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Classy Clare win epic All-Ireland hurling final against Cork

By Declan Bogue

Clare 5-16 Cork 3-16: Well, if that's the last of the big-time Croke Park games this summer then the old venue got a send-off for the ages as Clare edged an incredible battle.

The scoreline tells you there were six points in it at the end, but the definitive narrative would take a novel to do it justice.

Before handing over the Liam MacCarthy Cup to captain Pat Donnellan, GAA President Liam O'Neill described it as the game of the Millennium. Only right that it should take two instalments to be spun out.

You might have noticed the name of Shane O'Donnell cropping up throughout the harsher climes of the National League. Scoring a goal against Cork marked him out as one to watch.

He was named in place of Darach Honan on the edge of the square, at 3.10pm on Saturday according to his manager.

"Darach Honan, let me make this clear," explained a glassy-eyed Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald afterwards, "has been carrying an injury for three months that no-one has known about.

"He has a 16 centimetre tear in his quad muscle."

On his replacement he told us: "Shane O'Donnell in training over the last two weeks has been incredible.

"We played a match last Friday night, the As versus Bs, and I never seen anything like it.

"In 21 minutes, we'd eight goals and nine points scored and we had to stop it.

"That's fact and we said 'it's a week too early. We're going too well.'"

For his first goal, a Pat Donnellan solo-run carved open the Cork rearguard.

He released just at the right time, O'Donnell got his fingertips around the sliotar and lashed it across the body of Anthony Nash in the Cork goal in only the sixth minute.

Podge Collins was next to deliver O'Donnell with dream service seven minutes later and he crashed that home too.

Cork needed a big play and when Cian Dillon fouled Pa Cronin it gave an opportunity for Nash to saunter upfield and chance his luck like a funfair test of strength.

Clare placed twelve men on the line but with a swollen staff, responsibility was passed off as it was lashed home.

Four minutes later a Pa Kelly puckout was fielded by Conor McGrath, floated across to John Conlon who rose above William Egan, the ball broke to the predatory O'Donnell and he batted it to the floor past Nash to complete a hat-trick after only twenty minutes.

A pearl from Tony Kelly, added to two frees converted by Colin Ryan established an eight point lead by 26 minutes.

Cork ate into it with a succession of Patrick Horgan frees either side of the interval.

The Rebels began to play a higher line and Clare were forced to bail water.

For 27 minutes, the Banner failed to raise a flag.

At one stage, Davy Fitzgerald remonstrated animatedly with referee James McGrath as Cronin and Cian McCarthy exerted an influence.

By 53 minutes, the sides were level before a dormant Clare attack made their final push over the top, reeling off three successive points.

That hard work was wiped out when Conor Lehane's shot rebounded out to Seamus Harnedy who swept home past the despairing hurl of Pa Kelly.

Two minutes later a break fell kindly to Conor McGrath who drilled his shot past Nash in the top left corner of the goal and this was instantly followed up by brilliant efforts from Kelly and O'Donnell, who latched on to a ball sent up the line from Patrick O'Connor before jinking inside O'Neill to arrow over. Nash had another chance to make a statement, but failed to rise a 25-metre shot sufficiently, having to swipe it on the deck before it drifted harmlessly wide. In the last play, substitute Seadna Morey cleared his lines all the way to O'Donnell's replacement Honan, who battled awkwardly through the challenges and ended up bundling the ball to the net as Croke Park erupted in recognition that after everything, Liam was coming back to the Banner for only the fourth time.

This has been the result of a long-term project of grassroots coaching and a change of mindset.

The players are the fruit of that but there is also a link to glories of yesteryear with a coach on the line with a soul that simply bleeds Clare hurling. What a man, Davy Fitz. What a team in Clare.

What a hurling year to treasure forever.

Clare: P Kelly; D O'Donovan, D McInerney, C Dillon; B Bugler, P Donnellan [Capt], P O'Connor; C Galvin, Conor Ryan; J Conlon (0-2), T Kelly (0-3), Colin Ryan (0-7, [6f, 1x'65']); P Collins, S O'Donnell 3-3, C McGrath 1-1. Subs: C McInerney for Galvin [53m], N O'Connell for Collins [59m], D Honan (1-0) for O'Donnell [67m] S Morey for Kelly [71m]

Yellow cards: Conlon [36m]

Cork: A Nash (1-0); S McDonnell, S O'Neill, C O'Sullivan; B Murphy, C Joyce, W Egan; L McLoughlin (0-1), D Kearney; S Harnedy (1-2), C McCarthy, P Cronin [Capt] (0-1); L O'Farrell, P Horgan (0-9, 8f), C Lehane (0-2) Subs: S White for Egan [23m], S Moylan (1-1) for O'Farrell [H-time], T Kenny for Kearney [39m], C Naughton for McCarthy [55m], K Murphy for McDonnell [67m]

Yellow cards: White [59m]

Referee: James McGrath [Westmeath]

Attendance: 82,276.

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