Clare bask in glory of perfect finale to a glorious summer
O’Donnell the hat-trick hero for brilliant Banner but brave Cork play their full part too in an unforgettable All-Ireland hurling final
Jimmy Barry Murphy watched it all calmly. For a man associated with so many of Cork’s winning Septembers in hurling and football, he is a class apart in knowing how to lose graciously.
He saw his team shaken by another unstoppable opening argument from the Claremen and they were eight points adrift after 26 minutes.
But Cork found a way, from Anthony Nash’s Howitzer free into a sardine-tin goalmouth crowded with Clare men to Patrick Cronin’s industry to Stephen McDonnell’s terrific corner-back display.
They stayed Cork – positive, innovative and alive to the half chance – and made the impossible look likely.
“Both days really we had been playing catch up from the word go,” JBM said. “Difficult thing to do, I think. You have to get everything right to get back into a game.
“We did a lot of things right but if you don’t take everything that comes your way . . .it has to be perfect then at that stage. And eventually our luck ran out. And we were beaten by just a much better team on the day. I think on both days- I’ve got to acknowledge it - that they deserved it.”
It is odd to think that JBM took instruction from Christy Ring when Croke Park was a hooded place with match-box dressing rooms. Here he was yesterday, still a Cork folk hero, presiding over a game that would surely have thrilled the Cloyne genius.
Tomorrow has never looked better for hurling.
Clare, suddenly, seem to have it all, from born leaders like John Conlon and Brendan Bugler – a source of white fury in the second half – to young wizards like Conor McGrath and Kelly and the unflappable Colin Ryan.
“I love to see them go out and expressing themselves,” Fitzgerald said on Saturday night, his pale eyes watery with the emotion of the evening. “They’d be out on the field doing things and I’d be watching them thinkin’ . . .Jesus.”
He shrugged then when asked if Clare could win more.
“This crowd can do whatever they want.”
It certainly seems that way. Nightfall drew the curtains on a perfect hurling year. The best team won, the most gallant finished runners-up and a jolt of pride travelled across Ireland. What can you say? The kids are alright.