Now we're set up to beat Cork – Donal Moloney
Banner halfway to major double after U-21 stars tick all the boxes
All-Ireland U-21 HC final
Clare 2-28 Antrim 0-12
MISSION accomplished for the Banner at Semple Stadium.
All the boxes were ticked: a third All-Ireland success at this level in five seasons; their cohort of senior players uninjured; Aaron Cunningham fit again after a hamstring injury; and now everything set for the Liam MacCarthy Cup final replay against Cork on Saturday week.
Amid the joyful celebrations, with Clare followers a huge majority among the attendance of 11,148, the message from joint U-21 manager Donal Moloney was 'carpe diem' – seize the day.
Moloney said that many Clare followers thought the team had missed the chance to put Cork away in the inititial senior final, but sees this latest victory as a spur to further glory.
"I think from a Clare perspective there is an unwarranted level of despondency. I think they are really set up to win the replay," he said.
"This will help them, absolutely. The enthusiasm they will go back in with will be palpable. That will help the rest of the guys to push over the line. We may never see this again in Clare, so everything possible has to be done to finish the year on a high."
Antrim got nothing from the match, bar the historic note that they were the first Ulster side to qualify for an All-Ireland U-21 final since the grade was introduced in 1964.
The Saffrons set out to smother Clare and had only one player up front for periods during the first 15 minutes, in which they were competitive.
After that, the sliotar appeared to be programmed like a US special forces drone to fly mission after mission between the Antrim posts.
Free-taker Cathal O'Connell helped himself to 0-11 overall (9fs), while two goals late in the first half by man of the match Davy O'Halloran and full-forward Shane O'Donnell sealed the destiny of the trophy.
A half-time score of 2-16 to 0-4 meant it would be safe for the Banner management to take off the four senior stars early in the second half.
David McInerney and Tony Kelly made their exit to loud applause after 33 minutes. Another three minutes elapsed and then Colm Galvin and Podge Collins stepped aside.
Any concerns about tiredness or emotional fatigue after the senior final were quickly put to bed by Clare's other joint-manager, Gerry O'Connor.
"The biggest issue we had last Tuesday night was stopping the four (senior) guys we didn't want training," he said.
"It just gives you a taste of the mentality of these guys that on Tuesday night, Podge Collins had a puss on him because he couldn't train.
"That's the way they are; they love playing hurling, they love the way Paul Kinnerk has them playing – this was a huge and a wonderful opportunity for them to express themselves.
O'Halloran scored the first goal when he neatly skipped past Antrim full-back Matthew Donnelly before lashing the ball into the net on 23 minutes.
Clare won the second half by 0-12 to Antrim's spirited 0-8. Maybe the winners could have scored more, but O'Halloran said they didn't consciously relax.
"We never expected anything soft. We knew they would bring a bit of fight – we saw that against Wexford. It was physical for the first 20 minutes, but we managed to pull away," he said.
"I don't think we took our foot off the gas. I thought we kept going. The lads have such good attitudes towards the game. It doesn't matter who you are playing against as long as you keep concentrating on the game of hurling."
Ciaran Clarke with 0-7, including a point from play and another from a sideline, was Antrim's leading scorer, while flashes of fine play came from skipper Jackson McGreevy, Conor McCann, Shane Dooey and Christopher McGuinness.
Waterford native Kevin Ryan, the Ulster champions' manager, said before the match: "It's about having a go and we're going to give it everything."
Well, his players did that, sometimes too robustly as they got four yellow cards in the first half, but hurling at this level in Antrim needs vastly more attention if they want to be competitive.
Clare are reaping the rewards of years of development work, and also the memory of painful defeat, particularly at minor level.
O'Connor commented: "I call this the class of 2010 and we lost the All-Ireland minor final in pretty harrowing circumstances against Kilkenny that year.
"We felt that on the day we probably left it behind us and we made a pact in the dressing-room – through tears, and we don't remember a whole pile of the words that we uttered, but we remember the hurt and the pain and the anguish – as a group that if we ever got the opportunity to win an All-Ireland together, we would.
"It probably came a year sooner than expected last year, but you've got to realise that these guys have been training and preparing for today for the past four years."
Scorers – Clare: C O'Connell 0-11 (9fs), D O'Halloran 1-4, S O'Donnell 1-0, C Galvin, T Kelly 0-3 each, S Morey, C Malone 0-2 each, E Boyce, J Colleran, A O'Neill (f) 0-1 each. Antrim: C Clarke 0-7 (5fs, 1 s-l), J McGreevy, S McAfee, C McCann, C McGuinness, M Bradley 0-1 each.
Clare – R Taafe; P Flanagan, D McInerney, J Browne; S Morey, A O'Neill, S O'Halloran; C Galvin, T Kelly; P Duggan, P Collins, C Malone; C O'Connell, S O'Donnell, D O'Halloran. Subs: J Colleran for D McInerney (33); K Lynch for T Kelly (33); N Arthur for P Collins (36), E Boyce for C Galvin (36), A Cunningham for S O'Donnell (59).
Antrim – G Dixon; C Morgan, M Donnelly, T Coyle; T O Ciarain, P McNaughton, C McGuinness; J McGreevy, E Campbell; S Dooey, S McAfee, N McKenna; D McKernan, C McCann, C Clarke. Subs: D Kearney for T O Ciarain (22); M Bradley for M Donnelly (h-t); S Beatty for S Dooey (h-t); M Dudley for D McKernan (39); D McGuinness for C McCann (54).
Ref – C Lyons (Cork)