputing their victory tonight, a powerful performance yielding the spoils and resulting in their prospects looking bright for the rest of the summer. They have a highly-rated side and will be eyeing silverware now against the victors of tomorrow’s semi-final between Tipperary and Limerick.

A Tipperary triumph will set up a first Munster U21 final against Waterford since the inaugural year of the championship in 1964, while Waterford and Limerick have never featured in a Munster U21 hurling decider.

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