Clare the outstanding side on the day and look better set for the replay than Cork
After a poor first half, the final lived up to what has been an epic championship
Cork’s Patrick Cronin is challenged by Brendan Bulger of Clare. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
An incredible second-half and an unbelievable finish summed up just how wonderfully unpredictable this 2013 championship has been. You couldn’t have scripted it really.
Clare had seemed destined to lift this greatest prize in hurling for virtually the whole match and, at the death, had to produce their own life-saving – from corner-back Domhnall O’Donovan unbelievably at left-corner forward – to remain alive and kicking and force a replay.
Cork could crib that time was up (and it was) but that levelling point in added time was no more than Clare deserved. From the word go, Clare were the team that played the better hurling and, using an orthodox team set-up with no sweeper on this occasion, were quite outstanding.
But in this year of years for the hurling championship, with one exciting game following another as the summer moved on into autumn, this final eventually lived up to all that because the first-half was poor.
And it really is incredible to think, in a championship where it was almost impossible to call the eventual winner from the quarter-final stage when all six teams that remained stood realistic chances, that it continued right to the end with the outcome in doubt to the 70th minute and then beyond.
I could see Jimmy Barry-Murphy frantically signalling to Brian Gavin that time was up but it would have been heartbreaking on Clare, given what they’d brought to the game and indeed the entire championship, if it had ended for them before that phenomenal late match-saving point from O’Donovan.
What on earth was he doing that far up the field in the first place? And, then, to finish the score the way he did? It was phenomenal. O’Donovan came in for a bit of stick with his displays earlier in the summer but he started this match brilliantly – doing his defensive duties to the highest standard – and then to become a point-scorer right at the end showed how unpredictable this 2013 season has been. And it’s not over yet! Not now.
Clare should have been further ahead than two points at half-time. Conor Ryan was absolutely outstanding – with some quite magnificent catches – and Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin were on top around midfield. Podge Collins was on fire and Cork were left to feed mainly on scraps with Séamus Harnedy winning the odd ball and Conor O’Sullivan and Shane O’Neill doing well in defence, although O’Neill was probably fortunate to evade a red card for that incident with Darrach Honan.
At half-time, the general opinion was that the overall hurling from that first-half was not a great reflection on what had gone before in the championship. Cork’s touch was poor and it looked as if some serious surgery was needed but they were still only two points behind.
After half-time, that trend continued with Cork’s continued poor touch only making it harder for themselves.