Banner prevail over Cork after epic shoot-out in final for the ages
Davy Fitzgerald’s young Clare side edge out Cork thanks to deluge of goals
Seamus Harnedy of Cork is fouled by Clare’s Patrick Donnellan of Clare in Saturday’s final. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
In hurling mythology there is a story that when spirits wished to organise matches in the other world, they would whisk away gifted mortals – the legend usually refers to Kilkenny’s Lory Meagher – as they slept to play in these preternatural contests before returning them safely, leaving the with only dreams of their twilight exploits.
On Saturday evening in Croke Park, as the floodlights illuminated this year’s GAA All-Ireland hurling final replay within the ambient autumnal glow you could actually imagine that you were watching something from a dream world.
The skills, the speed of their execution, the drama of the biggest All-Ireland goal haul in over 40 years (and even that was an 80-minute final) and the courage of Cork’s unflagging resistance in the face of the winners’ at times sublime touch and striking shimmered in front of the biggest attendance of the year (82,276 – two more than the football final!) to provide a fitting conclusion to this most memorable of hurling championships.
The titanic contest for this year’s Liam MacCarthy Cup finally resolved itself in Clare’s favour. David Fitzgerald’s young team played with the pace and fluency that has developed at a frightening rate this year to make a mockery of their starting odds of 22 to 1.
There are few guarantees with All-Ireland finals let alone replays but in the end the evident superiority established by Clare in the drawn match ultimately proved a more reliable guide to the outcome than Cork’s room for improvement.
Yet Cork were co-producers of the riveting spectacle. Apparently swept away in the early stages during which Clare’s late selection, the 19-year old Shane O’Donnell helped himself to surely the fastest hat-trick in All-Ireland history, they somehow responded. By the 19th minute O’Donnell had registered 10 points (3-1) on one of the best defenders of the championship, Shane O’Neill while Colin Ryan’s free-taking was lethal and composed.
But having steadied the ship against the early relentless waves of Clare’s attacks, flowing from a dominant defence and exceptional ball delivered into the attack, Cork wrested back the initiative. For nearly half an hour either side of half-time they outscored their opponents 0-9 to 0-1 and by the beginning of the final quarter they were – incredibly – level.
Then in the final minutes just as Clare took scores that persuaded everyone watching to deem them game-breakers, Cork came back. Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s team scored goals in the 60th and 70th minutes to first equalise and then pull back to within three points their rampant opponents.
Replays produce different dynamics and different heroes.
Saturday differed from the drawn final in that Cork’s challenge was more sustained, especially in the third quarter when they recovered to wipe out the big deficit – at its most daunting, eight points by the 26th minute – and although they were hanging on bravely by the end there was no doubt they had both pushed Clare harder and forced an even greater performance from their opponents than three weeks previously.
The nature of that challenge confers on Clare the ultimate distinction; Cork threw everything they had at them but couldn’t deny the force of the performance.
If O’Donnell was the weapon of choice, especially in the first half, there were other exceptional contributions to the victory. Conor McGrath would have been a consensus Man of the Match but for his youthful team-mate’s exceptional productivity. He played deep and once he got a wide in the opening seconds out of his system, he was the heartbeat of the team.
He answered the equalising goal of the admirably effective Séamus Harnedy, which severely tested a team who would have thought it had made the decisive break on the scoreboard, with one of his own. Emerging from a centrefield thicket to race in on goal and decline either a handy point or a quick pass to the unmarked O’Donnell, instead he hammered it into the top of the net.