Ref calls time on a thriller
ONE of the finest hurling clashes in recent memory ended controversially yesterday when referee Pat Horan played just five seconds of extra-time in a sensationally drawn Guinness All Ireland SHC quarter-final between Clare and Galway at Croke Park.
As the game ticked towards extra-time, Clare hero Seanie McMahon, who had just levelled the side's 3-15 to 2-18 with his seventh free (including three '65s), lobbed another huge 70m free into the Galway square only for goalkeeper Damien Howe to clear his line.
As the ball came back out to midfield, the Tribesmen looked to have earned a possible winning free when Ollie Canning was fouled by Frank Lohan and Horan blew the whistle just seconds into injury time.
But the Galway fans' initial delight turned to shock when they realised he had blown the final whistle and that this mile-a-minute thriller which had seen Clare battle back phenomenally from nine points down, would have to go to a sequel.
However the Irish Independent can reveal that analysis of the video-replay shows that there were stoppages amounting to a full three minutes and 41 seconds in an incredible second half, once again raising the issue of the necessity for an independent timekeeper in games of such major importance.
And the GAA have created a new precedent by deciding that the replay will be played on Bank Holiday Monday next in Croke Park to avoid a clash with Sunday's Leinster football final.
That was one consolation for disappointed Galway who let their impressive early dominance slip in this mesmerising game which included the Lazarus-like arrival off the bench of Clare superstar Jamesie O'Connor who broke his arm against Tipperary just five weeks ago.
O'Connor's arrival coincided with a remarkable fightback from the legendary Banner, whose supporters went wild when the brilliant forward star appeared wearing number 27 on the back of a long-sleeved jersey which hid his recovering forearm.
The immediate post-match rumour was that the replay would go to Thurles next Saturday and Galway manager Mattie Murphy was adamant this would not be the case, saying: ``That would make little of the thing completely, these players need time to recover and deserve it.''
But time is one thing that reigning All Ireland champions Offaly certainly don't have in their favour, after suffering two potentially disastrous injury losses to key players in their mortifying 4-22 to 0-12 rout of Antrim in the earlier quarter-final.
Offaly now look certain to face semi-final opponents Cork on Sunday week without two thirds of their vaunted half-back line and even their usually upbeat manager Michael Bond admitted it leaves them facing an uphill struggle.
Centre-back Hubert Rigney was hospitalised last night with a suspected broken leg after a tackle by Antrim's Jackie Carson and his wing-back colleague Kevin Martin joined him after the game amid reports that he had lost the top of his finger in a second-half tackle.
``Hubie was in horrendous pain, he had to get oxygen while he was being taken off and to be honest I couldn't bear to look at Kevin's finger, but it appears he could have lost a good quarter of an inch off the top of it,'' Bond revealed.
But he insisted his side bore no animosity for the injuries and were satisfied that they were completely accidental.
Offaly are regular visitors to Antrim, having built up a long hurling relationship over the years and Carson made a point of visiting the Offaly dressing room afterwards to express his concern and regret about Rigney's injury.
But the casualties of that curtain-raiser were completely overshadowed by a marvellous second match in which two-time champions Clare had to pull everything they had out of the hat to stifle an exceptionally fit, hungry-looking Galway.
An Ollie Fahey goal after 28 minutes left them 1-9 to 0-8 up at half-time and when the nippy Gort full-forward kicked in a second 16 minutes into the second half to put them nine points clear, the Tribesmen looked set to rekindle the glory days last tasted when they reached the '93 senior final.
But in a remarkable turnaround Stephen McNamara replied immediately with a goal, Niall Gilligan got a second and Alan Markham rattled in a third, all within one spellbinding eight-minute spell.
And an Ollie Baker point gave Clare a one-point lead with 10 minutes left in a comeback which rivalled Offaly's pilferring of the 1994 All Ireland from Limerick in that infamous late comeback christened the `Five-Minute Final'.
Ollie Canning, Alan Kerins and brilliant substitute free-taker Rory Gantley put Galway two points clear again with five minutes of proper time left.
And they might have sealed it when Canning had a shot saved only by the crossbar with three minutes remaining but once again McMahon, Clare's centre-back colossus saved the day and the referee's swift final whistle ensured the GAA another huge pay-day this day week.