Thursday 18 January 2018

Cyril Farrell: Banner U-21s hold key to replay glory

Aaron Cunningham, Clare, is assisted from the field with a hamstring injury in the semi-final
Aaron Cunningham, Clare, is assisted from the field with a hamstring injury in the semi-final

Cyril Farrell

UNDER normal circumstances, one side can usually claim to hold a psychological edge going into a replay – but there's no separating Clare and Cork in that regard either.

With 10 minutes to go, Cork would have bitten your hand off if you offered them the draw but they came within seconds of winning an All-Ireland.

And had you told Clare they'd concede three goals and score none, they'd have been expecting to be heading home as beaten finalists.

So both teams go home, content at least to still have the chance of lifting Liam MacCarthy.

There'll be arguments about whether Domhnall O'Donovan should have been given the time to land the equaliser, but injury-time notifications tell us the minimum amount of time that can be added on – I think a draw was the best result for everyone involved anyway.

External factors will come into play in the next three weeks. By that time, some of the Clare players will have been involved in three All-Ireland finals. They are incredibly draining experiences and you could see that both sides were shattered on the final whistle yesterday.

Fourteen of the Clare panel have to dust themselves down and prepare for an U-21 All-Ireland final on Saturday. They will be expected to beat Antrim comfortably, but the mental side of preparing for that game this week before refocusing on the replay will be difficult. To get his players into the right frame of mind to do that is going to be Davy Fitzgerald's biggest challenge.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy faces a different scenario. His side were out-hurled for long periods. Perhaps Clare's decision to go without a sweeper and carefully choose their match-ups threw them a little, but you'd think he'll get more out of his side the next day.

Conor Lehane only showed flashes of what he can do and Patrick Cronin took his goal brilliantly but will have a bigger impact on the replay.

Superb

Clare seemed to have more players operating at a high level. Brendan Bugler was superb in the second half and Colin Ryan also stood up. Tony Kelly and Podge Collins were impressive.

The Rebels were typically wily though and managed to go in at the break just two points down despite playing second fiddle. At first glance you'd think that JBM's side has more room for improvement and fewer distractions ahead of the replay. But they'll face a Clare side that showed a serious depth of character. Before yesterday, we knew Davy possessed a wonderfully gifted team, but they were gutsy too.

All of Cork's three goals were a body blow but every time they responded with a score at the other end and they never took their eyes off the prize. It will be interesting to see if Davy goes back to the sweeper system for the replay. That they didn't have a seventh defender might be highlighted but the goals came off the back of some good Cork play, rather than because of a lack of bodies in the Clare rearguard.

First up, Davy has the worry of the U-21 game. A win there could act as a massive boost for Clare going into the replay, but it also brings risk.

The semi-final took Aaron Cunningham out of the equation when he picked up a hamstring strain and Fitzgerald can ill-afford a similar injury to one of his stars.

Something like that might tip the balance for the next day but it's still impossible to say if anyone has an edge going into the replay. It's going to be a massive three weeks for both managers.

The minor game didn't quite match the thrills and spills of other years, but Waterford were deserving winners as they created their own little piece of history.

Galway had some purple patches where they hurled very well, but it was Waterford's day after a long wait for an All-Ireland title.

They have some fine hurlers in Patrick Curran, Shane Bennett and Austin Gleeson and that title is a testament to the work that is being done at underage level in the county.

They have shown steady improvement in recent years while there has also been some colleges success and it looks like there is yet another strong young side emerging in Munster.

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