'Bridge get focused on hard yards to Croker
CLARINBRIDGE'S hurlers returned to serious training last night, vowing that last weekend's AIB All-Ireland semi-final heroics will not distract them from their ultimate goal.
Their epic semi-final tussle with Waterford's De La Salle, which yielded four goals and 49 points, has already been heralded as one of the greatest games in the history of club hurling.
But the Galway champions are taking every precaution to ensure that it does not turn out to be the peak of their season, or deflect them from the Holy Grail of an All-Ireland title on St Patrick's Day.
"All the talk from the players immediately afterwards was that we have won nothing yet and we have to stay moving forward," club secretary Damien McGrath said yesterday.
"We can't let last Saturday be the high point of our season, so it was straight back into training last night to prepare for O'Loughlin Gaels in the final."
But McGrath conceded that last weekend's 3-22 to 1-27 extra-time barnstormer was a sensational match that will be long remembered in the annals of great GAA games.
"It really was some advertisement for the game of hurling," McGrath said.
Clarinbridge escaped without any serious injuries but top-scorer Mark Kerins, who racked up 2-5 (including goals from a 20-metre free and a penalty) despite being hospitalised with a virus in the build-up to the game, will be given plenty of time to recover from his exertions.
And though the Galway club contested, but lost, one previous All-Ireland final, this will be the first time that many of their players play in Croke Park.
GAA headquarters was closed for redevelopment back in 2002 so it was in Semple Stadium that they were beaten by Birr in the decider.
The club's former Galway goalkeeper Liam Donoghue, twin brother of their team manager Michael, described last weekend's semi-final as "the greatest game" he has ever played in.
He admitted that he thought the tie was gone as his side had to fight back from the dead at the end of normal time, before Eanna Murphy pinched that 82nd-minute winning goal at the end of extra-time.
Donoghue last played in Croke Park for Galway in the 2005 All-Ireland hurling final against Cork.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get back there," said the delighted 36-year-old.
"At the final whistle last Saturday, it was just disbelief. When you want something that bad, to hear the final whistle is just unbelievable.
"It was the best feeling in the world, absolutely nuts. That couple of minutes after the final whistle was incredible.
"I've seen both sides of the coin, winning and losing, but this makes it all worthwhile. It has to be the best game I ever played in.
"It's hard when you're out there because you can't take it in as much and it's only when you sit down and watch it again that you realise how good it was.
"It did look like it was gone from us, but nobody doubted that we could get a result. We've been doing it all season and that belief kept us going.
"It was basically a replica of the county final. Loughrea got a penalty in injury-time and we were down a point but we drew and then we were three points down with three minutes to go in the replay.
"And we did it against Beagh in the group stages -- two points down at two stages in the second half -- but still clawed that out. We've been doing it the hard way all year!
"We'll focus on O'Loughlin Gaels for the couple of weeks before the match. I haven't seen them to be honest," Donoghue added.
"But I think our experience of playing in a final before has to be an advantage and we'll look to call upon that experience."