Tuesday 16 July 2019

Vincent Hogan: Stand down the undertaker, report of hurling's death is premature

Joint Clare captains Cian Dillon, left, and Tony Kelly lift the cup. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Joint Clare captains Cian Dillon, left, and Tony Kelly lift the cup. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Well the rocks in our heads sure need reassembling after a day in Thurles that threw up bits of Bach and Handel mixed with Meatloaf.

Hurling's enslavement to whiteboards didn't even make it as far as Championship then, Clare and Waterford just emptying their chests in pursuit of the big cup and, in so doing, giving us a contest that was a living synthesis of everything that draws us to the game. You could say we gathered for the rosary and got an opera.

So what conclusions to draw?

Honestly? Nothing, nada, zilch. We've got to desist from this thing of always suspecting some crucible sign in the last thing we've seen. Nothing fundamental changed in these teams' structures or philosophies yesterday. It just so happened that Waterford scored a goal inside 16 seconds and, well, that pretty much changed the very energy around us.

The argument seems to be that Clare and Waterford carry an obligation to make these days beautiful. As if this is a matter of conscience, a pact they must make with the arts. How odd that they don't happen to see it that way?

These men park their lives because they want to win things, not to make us neutrals weak at the knees.

The game we got was pretty much an accident of circumstance then, just as Clare's victory was - to some degree - an accident of poor judgment. The 72nd minute free that Tony Kelly put over to draw them level almost from the greyhound track should probably have gone the other way. But it's what Clare did next that ennobled them.

Whilst the rest of us were thinking extra-time, they were thinking opportunity. Or, maybe more accurately, a man called Kelly was. His winning point was glorious, a reminder that special players find a way to get their handwriting on the pages of history. Kelly's first two touches in this League brought Killinan-end points against Kilkenny in the semi-final. He was deemed profligate with his shooting in the drawn game, yet cut Waterford hearts to ribbons here.

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His goal came at a time when the defending champions were six points up and threatening to ease beyond the horizon. And it arrived after 50 minutes of hurling in which Clare had not got anywhere even close to Stephen O'Keeffe's goal. Suddenly a run from deep, Conor McGrath's looped hand-pass and, what do you know, the doors to Fort Knox swinging open.

So here's the thing folks. Sweepers aren't all of a sudden obsolete (Tadhg de Burca gave a masterclass of the art here). Heavy traffic around the middle third isn't now a thing of the past (when Kelly went to ground for that critical late free, Darragh Fives, Philip Mahony and Jamie Barron were all close enough to grab him in a bearhug). Goals aren't suddenly back in vogue either (Pat O'Connor won't have slept soundly last night thinking how, if he hurls county for another decade, he won't have another brace of moments like those that led to Waterford's two).

O'Connor seemed positively startled when Patrick Curran, propelled by the brazenness of youth, danced past him along the end-line for that brilliant opening goal. And how to explain the misplaced pass into Curran's hand that set Jake Dillon in for the next?

Human errors will corrupt any system and, in Clare's case yesterday, they made more you suspect than Davy Fitz will ever recognise as acceptable.

But Clare just kept on coming. They kept on making those little slingshot runs from deep, necklacing 15-yard passes into a daisy chain and, no matter how often they hit a cul-de-sac or a Waterford hurley thieved the ball away, the Banner just would not acquiesce.

On so many levels, they were struggling here. Shane O'Donnell might as well have been separated from teammates by a moat such was the ease with which Waterford's system looked to be coping with Clare's attacking threat and, by half-time, Davy could have replaced three of his forwards without a quarrel.

Kevin Moran was going decently at the time on Kelly and Austin Gleeson's siting on the 'forty' had Clare's whole back division coiled like a spring.

In the 23rd minute, just after a Conor McGrath free had reduced the margin to two points, Gleeson fielded O'Keeffe's puck-out and delivered a gorgeous, arcing score over the Killinan goal. Imagine, one end to the other in two pucks of the ball. And the old game, supposedly, in a tactical strait-jacket? Maybe human boldness is the antidote to all this dread of failure.

In the 34th minute, a swivel of McGrath's hips took him between Gleeson and Philip Mahony for a lovely Clare point. And twice, early in the second-half, Gleeson knifed points from distance for Waterford that had everything to do with running into places you have to suspect no whiteboard will ever send him.

With so much willpower and boiling energy about, there were moments - inevitably - of recklessness too.

Podge Collins caught Dillon high going to a ball under the Ryan Stand and, later, Noel Connors was lucky that Diarmuid Kirwan did not see the corner-back's hurley make painful contact with Aaron Cunningham's face. That said, it was never a game of especially sinful proclivity. With 10 minutes remaining, Clare were still doing a lot of things wrong. Twice in 60 seconds, they dropped aimless deliveries into O'Keeffe's hand and, when David Reidy's 62nd minute score virtually from midway brought them to within a point, Waterford's response was to hit back with scores from Curran and substitute Brian O'Halloran.

But the plot kept twisting tighter as nerves came into play and hindsight will torment Waterford that their last two efforts into the town-end goal - from Gleeson and O'Halloran - both drifted wide. When Darach Honan then reduced the gap to one in injury time, the dread in Derek McGrath's men was packed tight enough to crackle.

"Hit and let God direct it I suppose," was how a smiling Kelly described his conversion of that late monster free.

For the winner, take it God left genius to its own devices.

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