Over the last 40 years, there have been some outstanding matches in the All-Ireland club championship but this game reached such a level that it has legitimate claims to be considered as possibly the greatest club match of all time.
Blackrock and Rathnure in 1972, Athenry versus Birr in 2000, Toomevara and Ballyhale Shamrocks in 2007 were all classics in their own right but this game probably exceeded those epics.
The match contained the ultimate mix of gun-slinging drama and it was almost fitting that it should be decided with the second-last attack in extra-time.
The quality was absolutely brilliant but the drama was even more spellbinding. The game looked up for Clarinbridge when they trailed by two points deep into injury time of extra-time when the outstanding Alan Kerins got off a shot at the target. The ball wasn't travelling at bullet-speed but it was deflected by the unfortunate De La Salle full-back Ian Flynn into the path of Eanna Murphy, who flicked it to the net from close range.
It was desperately tough on De La Salle who led by three points in injury time of normal time only for the Galway champions to dramatically steal ahead. Mark Kerins buried a close-in free before Alan Kerins landed an excellent score from out the field. However, Brian Phelan -- just as he had done two years earlier when he landed a late sideline cut against Cushendall -- held his nerve to score a free from 80 metres to take the match to extra-time.
Lee Hayes and John Mullane edged De La Salle ahead by two with the endline in sight in extra-time but this Clarinbridge side have shown admirable resolve all year. They should have been out of the Galway championship against Beagh last July, while they trailed Loughrea by three points with two minutes remaining in the Galway county final replay. Once again, they got their reward for their patience, spirit and immense strength of character.
Their play was so classy and intelligent that it was one of the most complete performances ever produced by a Galway team. The overall quality and standard of both teams though, was excellent; 53 scores in 83 minutes, 38 from play, most of which were of the highest class. Overall, 19 different players scored from play and in the first half of normal time, 17 of the 19 shots at the target were nailed.
The sides were level on 10 occasions, while the quality was also reflected by the free count, with just 23 frees overall. The referee James McGrath consistently let the play flow and the players obliged in return with a pure shootout.
Even the final game-breaking play had a story. Alan Kerins admitted afterwards that he'd had it in his head all week that if Clarinbridge needed a goal late on, he'd try and put a dip on the ball. That sufficient spin on the sliothar with his final stroke may well have been the reason his shot ricocheted off Flynn's hurley. That's how tight the margins were in this game.
The only time there was any real daylight between the teams was in the opening period when De La Salle opened up with a blitzkrieg and led by 0-4 to 0-0 after just seven minutes. Clarinbridge failed to get a single ball into their full-forward line in the opening 11 minutes but once they settled down, they began to take on De La Salle with their pace. They exploded into the game, rattling over six successive points in eight minutes.
De La Salle had forged back in front by the 23rd minute after a fine score by the excellent Kevin Moran. After John Mullane made his eighth play of the game, landing his third point from play, Clarinbridge shifted Jamie Cannon back from the wing into full-back to try and limit his influence. Clarinbridge were alternating a sweeper at times but David Forde and Micheal Donoghue had gradually got on top in the half-back line and Clarinbridge finished the half with four successive points to lead 0-11 to 0-8 at the break.
Although Clarinbridge moved Alan Kerins out to the middle third for the second half -- and his immense influence grew as the game went on -- De La Salle took over in the third quarter. They won seven Clarinbridge puck-outs in that time and they rattled over five successive points to edge ahead by 0-15 to 0-14.
De La Salle had stretched that lead to three with time up when the outstanding Eoin Forde, who hit five points from play, was dragged back by Ian Flynn and Mark Kerins stepped up and buried the 20-metre free. Kerins repeated the feat from a penalty two minutes into extra-time but the impressive Eoin Madigan had the ball in the net at the other end just 20 seconds later.
De La Salle looked to have done enough in the second half of extra-time until Murphy provided the most dramatic ending imaginable to possibly the greatest club game. You couldn't have made it up. What a match.
Scorers -- Clarinbridge: M Kerins 2-5 (1-4fs, 1-0 pen), A Kerins 0-6, E Forde 0-5, E Murphy 1-0, P Coen 0-2, S Forde, S Burke, B Daly, D Forde 0-1 each. De La Salle: J Mullane 0-11 (6fs), E Madigan 1-3, B Phelan (2fs, 1 '65), J Dillon 0-3 each, D Twomey, J Keane 0-2 each, P Nevin, K Moran, L Hayes 0-1 each.
Clarinbridge -- L Donoghue; C Forde, B Burke, P Callanan; J Cannon, D Forde, M Donoghue; B Daly, E Murphy; S Burke, M Kerins, S Forde; E Forde, A Kerins, P Coen. Sub: A Armstrong for S Forde (58).
De La Salle -- S Brenner; D Russell, I Flynn, M Doherty; C Watt, K Moran, S Daniels; B Phelan, D Twomey, P Nevin, D Greene, J Mullane; J Dillon, E Barrett, J Keane. Subs: E Madigan for Watt (35), L Hayes for Twomey (70), Twomey for Dillon (78).
Ref -- J McGrath (Westmeath).