Banner do it hard way in epic tussle
All-Ireland MHC semi-final
REVISE those All-Ireland minor hurling title predictions fast!
Clare might have needed late prayers to the Patron Saint of the Woodwork to narrowly escape with this one-point semi-final win, yet they still showed enough yesterday to indicate they could give hot favourites Kilkenny a right rattle.
The Munster champions definitely did it the hard way. After stopping Dublin scoring for the first 15 minutes, they let an early seven-point lead slip by conceding two second-half goals.
And in the frenetic final seconds, while still leading by two points, they let Dublin substitute Robert Hardy get off a thunderbolt of a shot that might just have stolen it.
Hardy's piledriver from distance looked to be heading right to the top left of the net, only to glance off the upright and skid over to narrowly save Clare's heartache.
It was the sort of climax that gives managers palpitations, but the Banner's joint bosses Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney looked remarkably calm afterwards, explaining that they're well used to their team's grandstand finishes by now.
"We've made life hard for ourselves by conceding goals all year," said a relieved O'Connor. "But each time it has driven us on.
"That's the strength of this team all year, that, in adversity, we really respond and we got plenty of adversity there today!"
And the delighted Banner managers weren't afraid to throw down the gauntlet immediately afterwards.
"It's a great honour and a privilege to be in the last two in Ireland," Moloney said.
"Kilkenny's scoreline and performance last weekend was exceptional, but they don't hold any fears for us. We've had a few games against them early on in the year and it's a replay of last year's U-21 final, so we'll be coming to do ourselves justice on the day."
Their youngsters will have to learn to keep their pedal to the metal and take all their chances because they should have been out of sight by half-time yesterday, instead of just leading by two (0-9 to 0-7).
Colm Galvin squandered a great goal chance in the opening minute, and Daire Keane forced a great save from excellent Dublin 'keeper Eamonn Dillon after 18 minutes. Clare had also shot nine wides by the break.
But Dublin, led by brilliant 16-year-old corner-forward Cormac Costello, fought back bravely and took over the wind advantage to launch an absorbing second-half challenge.
The Banner restarted impressively, pulling five points clear thanks to two Niall Arthur frees and a great point off the wing by Cathal Malone.
But the Dubs got the lucky break they needed six minutes after the restart when Clare goalkeeper Ronan Taaffe dropped a Costello sideline cut straight into the path of Emmet O'Conghaile, who doubled it to the net quick smart.
In fairness Clare responded swiftly, with three unanswered points, two from full-forward star Arthur (one free).
Two super consecutive points from super-sub Aaron Cunningham also helped keep them four clear after 52 minutes, but then they got caught for the second goal when Hardy dropped a high ball into the square and Costello, son of Dublin county secretary John, swivelled expertly and threaded it through an incredibly narrow gap.
Again Clare responded, extending the lead to four again with points from Keane, Paudge Collins and Arthur, yet John Murphy's gutsy young Blues still refused to give up and frees from Dean Flood and John Hetherton kept them chasing right up until Hardy's last-gasp effort.
Clare midfielder Tony Kelly had an excellent first half and their half-forwards -- particularly Collins and Jamie Shanahan -- worked their socks off throughout.
But in those dying minutes their half-backs, led brilliantly by Enda Boyce, chased and harried like demons, with Stephen O'Halloran getting in one particularly vital late block.
For Dublin, centre-back Danny Sutcliffe, half-forwards Ciaran Kilkenny and Fergal Heavy and good subs like Hardy and Naoise Maguire kept battling right to the end.
And in Costello, who has two more years left in the minor grade and made one wondrous catch in the first half, they definitely have one to watch for the future.
Scorers -- Clare: N Arthur 0-8 (0-5f), D Keane 0-3, T Kelly, A Cunningham 0-2 each, C Galvin, C Malone, P Collins, J Shanahan, D O'Halloran 0-1 each. Dublin: C Costello, E O'Conghaile 1-1 each, D Flood 0-4 (0-3f), C Kilkenny 0-3, J Hetherton 0-2 (0-2f), G Whelan, R Hardy 0-1 each.
Clare -- R Taaffe; H Vaughan, P Flanagan, S Morey; E Boyce, K Lynch, S O'Halloran; C Galvin, T Kelly; C Malone, P Collins, J Shanahan; D Keane, N Arthur, D O'Halloran. Subs: A Cunningham for Malone (45), A Mulready for D O'Halloran (54).
Dublin -- E Dillon; C Murphy, E McKenna, S McClelland; C Moffat, D Sutcliffe, B Quinn; D Kelly, B McCarthy; F Heavey, C Kilkenny, G Whelan; C Costello, E O'Conghaile, D Flood. Subs: N Maguire for Kelly (27), J Hetherton for Whelan (37), R Hardy for McCarthy (42), N Ryan for Flood (58).
Ref -- E Hassen (Derry).