Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald tried hard to deflect the glory and the praise onto his young team, but it was hard for the former goalkeeper not to right a few wrongs in the wake of Saturday’s incredible win over Cork in the All-Ireland hurling final replay.
Like the millions who watched the game live on television, it was hard for Fitzgerald to draw breath after a 5-16 to 3-16 win for his side against the Rebels.
Clare had fought back to snatch a replay with a last minute Domhnall O’Donovan point in the drawn game and looked set for a landslide win when they led by eight points at one stage of Saturday’s rematch.
But Cork are nothing if not fighters, and they proved it as they pulled level in the closing minutes before Clare once again stamped their authority on a summer of top class hurling that will live long in the memory.
Having tasted All-Ireland glory twice as a player himself, Fitzgerald knew what his players were going through when the final whistle sounded on Saturday.
He also understood that the win was the perfect riposte to those who doubted his ability to lead the Banner after a defeat to the same Cork side in the championship earlier this summer.
Fitzgerald said, “It did hurt that people didn’t trust me. My one objective was for Clare to win. I wasn’t trying to do anything else, only to try and make sure Clare would win. It does hurt when people would cut your throat and knife you in the back. It isn’t nice.
“They should know my form and my form is I want Clare to win. I won’t always get it right and I would be the first to admit that. I don’t know it all. But I try my best for Clare to win and that’s all can I ever do. In saying that, while some people would cut you, there is an awful lot of good people.
“There is an awful lot of good people in Clare and I kept saying that to myself. They understand what you are trying to do and they are the important people. You just have to be positive and think of the good people. The main thing was the lads’ unwavering support even when we lost.
“They never doubted what we were doing. That is why we are successful. It is because of those lads believing in what you do.”
Shane O’Donnell, only 19, scored a hat-trick of goals, and three points, as Clare lifted the All-Ireland for the first time since the 1990s.
And Fitzgerald knows he is fortunate to be in the right place at the right time as far as Clare hurling is concerned.
He added, “I’m a lucky buachaill (boy), it is nothing to do with me as far as I’m concerned. I was only a small cog in the wheel.
“The credit has to go to the players. It is all about the players. That is my opinion. I think they are a fantastic bunch of guys.
“It hasn’t sunk in as much as I’d like it to but it’s fantastic. We’re All-Ireland champions for 2013 so what more can you ask for.”
O’Donnell was a late call-up to the side as a result of an injury to Darach Honan.
“Shane is a young lad and we knew a good bit out he would probably be playing,” Fitzgerald said.
“We just decided to leave it as long as we could to give him every chance to play well. He was flying in training, and what everyone didn’t realize was that Darach Honan had an injury for the last two months.
“He had a 16-centimeter tear in his quad muscle. He hadn’t been training as much as we wanted but we knew we might get 15 or 20 minutes out of him. He came in at the end and scored a great goal.
“Fair play to Shane, at the start he was unreal but I think the hats go off to every one of the 37 players. They have been magnificent all year.”
O’Donnell grabbed his three points in the opening 20 minutes, then scored a couple of match winning points late on.
He told RTE, “It means absolutely everything. It’s tough times all around the country, and if you can lift people with these types of performance and these kind of days.....look at the Hill, it’s absolutely amazing, you can see what it means to them.
“It’s absolutely amazing. It is the first time I am on the panel and I get to the final. I don’t even know the hard work most of the lads put in every year and they get nowhere. This is for them, it’s for the back room staff. I’m the man who gets on the end of the goals but it’s a team effort to get goals.”
Asked about his goals, the man of the match said, “The first two were absolutely given to me, handed to me on a plate. It’s the stuff of dreams. The first 20 minutes I was in dreamland.
“Testament to Cork, they were a brilliant team, they never gave up the ghost. Goal after goal was going in and it didn’t faze them, they just came back but thank God we came out the right side.”
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