Clare stars take final hurdle in their stride
ST JOSEPH'S 2-14 RATHNURE 0-8 FUNNY how things go, too. Train for 15 months to build up to a crescendo, and what happens? You get your easiest match by far in the AIB All-Ireland club hurling final.
St Joseph's, Doora-Barefield, were wholly emphatic winners of this hugely disappointing final played before a record crowd of 40,106 at Croke Park yesterday.
A gulf in class was anticipated, but nothing as telling as the 12-point margin which separated them at the finish. And were it not for a trend of inaccurate shooting by the winners, we could have been looking at an unmerciful rout.
They shot 14 wides but unlike Ballina Stephenites in the follow-up match, they were never asked to pay.
The victory is yet another landmark in Clare hurling. Since 1995, they have won two All-Ireland senior titles, three Munsters, four Munster clubs, two All-Ireland clubs, and their first-ever All-Ireland minor title.
When de-hyped, All-Ireland club finals frequently degenerate into hopelessly one-sided affairs. Last year, Birr were seven points better than Sarsfields.
Three years ago, Sixmilebridge had 13 points to spare over Dunloy. In the replayed final of 1995, Birr beat Dunloy by 13 points.
Rarely are expectations fulfilled, and the same was the case yesterday, but no blame for the flatness of the occasion can be apportioned to St Joseph's.
They were far and away the more accomplished side and they have every entitlement to be rated alongside some of the great club teams to have won this competition since 1971.
The omens were good from the very start. The warmest day of the year so far lent itself to fast, decisive hurling, an area where St Joseph's were always set to enjoy an advantage over Rathnure.
And the sight of totemic midfielder Ollie Baker galloping over to the team photograph calmed frayed nerves even before a ball was pucked. Baker had been an injury doubt all week.
Rathnure returned to Wexford last night a chastened lot. They have now lost five All-Ireland finals, the first as long ago as 1972, and their task now is to ensure that the despondency does not seep into this latest generation.
There could be no faulting their commitment. Full-back John Conran and the Guiney twins, Dave and Rod, typified their spirit as they never ceased trying even when St Joseph's were moving swiftly up the scoreboard.
Their best player was Paul Codd, scorer of six points and the only constant threat in their attack. The crispness of Codd's striking, both in play and from frees, was one of the game's features.
Codd might have been nudging the front-runners for the man-of-the-match award. The announcement that St Joseph's wing-back David Hoey was selected for the official accolade was a surprise Hoey had a marvellous game, like his brother Ger behind him, but one wonders how team captain Lorcan Hassett was overlooked.
Hassett scored 1-5, all from play and forced himself into the frame for the Clare senior attack. Behind Hassett, Seánie McMahon was magnificent at centre-back, while Joe Considine, Andrew Whelan and the entire full-back line of Ger Hoey, Donal Cahill and Kenneth Kennedy also excelled.
Behind this human wall, Christy O'Connor had few worries, and he dealt comfortably with those that came his way. St Joseph's won with Baker clearly below his best, and with Jamesie O'Connor struggling to play with his customary fluidity. Had this pair been on song ...
The story of the game is all too easily told. Paul Codd pointed a free from the middle of the field after two minutes, but over the next five minutes St Joseph's rattled over three points, courtesy of Considine, Whelan and Hassett.
Codd, with a `65', offered a Rathnure reply. Again, it was a short-lived respite as St Joseph's contrived a goal from the puck-out. Christy O'Connor drove it long and Hassett gathered to place Whelan, who shot to the net. St Joseph's 1-3, Rathnure 0-2, and an air of inevitability hung over Croke Park.
Paul Codd (free) and Brendan O'Leary brought the gap back to two points, 1-3 to 0-4, but in the last ten minutes before the break, St Joseph's set neutrals to thinking about the upcoming football game with points from Hassett, Jamesie O'Connor, McMahon and Ciarán O'Neill to leave it 1-7 to 0-4 at half-time.
St Joseph's second-half scores came in similar waves. O'Connor (two frees), Hassett (two play) extended it to 1-11 to 0-5 by the 38th minute. Not even Paul Codd could rescue Rathnure.
The final score of the game came in the 61st minute, a Hassett goal. Ollie Baker sent a sideline cut across the goal and it fell to Hassett who finished expertly. Pat O'Connor might have shown himself to be an outstanding humanitarian and blown even earlier. There was no joy in watching Rathnure tumble to their fifth final defeat in this fashion.
MAN OF THE MATCH Lorcan Hassett (Clare).
SCORERS St Joseph's: L Hassett 1-5, A Whelan 1-2, J O'Connor 0-4 (3f), S McMahon 0-1 (f), C O'Neill 0-1, J Considine 0-1. Rathnure: P Codd 0-6 (4f, 1 65), B O'Leary 0-1, A Codd 0-1.
ST JOSEPH'S C O'Connor; G Hoey, D Cahill, K Kennedy; D O'Driscoll, S McMahon, D Hoey; O Baker, J Considine; J O'Connor, N Brodie, L Hassett; G Baker, C O'Neill, A Whelan. Subs: C Mullen for G Baker (43 mins), F O'Sullivan for Considine (58 mins).
RATHNURE J Morrissey; S Somers, J Conran, D Guiney; L Somers, J Mooney, R Guiney; M Redmond, M O'Leary; A Codd, M Byrne, P Codd; M Morrissey, C Byrne, B O'Leary. Subs: N Higgins for L Somers (half-time); R Codd for M Morrissey (45 mins), J Holohan for C Byrne (50 mins).
REF P O'Connor (Limerick).