Tracing the roots of the great divide to a time when Clare could be kings
It might only be 15 years ago, but Martin Daly’s last-second winner for Clare against Cork gives us a glimpse of a different era, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
EVEN 15 years later, it’s an ending that would cause a screen-writing student to flunk his finals. With the second-last kick of the game, Ger Keane flicked a free to Martin Daly on the Cork 20-metre line. Clare were two points down and half the eyes on the action were slung over shoulders as the crowd headed for the gate. Even in the days before packed defences, you didn’t pinball your way through an intercounty defence with the last attack of the game to grab a winning goal.
You surely didn’t do it when you were Clare and they were Cork.
Go find it on YouTube sometime you have an idle minute. The footage may as well be in black and white. When Keane casually tips the ball to Daly, he’s just on the edge of the exclusion zone. There’s no Cork player standing a foot in front of Keane to slow down the ball, nobody even accidentally-on-purpose running across his eyeline. The ball hops – hops! – into Daly’s chest dead in front of goal about 15 metres out. Three Cork defenders go to the general area, but you’d hardly call it a sheet, much less a blanket.
Daly takes a hop and a turn and heads for goal. Cathal Shannon runs across his line, momentarily unbalancing Cork full back Mark O’Connor who, for a split second, can’t decide whether to track him or block Daly’s route to Valhalla. The hesitation is fatal as Daly pokes a low shot that rolls under both him and the covering Brian Corcoran and wends its way into the bottom corner.
It’s literally the last kick of the game – there isn’t even time for the kick-out.
Looking at it in 2012, the whole scene feels alien somehow. The players are willowy by comparison to today, their jerseys rippling far more obviously than their biceps. There’s an element of slapstick in the goal as well – from the time Daly collects the ball to the moment it hits the net six seconds later, no fewer than four Cork defenders plus the goalkeeper end up on the floor, yet barely a finger is laid on him.
When Larry Tompkins finished up as Cork manager six years later, he named as one of his abiding regrets the fact he kept Niall Cahalane on the bench for the last 20 minutes of that game, the implication being there’s no way Daly’s goal would have been scored on Cahalane’s watch.
But what strikes you watching it now is the sheer absence of bodies in front of the Cork goalmouth. Each of the defenders is not only present, but oh-so correct, holding their positions and leaving just O’Connor and Corcoran to mind the middle. There’s only one wing forward back lending a hand. It seems almost quaint now to think they would allow such latitude at any stage in the game, never mind the very last attack.
“Larry and Niall Cahalane were together standing on the sideline,” says John O’Keeffe, Clare manager that day. “I’d say they were planning about how to play Kerry in the Munster final at that stage. The shock left Larry totally overwhelmed. It was the best way to do it. It was the one and only way of doing it, I think.”