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Fitting Finale To Great Championship As Clare Topple Cork In Thriller

clare

Clare 5-16 Cork 3-16

The most exciting championship in living memory deserved a fitting final and by god did we get it. The drawn game three weeks had everything or so we taught. What was served up to us on Saturday evening was a credit to both Clare and Cork and surpassed the hopes of the neutral who had feared an also-ran replay. Those fears were quickly diminished as late replacement and soon-to-be poster boy of Clare, Shane O Donnell scored a hat trick of goals inside the first twenty minutes. Add to this a 20 metre free from Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash that he blasted past 12 Clare players on the line which was in itself box office viewing. Clare had stretched to an eight point lead with half time fast approaching but a determined Cork importantly managed to claw into that lead before the break leaving just three points in it at the interval.

The second half began as the first finished, fast, frantic and highly intense. Cork came back in the second half with a few hammer blows and drew it level, Clare at that stage responded like a team of 27- or 28-year-olds with four All-Ireland medals in their back pocket, who knew how not to panic and knew how to close the deal. Yet that came from a bunch of young and relatively inexperienced hurlers.

That to me was an extraordinary thing to be able to do. They have a confidence level that’s obviously been instilled in them. They have a confidence in their squad, in what they’re doing, in their system. They have a fundamental belief in their system and if they stick to it they’ll win. There was a moment with 11 minutes to go when Cork equalised again and you thought ‘could this be a hammer blow too much for them, could Cork now kick on?’ But I just thought it showed remarkable maturity from such a novice team to close it out the way they did. That moment of superb quality from Conor McGrath to score a goal just after Cork had equalized summed all this up. The system of hurling Clare play is a joy to watch and very hard to play against, when they’re playing very well it’s a brilliant set-up. And I just think that that was the difference between the sides, because when Clare needed to, they could score that bit easier than Cork.

And when the game was open and in a fast and furious state, it looked like Clare used the space better whereas with Cork it tended to be a little bit more direct and a little bit more one-dimensional. When it was more fractured and stop-start at the end of the first half and start of the second half it actually suited the Rebels a bit more. But when there was fluency in the game, Clare were always better. The skill levels were absolutely huge, the first touch was brilliant, they ran at Cork and they hurt them. They had more options from a scoring point of view than the Leesiders. They changed their attack masterfully and got more players in near the goal to hurt Cork. Cork just didn’t have the same options that Clare did.

The big question now is, how many can Clare win with this crop of young lads. This is an out of the ordinary young team. Fourteen of the panel played Under 21 this year , bringing home that All Ireland title aswel. When you’re 19, 20, 21, all you want to do is hurl and win. In the modern game today the top quality hurler is expected to carry onto his early thirties so another ten years is still left in the tank for the majority of these kids. Arguably their best days are ahead of them. The real challenges to these kids now is to stay grounded and handle the off field distractions that will come. The way the whole thing has gone now, the demands are incredible but Clare are in a good place from an age profile point of view. Whether they can go on and dominate it is open to debate; the age profile is there, the system is there, the ability is there… so it’s possible they could but others will be waiting for them next year.

I think the key to breaking Clare’s threat at future domination is to deal with them tactically. Tactically it will be fascinating to see the likes of the Cats take them on. One thing is for sure Cork and Jimmy Barry-Murphy will be back and this year will have done them the world of good. They will come back better next year, as Cork is a proud hurling county. Brian Cody was in the stands no doubt taking notes and already planning for next year. Expect a massive push from the cats next year and Tipperary with Eamonn O’Shea in his second year in charge will demand improvement and will harbor high hopes of mounting a serious challenge on Clare. Throw into the mix provincial champions Limerick and Dublin, along with Galway , the forever nearly team and Waterford , high on the back of massive All-Ireland success in minor and with possibly the right man put in charge, I’m already licking my lips in anticipation for next year. But for now we must enjoy what has been a championship of the highest quality and excitement and congratulate worthy winners Clare on their fantastic achievement.

Roll on 2014.

Image courtesy of RTE.ie.

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