The shock on Clare hurling boss Davy Fitzgerald’s face at the end of the match said it all, and his post-match comments only backed up the element of surprise as corner-back Domhnall O’Donovan pulled Clare level against Cork in the All-Ireland hurling final.
As the clock entered the 73rd minute, Clonlara man O’Donovan popped across the halfway line to hit the first point of his championship career from under the Cusack Stand. He could not have picked a better time to register his first score in a Clare shirt.
Cork, having played second fiddle to their Munster rivals for so much of this pulsating final, thought they had it won when Patrick Horgan had given them the lead for the first time in the match only seconds earlier.
But Clare, who led by only two points at the interval 0-12 to 0-10, somehow summoned the courage to go for one last score and save a game that had appeared to be theirs by right for so long.
O’Donovan was the man of the moment, the man with the golden score to seal the deal on a 0-25 to 3-16 scoreline and ensure a replay in Croke Park on Saturday, September 28.
Even he was surprised at his arrival in the annals of Clare hurling folklore.
“I think there was less than 30 seconds on the clock and Stephen Moylan had just taken a sideline cut that went wide,” O’Donovan said.
“Goalkeeper Patrick Kelly had the ball in his hand and I saw open country in front of me so I thought my job as a defender was done for the day. If Cork scored it was over anyway.
“I wasn’t looking for the ball but I just said I’d give Patrick Kelly the option – if he chooses to use me he can. I wanted him to hit it a few seconds earlier so I could maybe run on to it and possibly pop it over.”
The draw, for a second year in a row, looked well nigh impossible in a first half played at a frantic pace.
Horgan scored seven Cork points in that opening period but Clare, inspired by five pointed frees from Colin Ryan and two each from Tony Kelly and Podge Collins, were well worth their 0-12 to 0-10 lead.
The only surprise was that they weren’t ahead by more, and it was a statistic they would rue as Cork rattled in three goals in the second half through Conor Lenane, goalkeeper Anthony Nash and Pa Cronin.
The first goal was significant as Clare were four points to the good when Lenane took off like a sprinter to fire the ball to the back of the net in the 40th minute.
Clare bounced back via the energetic Ryan and were five clear when Nash, who later missed a penalty, smashed a 21 meter free to the net in the 57th minute.
For all their youthful energy, Clare just couldn’t pull clear of a determined Cork who leveled courtesy of Cronin’s goal five minutes from time, and then took the lead for the first time courtesy of Horgan’s 10th point of the match in extra-time.
Even man of the match Ryan thought Clare’s goose was cooked at that stage, but O’Donovan had other ideas.
“When we saw that sideline cut being taken over there in the corner and the clock was on 72 minutes, we thought we were dead and buried. And then for Dunny, of all people, to stick the ball over the bar. It’s a relief, we’re delighted still to be there,” Ryan said.
“He wouldn’t be the most prolific scorer but his temperament is great so as far as fellows to have the ball he’s probably not the worst, at the end of the day. We’re in his debt, that’s for sure.”
Cork hero Horgan thought he had won the game for the Rebels with his late point.
“I thought my last point was the winner when we’d the ball over in the corner. But the way they were going, they hardly hit it wide the whole match,” Horgan said.
“Give credit to Clare, they played very well today but we obviously weren’t on top of our game. We got three goals so we hung on in there for a long time.”
Clare: P Kelly, D. O’Donovan (0-1), D. McInerney, C. Dillon, B. Bugler, P. Donnellan, P. O’Connor, Conor Ryan (0-1), C. Galvin, J. Conlon (0-2), T. Kelly (0-3), Colin Ryan (0-12, 11f), P. Collins (0-3), D. Honan (0-1), C. McGrath (0-2).
Subs: C. McInerney for Honan, F. Lynch for Conlon, N. O’Connell for McGrath
Cork: A. Nash (1-0, f), S. McDonnell, S. O’Neill, C. O’Sullivan, B. Murphy (0-1), C. Joyce, W. Egan, L. McLoughlin, D. Kearney (0-2), S. Harnedy (0-2), P. Cronin (1-0), C. Lehane (1-1), L. O’Farrell, P. Horgan (0-10, 8f), J. Coughlan.
Subs: S. Moylan for Coughlan, C. McCarthy for McLoughlin, C. Naughton for McCarthy, S. White for Kearney
Referee: B. Gavin (Offaly).
Fitz Angry Over Ref Calls
DAVY Fitzgerald could hardly contain his emotions at the end of the drawn All-Ireland hurling final – and he couldn’t help but question some of the decisions that went against his way in the draw with Cork.
The Banner, whose under-21 side face Antrim in their own All-Ireland final in Thurles this Saturday, will meet the Rebels again in Croke Park at 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 28.