GAVIN CUMMISKEY at Cusack Park, Ennis
Clare 1-16 Dublin 0-16: DUBLIN’S PERFORMANCE on Saturday evening confirmed their slide down hurling’s pecking order as Clare move ever closer to the light. But Davy Fitzgerald is correct; the vast amount of energy spent to achieve this thrilling victory leaves them wounded ahead of another win-or-bust scenario next weekend.
“I’m emphasising this is still a process, we are far from the finished article,” said an ebullient Fitzgerald late Saturday night. “I am very concerned about how much time they have between this and the next one. Very concerned.
“There is a team who have an extra week whereas we are on a high at the moment, we have to come back down after a game like that. Get our injuries right so we’ll get no training in this week.”
What really matters is Clare are alive and Dublin are dead. Those were the stakes in this gladiatorial duel on a warm summer evening in Ennis. And Dublin simply couldn’t live with the intensity of a ravenous 14-man Clare, inspired by brutally efficient performances from Brendan Bugler and John Conlon. They had no answer to these big, skilful men operating at opposing ends of the field.
Conal Keaney’s continued absence proved costly, while Stephen Hiney remained an unused substitute. Players can be replaced but not natural leaders.
Anthony Daly’s tactical decisions will be questioned. Liam Rushe, the 2011 All Star, was sluggish and largely anonymous yet stayed for the 70, while captain Johnny McCaffrey was removed from midfield and the established high fielder Ryan O’Dwyer was gone after just 43 minutes.
These decisions were made when Dublin still controlled matters, but that grip on proceedings permanently loosened in the 53rd minute. Tony Kelly is the teenager’s name. The tale of the game’s only goal begins with the individual battle between towering Clare full forward Darach Honan and Dublin’s excellent fullback Peter Kelly.
Kelly was devouring Honan, evidently unfit in his first start after a hip injury, but the Dublin defender was disgusted with referee Diarmuid Kirwan’s decision to award a 20-metre free. Honan seemed to grip hold of Kelly’s arm as he went down. Tony Kelly, the Ballyhea teenager, fresh out of the minors, stepped up to rifle through Dublin’s gaggle of goal-line resistance.
“The minute we got it we were going for it,” Fitzgerald explained. “We were going for the jugular today. That was the way it was. It was a fair thing for a young fella, in his first championship match, having to stand up and hit it and by God he hit it.”
There were other kids who showed well like Seadna Morey in midfield and Colm Galvin, arriving seamlessly into the fray as the tide turned. Kelly’s goal was quickly followed by a beautifully struck point from Seán Collins deep in his own territory. That made it 1-14 to 0-14 and rooted Daly to the sideline. Davy Fitz, in contrast, was thundering past his former team-mates, knowing the momentum had swung wildly in Clare’s favour.
They actually started the better with Conlon, Kelly and the otherwise disappointing Conor McGrath putting them ahead after six minutes. Dublin didn’t so much respond as Clare started fouling them out the field. Meat and drink for Paul Ryan, who posted five successive points from placed balls.
But the residue of their heavy defeat to Kilkenny was still evident as undoubtedly gifted players like Ryan and Alan McCrabbe, another All Star, struggled with their first touch. It ensured goals were left behind in this early period of dominance, especially by David Treacy, even if Joey Boland was showing well, as was Danny Sutcliffe and Maurice O’Brien.
Morey glided forward unmarked to leave Clare trailing 0-11 to 0-7 at the turn. There followed a period of pandemonium that cannot be replicated by any other sport. Nicky O’Connell was sent off for a second yellow after halting Sutcliffe in full flight with a slap of the hurl to the head. Niall Corcoran became the extra man but Clare had prepared for this possibility. It proved the making of them. “This team was going to keep fighting to the end no matter what the story was,” said Fitzgerald. “We had worked on the scenario if a man goes, what we would do. There was no panic. We knew what had to be done and that was it.”
Ryan posted the resulting free. Treacy added another seconds later. Then everything changed. Conlon, despite the close attention of Tomás Brady, knocked over his third. Kelly and Collins scores made it a three-point game. Winning every break now, strikes from McGrath, Honan and McGrath levelled it on 50 minutes.
Daly made his moves, notably Dotsy O’Callaghan for O’Dwyer and eventually Ross O’Carroll for Treacy. Still, they failed to win any of the late balls rained down on the Clare square. Cian Dillon, Bugler or one of the youngsters came out with it every time.
At the death Pat Donnellan blocked Rushe’s desperate shot for goal just after the swashbuckling Conlon pointed to put three between them. The end sounded like a volcano erupting in the main stand. They had been waiting a long time for a championship win, too long.
“They were getting frustrated, 100 percent, I knew that” said Davy. “I said at half-time they are there to support and if they are not happy they will let us know but the short passes we did in the second half won us the game because Dublin tried to retreat back and pull back into their full-back line. We brought them out by getting the ball to John Conlon. You could see the scores we got off that, we definitely got a number of points off that.
“I don’t know if we will win or lose the next day but we’ve had an unreal year so far. This team will give everything. I’m just so proud to be part of it after what they gave out on that field.”
CLARE: 1 P Kelly; 2 D O’Donovan, 3 C Dillon, 4 C Cooney; 5 B Bulger, 6 P Donnellan, 8 N O’Connell; 7 S Morey (0-1), 9 S Collins (0-2); 10 F Lynch, 12 J Clancy, 23 T Kelly (1-2); 11 J Conlon (0-4), 24 D Honan (0-2), 15 C McGrath (0-5, 0-4 frees). Subs: 18 P O’Connor for C Cooney (22 mins), 22 C Galvin for J Clancy (42 mins), 25 A Cunningham for F Lynch (65 mins), 14 C Ryan for D Honan (64 mins). Yellow cards: D O’Donovan (21 mins), N O’Connell (27 and 36 minutes).
DUBLIN: 1 G Maguire; 26 R Treanor, 3 P Kelly, 4 N Corcoran (0-1); 6 J Boland, 2 T Brady, 7 M Carton; 8 J McCaffrey, 23 M O’Brien (0-2); 11 L Rushe, 21 A McCrabbe (0-1, free), 12 D Sutcliffe (0-1); 14 D Treacy (0-1), 10 R O’Dwyer, 13 P Ryan (0-9, 0-7 frees, 0-2 65s). Subs: 15 D O’Callaghan for R O’Dwyer (43 mins), 9 S Durkin for J McCaffrey (48 mins), 22 N McMorrow for P Ryan (48 mins), 20 S Lambert (0-1) for M O’Brien (51 mins), 24 R O’Carroll for D Treacy (56 mins).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).