Wednesday 13 December 2017

Diarmuid Lyng: Game full of high drama leaves us all spellbound

Diarmuid Lyng
Diarmuid Lyng

Diarmuid Lyng

I can feel them bouncing around inside, but I can't quite nail them down long enough to make sense of them. Expressing feelings can be a scary prospect for Irish males. Maybe I'm just out of practice. But hurling is usually where it makes sense.

Hurling is the place where the outside feels the full force of the beating heart inside. Where it comes together for a short time, where everything seems right, and it's okay to let loose with how you feel. But not today. We'll tune in over the coming days to endless speculation from big shots to bluffers to find out why and how Clare needed a point in the dying minutes to rescue the game.

There'll be opinions on the Cork half-forward line and their ineffectiveness. The words of JBM and Davy Fitz will be closely and sometimes callously dissected to find some entry point into the feeling of the camps themselves, and how this will affect the replay.

But right now, in the moments after the final whistle that ended the 2013 All-Ireland hurling final, I feel strangely empty. It was hard to connect with the game. It ebbed and flowed and there were outstanding plays and plenty of drama, but it lacked something. Clare were at times possessed. But for only fleeting moments. Cork had spells of magic, but again, ephemeral.

The tactical battle never fully materialised as we expected it. Cork's tradition, their innate ability to feel like they're always going to win, deserted them in the last minute as they coughed up the lead despite having possession over a minute into injury-time with just a minute to play.

'Cork will never be that bad again' seemed to be the feeling amongst the real experts of the GAA in the stands, and that may be so. But Clare weren't at their best either. I've convinced myself deep down that any second now they'll both come back out and throw off the shackles and give it to us open and free. Patience.

The spectacle, as always, was amazing, unparalleled in Irish life. Domhnall O'Donovan was outstanding, but he was part of a line that was surprisingly shaky.

Granted, Pat Horgan was the only one of the Cork full-forward line that was in any way effective in open play, but any time the ball went in there during the second half, there was a casualty of some sort. I'm beginning to think that the Clare full-back line may be papering over defensive ineptitude with darting runs up the flanks and composure in possession. Will Cork exploit that the next day?

Seamus Harnedy once again proved he's on the cusp of brilliance, but he was part of a line that were for large parts chasing shadows, particularly on any ball coming in above head height. The advantage on dropping balls is always with the back in the half-back line, but Cork seemed to have found a way to compete for puck-outs more on their own terms up to this point. That wasn't the case yesterday and Anthony Nash went long, more often than not to Brendan Bugler and Conor Ryan, who were outstanding.

Tony Kelly and Podge Collins weaved and danced their way through and around tackles but often at times to no real effect. It didn't cut them open in one of those moves that you're left briefly, for the shortest of times, unsure of who did what, and how they got through the narrowest of passageways. They both got three points from play, however, and Collins' third was one of the greatest points I've ever seen in an All-Ireland final.

Strangely enough Nash was far more involved in a forward role than in a defensive one. Daniel Kearney and Conor Lehane timed their runs perfectly to open up Clare at the other end.

It seems Nash has to be doing something illegal in how he takes his penalties, as even the Artful Dodger of Gowran couldn't get the ball in that far, and there were more than a few questions posed about the length of time the ball spent on his hurl. Or maybe that was a Wexford thing.

Regardless, it passes the test, but then, so does Patrick Kelly blocking the ball a mere six yards away from Nash when he took the first 21-yard free, so that remains inconclusive. His second one was, in the truest sense of the word, unstoppable.

They'll come together again now and dance their dance. It won't be all tactics and tradition in the build-up to the replay. Clare rescued a game they dominated. Cork almost stole a game they didn't really show up for. No one read the script, but we'll be back for Act Two. It's what we know.

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