Waterford qualified for the Munster final with a crushing 3-23 to 1-11 defeat of Clare at sunny Walsh Park.
If Sunday was a disappointing day for Waterford hurling, tonight offered real redemption as a slick U21 outfit containing five seniors in their starting line-up completely overwhelmed their guests after the restart to seal a date in the provincial decider against either holders Limerick or - whisper it - Tipperary in a fortnight.
Having trailed by five points after nine minutes, Na Deise - All-Ireland minor champions three years ago - outscored their opponents by 3-13 to 0-2 in the second half as they cruised into the decider with 4,126 looking on (including one Derek McGrath). There were 18 points between the teams at the final whistle but who know what that margin might have been if the winners hadn't taken their foot off the gas for the last ten minutes!
The defining period in this match arrived between the 27th and 38th minutes when Waterford landed an unbelievable 2-6 without reply, including two goals from the ash of Man of the Match Stephen Bennett, who has surely played his way into the reckoning for his county's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final clash with Wexford on Sunday week.
Just two points separated the teams at the end of a thoroughly entertaining first half-hour, with the Shannonsiders ahead by 1-9 to 0-10. Playing into the breeze, Sean Power's charges finished the half strongly to trim a six-point deficit with four unanswered scores.
Patrick Curran, who registered half of his side's first-half tally, opened the scoring from a free and popped over the hosts' second point from another placed ball in the tenth minute, the only problem being that the Banner blasted 1-4 in between those two scores! Kevin Hehir pointed either side of a Ryan Taylor score and Oisin Donnellan hit the net with a low drive after gathering a rebound in the eighth minute - 1-3 to 0-1!
Clare's Oisin Donnellan with Tom Devine and Darragh Lyons of Waterford. ©INPHO/James Crombie.
Ben O'Gorman lofted over the fourth Clare point but Curran's 13th-minute free from flush in front of the posts reduced the gap and Michael Kearney arrowed in a lovely score from play at the midway stage in the first half to leave just the goal between them.
After going nine minutes without a score, the visitors struck twice inside 60 seconds courtesy of David Conroy and O'Gorman - two excellent scores. Senior star Stephen Bennett traded points with Shane Gleeson before another senior intercounty man, Aaron Shanagher, made it 1-8 to 0-5.
Full forward Shane Bennett ran 30 yards through the Clare defence to stick over a lovely solo point but again the Banner response was instant, this time from Conroy to make it double scores with five minutes left before the break. Now, Waterford took over...
In the 27th minute, Austin Gleeson got in on the act with his third brilliantly-converted sideline cut of the week from left of the posts and the Suirsiders finished the half impressively with further finishes from Curran (2) and midfielder Mark O'Brien.
Waterford were ahead within twelve minutes of the restart when Stephen Bennett took a pass from Kearney and planted a bullet in the back of the net. The home side followed up with superb long-range scores from Shane Bennett (2) and Curran (free) to lead by four after 35 minutes 1-13 to 1-9. When Stephen Bennett and Tom Devine chipped in with two more points inside 60 seconds, it was 1-9 without reply and a lead of six!
Waterford's Austin Gleeson and Shane Gleeson of Clare. ©INPHO/James Crombie.
In the 37th minute, Stephen Bennett capitalised on a mistake from Clare full back David Fitzgerald and nonchalantly popped the ball beneath the legs of Daniel Vaughan for his second major.
Gleeson smashed over another terrific point from distance of the left wing and Bobby Duggan's strike nine minutes into the second half brought an end to Waterford's devastating uninterrupted scoring run of 2-6. The respite was only brief, however, as points from Curran (two frees) and Kearney were followed by a bullet of a goal from midfielder Colm Roche to the bottom right corner of the net. That score meant the gap was an astonishing 15 points at the three-quarters stage, 3-19 to 1-10.
Curran's thumping free was followed by an effortless O'Brien score from distance and a delightful score by substitute Peter Hogan from a nigh on impossible angle before Curran's goalbound shot was diverted over the bar for a 23rd Waterford point and his own tenth.
Midfielder Conroy knocked over Clare's second point of the second half three minutes from the end but the Banner County had nothing else to cheer as home goalkeeper Jordan Henley denied them thrice. Waterford are an hour away from their fourth provincial title at this level; they will learn their Munster final opponents tomorrow night when Tipperary host Limerick in the second semi-final at Thurles.
Waterford - J Henley; W Hahessy, C Gleeson, D Lyons; M Harney, A Gleeson (0-2, 1sl), C Prunty; M O'Brien (0-2), C Roche (1-1); DJ Foran, T Devine (0-1), M Kearney (0-2); P Curran (0-10, 6f, 1'65), Shane Bennett (0-1), Stephen Bennett (2-3). Subs: A Farrell for DJ Foran, P Hogan (0-1) for C Prunty, J Fagan for M Kearney, R Browne for Shane Bennett, B O'Keeffe for A Gleeson.
Clare - D Vaughan; R Hayes, D Fitzgerald, C Cooney; J McCarthy, A McGuane, B O'Gorman (0-2); D Conroy (0-3), K Hehir (0-2); O Donnellan (1-0), B Duggan (0-1f), S Gleeson (0-1); C Crehan, R Taylor (0-1), A Shanagher (0-1). Subs: S Taylor for C Crehan, P O'Loughlin for S Gleeson, S Ward for C Cooney, P Fitzgerald for O Donnellan, C Burke for K Hehir.
Referee - F Horgan.