Friday 23 February 2018

Joy unbridled as Clare seal the deal with style

O'Donnell answers call to land stunning hat-trick

Tony Kelly carries the Liam MacCarthy Cup to the Clare fans gathered on Hill 16. Photo: David Conachy
Tony Kelly carries the Liam MacCarthy Cup to the Clare fans gathered on Hill 16. Photo: David Conachy

Damian Lawlor

As All-Ireland finals go, this was unsurpassed. It was hair-raising, pulsating, inspirational and, amazingly, a hundred times better than the drawn game, which itself goes down in history as an epic.

All year long, Clare have been dissected and critiqued for their use of sweepers and packed defences, but at Croke Park yesterday evening, as they marched to a fourth All-Ireland title, they tore into the fight unafraid and ready to embrace their destiny.

They had heroes all over the field but the plaudits go to one man this morning. Earlier in the day, word filtered through that Shane O'Donnell, a 19-year-old from Eire óg, who had motored well for the under 21s, was going to start in place of Darach Honan. Honan was carrying a knock and a little off the pace in the drawn game and O'Donnell stepped into the breach with fire in his heels.

He had three goals, and a place in history with them, secured by the 19th minute, joining Lar Corbett and Eddie O'Brien in All-Ireland final hat-trick folklore. The crowd rose to acclaim him in the 66th minute when he finally hobbled off after his day of days into the warm embrace of his manager.

The goals were dispatched like a clinical assassin who had been waiting weeks in the bushes for his target. By the fifth minute he had rasped the first home to the bottom left corner after a Pat Donnellan run opened up space for him. A few minutes later Pa Cronin lost a puck-out, Conor O'Sullivan was turned over in defence and O'Donnell capitalised again.

Before 20 minutes were up, the hat-trick was assured. This time he improvised, batting the ball home after great work by John Conlon. In a flash, O'Donnell had become this year's Walter Walsh.

And so, despite their reputation for a seven man defence, Clare had gone on all-out attack and had three goals to show for it. Most opponents would have been dead and buried, but not Cork.

JBM never panicked. Slowly, like the first encounter, Cork drew blood. First piercings from Lorcan McLoughlin and Pat Horgan. Then another trademark goal from Anthony Nash. Clare parked the bus to try and stop him but in front of goal this guy has a lifetime ticket; he rose the sliotar, took three steps and fired to the right corner with force off his left side.

Like a boxer pinning his rival to the ropes, Clare hit everything that moved. Their intensity was close to 100 per cent and yet Cork ticked away, knocking the points over.

The Rebels defence was in trouble with Shane O'Neill struggling on O'Donnell, and everyone bar Brian Murphy also in bother. But still, points from Conor Lehane and three Horgan frees kept them within touching distance. They took William Egan off after he failed to cope with John Conlon and with the score reading 2-5 to 1-5, Pa Cronin came into the game. He notched a fine point courtesy of HawkEye and he won a couple of crucial frees off Cian Dillon.

Clare, full of brim and bounce in the opening quarter, had not scored for nine minutes. Despite registering 3-9 and having the likes of O'Donnell and Conlon on fire, they trotted into the dressing room only four points up.

They struck the first blow of the second half when Daniel Kearney was turned over and Tony Kelly pointed, but Cork sub Stephen Moylan and Horgan reduced the margin to just two points in the 42st minute.

Cork pumped up their work-rate and forced more turnovers. Davy Fitzgerald despaired as they won yet another free and Horgan reduced the deficit to one after 45 minutes. Clare had led by eight at one stage, remember.

In the 52nd minute, Cronin pilfered yet another free off Dillon and Horgan leveled the game. Again, the Clare camp disputed the point as the temperature hit boiling point.

Shane O'Donnell immediately put them back ahead and after doing all the hard work, Lehane fired just wide at the end of a scintillating run. The game opened up and Cork brought on Cathal Naughton, but Clare began to find their rhythm again and Conlon put them two ahead once more.

With their legs still pumping round the final bend, Clare took over now. Conor McGrath won a free with his raw pace, Ryan pointed it to put them three ahead with 10 minutes left.

Just as we wrote Cork's obituaries, Seamus Harnedy plucked them back from the dead again after Lehane's ground stroke was initially blocked by Domhnaill O'Donovan, only for the St Ita's man to squeeze the goal home. All aboard. All to play for.

As we gathered breath, Conor McGrath found space at the other end to split the Cork defence and shot home the goal of his dreams to send the Banner to their fourth All-Ireland title. When Tony Kelly rattled over a Roy of the Rovers point a minute later, it left four points between the teams. At the death, Stephen Moylan pinched another late goal for the team that refused to die but it wasn't enough to stop Clare sealing the most famous of wins, Darach Honan's late solo goal saw to that. It was the final nail in Cork's coffin. Clare's time is here. Their future is now.

Scorers – Clare: S O'Donnell 3-3, Colin Ryan 0-7 (6f, 1 65), C McGrath 1-0, D Honan 1-0, J Conlon 0-2, P Collins 0-1, T Kelly 0-3

Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (8f, 65), S Harnedy 1-2, C Lehane 0-2, S Moylan 1-1, A Nash (1-0 f) L McLoughlin, P Cronin 0-1 each

Cork: A Nash, S McDonnell, S O'Neill, C O'Sullivan, B Murphy, C Joyce, W Egan, L McLoughlin, D Kearney, S Harnedy, C McCarthy, P Cronin, L O'Farrell, P Horgan, C Lehane Subs: S White for W Egan (23), S Moylan for L O'Farrell (h/t), T Kenny for D Kearney (38), C Naughton for C McCarthy (55), K Murphy for S McDonnell (inj) 67)

Clare: P Kelly, D O'Donovan, D McInerney, C Dillon, B Bugler, P Donnellan, P O'Connor, C Gavin, Conor Ryan, J Conlon, T Kelly, Colin Ryan, P Collins, S O'Donnell, C McGrath. Subs: C McInerney for C Galvin (51), N O'Connell for P Collins (59), D Honan for S O'Donnell (67), S Morey for T Kelly (70),

Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath)

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