Daly stunned as Davy marches on
Clare 1-16 Dublin 0-16 SHC Phase 2 qualifier
Anthony Daly never knew there'd be days like this.
Standing on the sideline in Cusack Park in Ennis has to be one of the strangest feelings he'll ever have in a long and storied hurling career. Strange to watch his team's six-point lead being eaten away by a driven, young Clare team that he knows is going to leave his county in a much stronger place over the next few years, as locals, many of them his friends, bellowed their frenzied approval.
When he met with Dublin officials in late 2008 to discuss the position, this was one scenario he hadn't bargained on.
It was one thing to meet Clare in Croke Park or in a Parnell Park league match. But in Ennis? On a night like this?
In his post-match analysis with the print media that lasted a little over three minutes, much of it was devoted towards an appraisal of Clare.
Maybe it was just the questions directed at him, maybe there was just no point in raking over the coals of another desperately disappointing performance in a desperately disappointing season.
The challenge was to avoid the notion that Dublin had punched above their weight in 2011, that a league title and an All-Ireland semi-final appearance wasn't really their place.
Sadly for them, this notion will linger for a while yet after the last two weeks they've had. The pressure of expectancy looks like it has burdened them, and when leaders were required in such a cauldron there were just too few.
As much as this was an awakening for Clare hurling, it was a collapse by Dublin. No other words for it.
They were six points up, a man up after Nicky O'Connell's red card early in the second half. And yet they lost by three.
So Daly is left to pick the bones of a season that promised so much but delivered so little.
"To be relegated, to be beaten in Leinster and to lose a first-round qualifier is a very disappointing season. Maybe the hype of last year got to us a bit. I didn't think that. I couldn't have asked for any more of them in terms of effort and training. They couldn't have given any more," he reflected.
Clare selector Louis Mulqueen noted how the Banner had lost their previous nine championship games.
Not since the 2008 Munster final had they felt that inner glow of satisfaction. How, then, could they claim tangible progress if they couldn't manage a win.
If it was Dublin, if it was Daly, it didn't matter.
"We wanted the pressure," acknowledged manager Davy Fitzgerald. "We said after the Waterford game, 'give us a tough draw' because we have to find out what we're about. I think we showed tonight we have character."
Fitzgerald's youth policy is reflected in the profile of the squad, an average age of just 22 years and just three over the age of 27.
He gave debuts to two of last year's minor team, Seadna Morey and Tony Kelly, and they repaid the faith handsomely.
Kelly's goal from a 20-metre free in the 53rd minute gave Clare a 1-13 to 0-14 lead that they were never likely to lose.
In the closing 17 minutes or so, every Clare player drew energy from the stands and terraces as they made light of the departure to a second yellow card of O'Connell. It was, as Daly suggested afterwards, one of those nights.
That Kelly could be delegated to go for goal in his first championship match was one thing, that he should complete the task with such ruthless efficiency was something else altogether.
"The minute we got it, we were going for it. We were going for the jugular tonight. That was the way it was. It didn't enter my head for a second. It was a fair thing for a young fella in his first championship match to stand up and hit it," acknowledged Fitzgerald.
The young Ballyea man finished with 1-2 as he operated a free role away from the full-forward line manned by Darach Honan and Conor McGrath.
But if youth flourished, big-game temperament and hardened experience also played a part.
Brendan Bugler is one of the older hands, but in the second-half he was immense in winning and clearing ball across his half-back line, while John Conlon's nerve and strength in possession is something any Clare team manager was always going to build an attack around.
Conlon's last point said everything about him as he held up possession and waited for his moment to strike from near the sideline.
"A lot of these guys got a lot of stick. It's unjust. You saw when it really got rough and tough outside there. Some boys stood up that were getting a bit of stick there for a while. But this is still a learning process," he figured.
As Daly said, Dublin had put themselves in a very strong position. Joey Boland and Tomas Brady had dominated aerially in the first half and Paul Ryan had done most of what was asked of him from placed balls.
By the time he was withdrawn, just shy of the 50-minute mark, he had converted nine. If their touch was right they might have been out of sight by the break.
Instead, they led by 0-11 to 0-7, two of those points gifted to them when Pat Donnellan and Bugler had short passes intercepted. It was part of a clear strategy but the crowd didn't see it that way.
They were frustrated. After O'Connell's dismissal, David Treacy made it 0-13 to 0-7, but Clare roared back with six unanswered points in the next 12 minutes.
It was the defining period. The force was with them and their tactics of dropping greater numbers back at that stage and hitting Dublin on the break worked perfectly.
"We were going to be okay anyway," said Fitzgerald, making light of the impact the sending off could have had. "This team was going to stay fighting until the end no matter what."
Daly threw on all five substitutes in a 13-minute period midway through the second half, but it was akin to clearing the bottom deck of the Titanic with a bucket.
Nothing stuck on the inside line, and while Ryan O'Dwyer hadn't been motoring well he was the type of player that might have brought a harder edge when Dublin needed to win ball in the final third of the field down the home stretch.
Daly refused to be drawn on his future plans with Dublin, suggesting there was plenty of time. Parking his Dublin career in Ennis after this will hardly be how he'll want it to be remembered.
Scorers -- Clare: C McGrath 0-5 (4f), T Kelly 1-2 (1-0f), J Conlon 0-4, D Honan, S Collins 0-2 each, S Morey 0-1. Dublin: P Ryan 0-9 (8f, 1 '65'), M O'Brien 0-2, N Corcoran, D Sutcliffe, A McCrabbe (1f), D Sutcliffe, D Treacy 0-1 each.
Clare -- P Kelly 7; D O'Donovan 7, C Dillon 7, C Cooney 5; B Bugler 9, P Donnellan 7, N O'Connell 5; S Morey 7, S Collins 8; F Lynch 6, J Conlon 9, J Clancy 5; T Kelly 8, D Honan 7, C McGrath 7. Subs: P O'Connor 6 for Cooney (22), C Galvin 5 for Clancy (42), C Ryan for Honan (64), A Cunningham for Lynch (65).
Dublin -- G Maguire 7; R Treanor 6, P Kelly 7, N Corcoran7; J Boland 8, T Brady 7, M Carton 6; J McCaffrey 5, M O'Brien 7; L Rushe 6, A McCrabbe 7, D Sutcliffe 7; P Ryan 7, R O'Dwyer 6, D Treacy 6. Subs: D O'Callaghan 5 for O'Dwyer (44), S Durkin 6 for McCaffrey (48), N McMorrow 5 for Ryan (49), S Lambert 6 for O'Brien (51), R O'Carroll 5 for Treacy (56).
Ref -- D Kirwan (Cork).