Tony Kelly’s late heroics ensure Clare escape to victory
Holders Waterford lose their title in the final seconds of a riveting replay
Clare’s Tony Kelly celebrates scoring a goal during the Allianz Hurling League Division One final replay at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Wouldn’t you think by now that we’d all be beyond these bouts of fretting and jitterbugging about poor little old hurling?
Or that we might give it the benefit of the doubt occasionally, maybe trust it to figure itself out?
Clare and Waterford are supposed to be the barbarians at the gate but they came up with an Allianz League final replay yesterday that made Thurles swoon. Hurling bends towards the light, always.
When the music stopped, Clare were league champions for the first time since 1978.
Having trailed by six on three different occasions, they inched and edged their way back into matters and scored the game’s last four points to take it by 1-23 to 2-19.
Tony Kelly won it for them with two intercessions in injury-time, one as gloriously improbable as the next.
As Davy Fitzgerald stressed afterwards though, the swag could just as readily have found its way into Waterford’s satchel.
Referee Diarmuid Kirwan ducked a late call for a foul on Jamie Barron with Waterford a point ahead and the play on the Clare 45. It looked an obvious free – and certainly ought to have been by the standards of what Kirwan had been calling all day – but he waved play on before giving one Clare’s way in the next breath.
Kelly duly landed it from all of 90 yards and when wing-back David Fitzgerald caught the ensuing puck-out, the Clare captain popped up on the right sideline to swish the winner off his weaker side.
It was the only time all day that Clare led.
“I thought it was a mistake,” said Derek McGrath afterwards. “But as I said previously, we make many mistakes on the line ourselves and any referee is entitled to make a mistake. And that is my honest opinion on it. I actually thought the free was wide on top of that, but it probably wasn’t.
“I thought it was a mistake on Diarmuid’s behalf, but that is the way the game goes. And that is the variables of sport. Clare came at the right time.
“For the majority of the game, I wouldn’t say we were in control because it was a good game, and there were elements of our play which we were delighted with. But I thought it was a mistake but I will qualify that by saying we make several mistakes on the line and on the field ourselves and I don’t think any referee goes out to make a deliberate mistake.”
McGrath was reasonably sanguine about it all and it was easy enough to see why.
Over the course of 160 minutes of hurling these sides have shown that the total mass of what separates them would barely show up under an electron microscope.
For Tony Kelly, read Austin Gleeson, the young spiritual leader of the Waterford side who was immense throughout.
Both sides know they have the beating of each other – Clare just happened to get their necks out yesterday when the line came.
In that respect, it was the perfect outcome to set up the Munster Championship game between the sides in four weeks’ time.
Winning against the head like this will nourish Clare, losing with a bit of injustice thrown into the mix won’t do Waterford any harm either.
Only 14,210 made the trip to Semple for it – you get the feeling they won’t have any bother filling the place on the first Sunday in June.
“Let’s be realistic,” smiled Davy Fitz afterwards.
“It was great for us – we hung in there and we get the win but it could have equally been them. But what a battle.
“It augurs unreal now – they’ll have the bit between their teeth for June 5th and we will too.
“We’re looking forward to it.
“To get two games like that over two days – I was listening to some stuff during the week saying it wasn’t nice to watch. Jeez, there were some great scores out there.”
Great scores, great hits, great blocks, the lot. Everything you’d want from a game and plenty more piled on top of it.
That’ll teach us. Won’t it?