Final drama calls for an encore as Cork and Clare play out thriller
Domhnall O’Donovan’s first ever point for Clare extends magical summer of hurling
Brendan Bugler (right) congratulates Domhnall O’Donovan of Clare on scoring the last point to draw the game with Cork at Croke Park. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill
Clare goal keeper Patrick Kelly saves a free from Cork’s Anthony Nash. Photograph: Inpho
At times like this you have to feel for the poor souls who don’t have sport in their life. Imagine not getting it. Imagine missing the chance to bathe in an All-Ireland hurling final like this, one that ended level only because a corner-back who’d never before scored a point as a Clare hurler decided that deep into injury-time at the end of the season was the time to start. To deprive yourself of it seems almost wilfully eccentric.
This wasn’t a hurling match, it was an endorphin bonanza. Domhnall O’Donovan’s point from the ends of the earth meant that when everybody breathed out the scoreboard called it a draw, Clare’s 0-25 to Cork’s 3-16. Though the sliotar soared through the posts at the Canal End a good 35 seconds past the two minutes of stoppage time that had been flagged up by Brian Gavin, this was no injustice. For the Cork crowd to boo after the final whistle felt like the height of cheek.
Clare were all ends up the better team. Cork never led until Patrick Horgan’s last point, scored in the 70th minute. For the rest of the afternoon, Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s side were choking in Clare’s dust and squinting just to keep them in sight. Had they held on to make Horgan’s point the winner, not only would it have been blatant larceny but few of the 81,651 witnesses would have been able to shed much light on how it went down.
“We were the better team today,” said Davy Fitzgerald. “It would have been a travesty if we lost it. I think ye seen that yourself outside there. But are we happy to get the draw in the end, being a point down a minute and a bit into injury time? Yeah, I was happy.
‘Proud of them’
“Listen, it just showed what character is about, it showed what steel is about and I am so proud of my guys. Whether they win, lose or draw the next day, I don’t give a damn. And that’s being honest. No matter what happens, I’m so proud of them.”
And with every reason. Each of his starting forwards scored from play. Podge Collins and Tony Kelly continued their summer-long attempt to dead-heat the Young Hurler of the Year award with three points apiece and the whole of the Cork full-back line found their way into the referee’s notebook as they tried to keep up.
Fitzgerald’s tactical machinations had their say as well. Clare played against type here, with no sweeper and very few short puck-outs. Conor Ryan was immense at centre half-back, with Brendan Bugler in full cry beside him. Cork took off Jamie Coughlan at half-time but any one of four Cork forwards could have gone. Only Horgan and Séamus Harnedy held their end up.
That said, Clare still only went in 0-12 to 0-10 up at the break. For all that Cork struggled to get into the game, they only had a single wide in the first half. By contrast, Clare struck six and dropped a couple into Anthony Nash’s paw. Nash also pulled off a fine save from Darach Honan on 25 minutes to keep the margin manageable.
Clare’s problem all afternoon was that they weren’t able to open up clear water. When they came out and scored the first two points of the second half, Conor Lehane sparked Cork into life with a brilliant goal. When a couple of Colin Ryan points pushed them five clear with 15 minutes to go, Anthony Nash trundled forward to scorch a free to the net to bring it back to two.
Hanging in there
And though Conor Ryan burst forward eight minutes from time to land the score that put Clare four ahead again, it was only a prelude to a classy point from Lehane and a levelling goal from Pa Cronin. The constant feeling of Cork just about hanging in there never went away. But by extension, neither did Cork.
“I thought the game was drifting away from us once or twice,” said JBM. “That’s why I thought we showed great spirit to come back when it looked gone from us. I think with 10 minutes to go we were four down. I looked at the clock and didn’t think it was going to be our day.”
Yet Cronin’s goal reduced the whole hippy-dippy season to primordial brass tacks. See ball, win ball, hit ball. Colin Ryan and Horgan swapped frees. Tony Kelly spilled a poor wide when he had time to settle for a steadier shot.
Cork were thinking better. Not quicker, just better. Christopher Joyce found Patrick Horgan with a sideline ball and he stole Cork their first lead of the day.
Enter O’Donovan. One last Clare puck-out landed around the Cork 65 and Nicky O’Connell managed to scoop it out to the corner-back who’d tip-toed forward without any great plan in mind. Fitzgerald said afterwards that they tease O’Donovan in training about his shooting, that nine of every 10 shots he hits go wide. This was the other one.
“It was a bit of hit and hope,” said O’Donovan. “And I hit it falling over. I didn’t see the ball as it went over. I just heard the crowd. Thankfully I kind of knew then that the game was saved.”
The replay is on the last Saturday of the month, probably at five o’clock. Pity those who make other plans.