Sunday 17 December 2017

If Davy sticks to his guns, Clare will be champions

Cork's Patrick Horgan comes out second-best in this tussle with David McInerney
Cork's Patrick Horgan comes out second-best in this tussle with David McInerney

John Mullane

NOW that was something else – mindblowing stuff. You can have your Super Bowl, Champions League final or Heineken Cup final because there is no comparison when it comes to the sheer spectacle that was yesterday's All-Ireland final.

It was my first experience of watching a final from the press box in Croke Park – a quite unbelievable experience, to tell the truth. Going into the last 10 minutes, I was nearly more nervous than Cork or Clare people. It was real edge-of-the-seat stuff.

First things first, on Clare's tactics: I called it right. I felt Davy Fitzgerald would go the conventional route, with Tony Kelly at centre-forward and he got his tactics spot on yet again.

I don't know how Clare didn't win it and that's the question Davy will be asking himself. Podge Collins was in that roaming role and had so much space in the first half.

Brendan Bugler was a good call on Patrick Cronin, with the outstanding Conor Ryan wing-back on Seamus Harnedy. Patrick Donnellan blunted the effectiveness of Cork midfielder Lorcan McLoughlin and so Clare got all of their match-ups right.

But they should have been seven or eight points up at half-time. The problem was the concession of needless frees in the first half. They kept Cork in the game.

Davy might not be too happy with some of referee Brian Gavin's calls, but I thought he had a decent game. Shane O'Neill was very lucky to stay on the field, but Gavin played 40 seconds over time so there can be no real arguments.

He gave Clare every opportunity to get the equaliser and rightly so. It would have been an injustice if they didn't get a replay.

Credit to Cork for sticking to their guns. Four of their forwards weren't on the scoreboard by half-time but Conor Lehane and Cronin came out different men in the second half.

I thought O'Neill was Cork's best player by far, but Jimmy Barry-Murphy will be relieved because going into the last 10 minutes, it looked like Clare were going to see it through.

Phenomenal

That Collins wonder-point will live long in the memory. DJ Carey floated over a phenomenal score in the 2002 final and while this effort from Collins was different, it was every bit as good.

It came, too, at a crucial stage in the game. Shortly after, Colin Ryan missed two frees and he also burst through on goal but failed to pass to Conor McGrath, who was free off his left shoulder.

A goal for Clare then and they would have pushed on to win the game.

But credit to Ryan for lifting his head again and popping over some important scores. Clare deserve great credit for hitting back when Cork stunned them with goals.

It's a trait of this Clare team – that ability to take sucker punches and come out swinging themselves. That Clare forward division was fantastic and Bugler was powerful, too.

But of all men to pop up with the equalising score, take a bow Domhnall O'Donovan. Here's a tight, tenacious corner-back lofting over the score of his life.

Another talking point for me was Patrick Kelly's save from his opposite number Anthony Nash from that 20-metre free in the first half. Surely there should have been a retake.

Kelly and Nash both had good games. Nash would have wanted a better return from three strikes at goal while Kelly will be disappointed with Lehane's goal.

There's bound to be speculation about the referee for the replay. It's a toss-up between two men – Johnny Ryan and James Owens.

Outside of the Ryan O'Dwyer sending-off in the semi-final, Owens handled the Dublin-Cork game well. And Johnny did a fine job in the Clare-Limerick game. If I was to call it, I'd go for Johnny.

As for a man of the match, it was between three players for me – and all from Clare. Step forward Bugler, Conor Ryan and Collins, with an honourable mention for Cork's Shane O'Neill. Ryan was immense and stormed forward for a brilliant point in the second half.

With the replay to come, Clare are still my favourites. While Cork will improve, Clare were the better team and I think they will push on and win this All-Ireland – if Davy stays with the same tactics and doesn't revert back to the sweeper system.

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