Outstanding champions Clare crown a remarkable championship in fitting style
Young Banner men proved their quality when brave Cork asked the big questions
Clare’s Conor McGrath scores his side’s fourth goal at a critical juncture in Saturday’s outstanding All-Ireland hurling final replay at Croke Park. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Not since 1995 and Clare’s great rising have we had a summer or a championship like this one. And to top off this great hurling season Cork and Clare go and treat us all to an unforgettable All-Ireland final replay as well.
It makes you sad that it’s all over. Will we ever see such a string of such thrilling matches again?
It’s fitting that Clare are the last men standing because they are the purest of hurlers. I cannot praise them highly enough except to say these boys grew into men before our very eyes.
It takes a special group to evolve under the full glare of the championship.
Again, just like 1995 when Clare climbed from underneath the Biddy Early curse to claim the Liam McCarthy cup, the sun shone on never-to-be-forgotten days in Nowlan Park, Thurles, Portlaoise and the Gaelic Grounds.
But the best was saved for Croke Park and again the sun refused to abandon us on Saturday evening.
Clare simply blossomed in this replay by emphatically answering the one remaining question that so many of us held over their heads. Could they score goals? They gave us five. And still they were under pressure to win the game. This was a fantastic occasion and it was a privilege to be present.
Clare were simply brilliant and amidst it all Davy Fitzgerald’s tactical moves outwitted Cork yet again. The Shane O’Donnell selection was a masterstroke. Three goals and three points from a 19-year-old in a team that wasn’t scoring goals.
I wouldn’t have taken him off but just as it seemed his replacement by Davy could backfire (mere seconds after he had shrugged off Shane O’Neill to land a third point) Darach Honan arrived and got the fifth goal.
Even a tactical call that seemed at the time to be questionable proved a great decision by Davy.
The game itself, from the off, was played at an unbelievable pace, the scoring phenomenal. Cork were under all sorts of pressure in the early exchanges. They looked off the pace, William Egan was withdrawn, and it looked like Clare would bury them before half-time.
The Anthony Nash scene – that was worth being there on Saturday all on its own. The drama was like something from a gunslinger movie.
I wondered why all those new goalkeepers hurleys were in the net beforehand. Why would Patrick Kelly need all them? It seemed strange. But it was the plan to counteract the bullets of Cork’s goalkeeper.