Summer just gets better

 

GAELIC GAMES: So, Monday morning. Time to let the sun rise high in the sky while you lie with the head tucked into the cool of the pillow. Let the dog bark as you stare at the pale ceiling and make sense of it all.

No point in returning to such mundane things as work or worry. Not when the championship has just exploded and the highlights are in your head like a night full of shooting stars and lost kisses.

Dublin and Tyrone on Saturday seemed like as much as we could have asked for, as much as could have been hoped for. Cork and Clare came to Croke Park yesterday dragging 50,596 disciples with them and they eclipsed all that went before.

When Dickie Murphy blew the final whistle 30 players fell to the green grass like wet aprons dropping off pegs. Clare took longer to get up. They'd left behind a game and a chance. They'd left behind a six-point second-half lead.

As Dickie waved the end, one point separated Clare from glory in a game in which they had led or been level since the 20th minute right through to injury time.

Extraordinary. When we had predicted and prognosticated and prescribed for this All-Ireland semi-final we'd foreseen none of it. Not Tony Carmody heisting four points nor Colin Lynch having the space for five wides. Who knew that Cork would have to take off Ronan Curran and Brian Corcoran in one massive excision? Or that removing them would be the catalyst for recovery?

The narrative zigged and zagged all afternoon and the only thing which lacked inconsistency was the hurling. Clare brought with them the best of what Anthony Daly could give them from his own heyday. They brought passion and intensity and zeal. They toted their physical bravery like a weapon. They stole all the oxygen from around the Cork players, suffocating their half-back line for almost an hour and menacing their full-forward line.

Everywhere there was subplot and intrigue. Brian Corcoran on Brian Lohan.

Listen, there's a lustre to the legends that makes them compulsive viewing. You'd rather watch Jack and Arnie shoot level par than see two tyros hit a pair of 65s.

Lohan won this one on perhaps his last outing in Croke Park. If it transpires to be so, the famous red helmet should be transported under guard to a museum. His catches and clearances yesterday set the big house roaring again and it was as if he had by force of his strange will turned back time and made himself five years the younger.

Who among those Clare people who cheered when Brian Corcoran was called ashore could have predicted that they were witnessing the turning point in the game?

Neil Ronan's young legs carried him about the place so busily that Ger O'Grady was designated to be his escort after just a couple of minutes and Lohan was sent to shadow Joe Deane.

Wayne Sherlock joined the action at the same moment as Ronan. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for Sherlock these past few months as Pat Mulcahy and Brian Murphy have locked down the corner-back spots. Sherlock came on to play in the full back line in an insistent fury. He clamped Tony Carmody and established a platform for his midfield to reassert itself.

And in front of him things picked up too. Seán Óg Ó hAilpín had no trouble picking out his turning point in the game. It came just four minutes after the double substitution and Cork had just scored two quick points.

Suddenly John Gardiner, who had been growing all through the second half, burst from defence, made a giant of a catch and from just inside his own half launched the sort of point which scientists would need a billion dollars' worth of computers to guide through its orbit.

Clare sensed the change of tide. Cork had nine points in the last 20 minutes. Clare had just two. Their passion never waned. Cork just rose to match it.

Afterwards in the tunnel under the Hogan Stand the mixing of the tribes made for the usual cocktail of keen grief and dazed delirium.

"Relieved is the main word," said Gardiner. "We expected a dogfight. We never led to the last minute. We expected a dogfight, but nothing like that.

"They did the homework. The way the game turned and opened up later suited us down to the ground though. We all got tired out there. It was frenetic."

His old friend and clubmate Seán Óg stood just a yard away unravelling his thoughts for free.

"We got a result where we didn't really deserve to get a result. This team have to get used to being champions. Fellas have to realise that as champions it just gets harder and harder. Clare came here in an ideal situation. No better team to be underdogs and take advantage of it. Deep down inside when the challenge was really put to us we came out of it though."

He leans forward on his stick, the sweat still making beads over his dark eyes. Since childhood he's been in 1,000 matches and he's learned to read the grain and the cut of them. He thought this one was over.

"I thought it was gone. To be honest I did. As a young kid you're told to keep it going till the fat lady sings but today even in general play I could sense maybe this wasn't our day. We didn't seem to be up for it. At half-time every fella was asked to just dig deep within themselves to put a bit of pride into the jersey."

Pride in the jersey. Sometimes the oldest, most visceral appeals to the spirit are the ones that work best.

The ancient game had its lore enhanced sweetly yesterday, two great teams, a jewel of a match and September still to come.

Time to lie off and just think about it all.