Flashback: Clare v Waterford, drawn 1998 Munster Final
By Cian O'Connell
It was the hurling summer with a potent cocktail of controversy and comebacks. Buried in the middle of all the drama was Waterford’s first Munster final appearance in nine years.
Gerald McCarthy was putting Waterford firmly back on the road to respectability. A National Hurling League decider defeat to Cork failed to dent Waterford’s hopes.
Clare had accumulated two All Ireland titles in the previous three seasons. Ger Loughnane’s team were solid and stylish in equal measure, but a late Waterford rally came within a whisker of earning provincial glory.
The Banner dictated the tone and tempo early on with David Forde pouncing for an opportunistic goal. Anthony Kirwan replied for Waterford, who improved in the closing stages, but parity eventually prevailed. Clare subsequently won a tempestuous replay.
“I remember there was a decent wind the first day,” former Waterford star Paul Flynn recalls. “Anthony Kirwan got a couple of goals either side of half-time, but Clare weathered the storm a bit.
“Jamesie (O’Connor) scored an unbelievable point, but we got back level towards the end. I had a chance to win it with a long range free, but a replay was needed.
“Looking back I don’t think people could argue with how we played, but Clare regrouped and were far stronger in the replay. They seemed to find a grudge, to bring a mean streak, and they upped it in the replay.”
Having shown signs of improvement Waterford were beginning to stir again in 1998. “Realistically we were viewed as complete underdogs the first day,” Flynn commented. “Clare had a very powerful team, they were in their prime.
“By that time Clare had won two All Ireland titles and what I remember is that they were in brilliant physical condition.
“We had been beaten in the League final, and in many ways the only team we had beaten in an important match was Tipperary.
“Clare were like the old Man Utd, if they played well, they would beat you. That is the way it was, I don’t know if they underestimated us in the drawn game.”
Eighteen years later the matches are still recalled throughout the country. “The fact that it is brought up so often proves just how big a deal it was,” Flynn laughs. “I suppose the main reason for that is the hostile atmosphere for the replay, what happened before throw-in.
“After the game for a couple of weeks it was fairly dramatic with what was happening at meetings. It was a bit of a circus.
“Apart from the matches, the whole saga was still in the papers, and in many ways it probably took away from Clare, who had players suspended.
“The teams probably went two different ways in that we had to adapt pretty quickly because we faced Galway in an All Ireland quarter-final shortly after the Munster final replay.”
How Clare had flared to prominence gave teams throughout the land belief that they could embark on a similar journey. “In a way we were coming like they had, but the two teams were completely different,” Flynn said. “The styles of play were very contrasting.
“Clare had a different style of play, they had huge power and really strong backs, like the Lohans and Seanie McMahon.
“Then up front you had Jamesie, who was flying at that time and Niall Gilligan, who always was a goal threat.
“I don’t think there were any great comparisons in the playing style, but maybe there was a similarity in how we in 1998 compared to them in 1995 losing a League final and then trying to make an impact in the Championship.
“We were just looking to go where Clare were. They definitely wanted to stop us, obviously there was a Munster title at stake, but I think they wanted to cut Waterford’s progress so we wouldn’t be a threat in the longer term.”
Waterford’s persistence was eventually rewarded with a provincial crown in 2002, but Flynn acknowledges how critical the Gerald McCarthy era was. Expectations and standards increased.
“There is no question Gerald was unlucky not to win a Munster Championship with us,” Flynn admits. “He changed everything, even how the County Board approached things, supplying stuff.
“Gerald knew what had to be done to bring Waterford up a few levels and he did that. It was a very important time for Waterford.
“I think Loughnane had lost regularly to Cork in the 70s, I know Clare won a couple of Leagues during that time. In their playing days maybe Gerald McCarthy had the edge in that he won more in Munster and that might have driven Loughnane a bit. At the time I think that might have been a factor for Clare.
“Gerald definitely started the ball rolling, our approach was unrecognisable to what had went before. Our training, the way the players were treated were all improved when Gerald was in charge. It was the start of something special.” Waterford have stayed relevant.