Waterford emerged as 2-15 to 1-17 victors over Clare at the end of an exciting Allianz Hurling League Division 1A clash in Ennis.
Waterford went in at the break armed with a 2-05 to 1-07 lead, the visitors’ goals coming from Seamus Prendergast and Jake Dillon with Tony Kelly responding for Clare.
The sides were level 11 times over the 70 minutes. A draw seemed likely until Déise hero Dillon coolly converted a decisive injury-time free.
Dillon, a De La Salle club-mate of the now retired John Mullane, took on the mantle of match winner in his first league outing.
The wing forward’s late pointed free completed a handsome 1-05 (0-03f) tally to ensure a disappointing finish for Clare on their return to the top flight after a three-year absence.
The Banner men, who recently lifted the Waterford Crystal Cup, took an early 0-02 to 0-01 lead at Cusack Park with Colin Ryan pointing twice.
Waterford got back on terms before sweeping ahead by 2-03 to 0-02 with goals from Prendergast (16 minutes) and Dillon (19).
The Clare defence was badly caught out as the experienced Prendergast fired home the first and then wing forward Dillon beat goalkeeper Patrick Kelly at close quarters with a lovely finish off the ground.
Ryan replied for the hosts with two more points and then a John Conlon hand-pass set up the unmarked Kelly for a well-taken goal and a 2-03 to 1-04 scoreline.
Davy Fitzgerald’s side continued to press late in the half and closing points from Seadna Morey and league newcomer Kelly had the gap down to the minimum by the break.
Ryan levelled for the hosts on the resumption and it was level pegging on four further occasions as the nip-and-tuck nature continued.
Brian O’Halloran, who had a fine game for Waterford, edged them in front once more before Morey completed his brace and Shane O’Donnell added his name to the scoresheet.
Ryan, who finished with 0-09, Darragh Fives, Kelly, Brian O’Sullivan, Ryan again and Pauric Mahony all traded scores to keep the sides deadlocked with a quarter of an hour to play.
Although Clare accumulated 11 wides, it was still all to play for by the 70-minute mark. Ryan, Colm Galvin and Kelly cancelled out a late series of points from Dillon for a 2-14 to 1-17 scoreline.
Three minutes of injury-time were signalled and Dillon stepped up to convert his most important free of the day, awarded for a foul by Brendan Bugler.
It was first blood to Waterford ahead of the counties’ Munster Championship tie in June and gives them plenty of encouragement for the coming weeks of league action.
WATERFORD: S O’Keeffe; S Daniels, S Fives, N Connors; J Nagle, M Walsh, K Moran; S O’Sullivan, D Twomey; B O’Halloran (0-04), S Prendergast (1-01), J Dillon (1-05, 0-04f); G O’Brien, P Mahony (0-03, 0-03f), B O’Sullivan (0-01).
Subs used: D Fives (0-01) for D Twomey (half-time), J Barron for G O’Brien (43 mins), R Barry for Mahony (55).
CLARE: P Kelly; D O’Donovan, J McInerney, D McInerney; B Bugler, P Donellan, P O’Connor; S Morey (0-02), C Ryan (0-09, 0-04f, 0-01 ‘65’); F Lynch (0-01), T Kelly (1-03), E Barrett; J Conlon, S O’Donnell (0-01), P Collins.
Subs used: C Galvin (0-01) for Barrett, N O’Connell for P O’Connor (both half-time), A Cunningham for Collins (53 mins), J Clancy for A Cunningham (64).
Referee John Sexton (Cork)