Saturday, September 28
GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay
Clare v Cork, Croke Park, 5pm (Live on RTÉ)
So, here we go again. Twenty days after Cork and Clare played out a thrilling 3-16 to 0-25 draw, we’re back at Croke Park for take two of the final act of the 2013 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship.
Domhnall O’Donovan’s last-gasp equaliser for Davy Fitzgerald’s side provided a fitting extension to a thrilling summer of hurling, the corner back’s decision to abandon his defensive duties and go for broke in injury time was somehow in keeping with everything that had gone before it this season.
All-Ireland Hurling Final
2012: Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 3-11
1959: Waterford 3-12 Kilkenny 1-10
1934: Limerick 5-2 Dublin 2-6
1931: Cork 5-8 Kilkenny 3-4
1908: Tipperary 3-15 Dublin 1-5
1905: Kilkenny 7-7 Cork 2-9
Now, we get one more game to savour, and while nobody would bet against Cork and Clare serving up another thriller, it’s very unlikely to be as odd a game as the drawn encounter. Viewed from a remove, without all the bristling emotion of the occasion and that breathless finale thrown in, there were too many mistakes and too many players who failed to reach the pitch of the game to call it a classic.
Sure, we had 44 scores but more than half (23) came from placed balls and, strange as it may sound given they very nearly escaped with a win thanks to Patrick Horgan’s injury time point, one of the teams (Cork) didn’t perform to a level that one might expect at this time of the season.
Cork’s problems were obvious and are only magnified upon a second viewing of the game. The Rebels failed to react to the breakdown of their puck-out strategy, and when Anthony Nash kept going long, the dominant Clare half-back line cleaned up.
“We were well beaten on our own puck-outs,” said Cork manager Jimmy-Barry Murphy last week. “Everyone's seen the stats and obviously we're going to have to improve massively on that if we're to have any chance of winning the game so we're working on different aspects of our game to try to improve on that.”
Part of Barry-Murphy’s response to that systems failure is to select Cian McCarthy at centre-forward, the only change in personnel from three weeks ago, with Jamie Coughlan losing out. Sarsfields man McCarthy made a brief appearance the last day, but was forced off with an ankle injury shortly afterwards, having made one impressive fetch from a puck-out aimed in his direction. Séamus Harnedy has been included in the side at wing-forward despite concerns that a knock he picked up in the drawn game would curtail his involvement.
McCarthy should give plenty of support to Séamus Harnedy, who, along with Conor O’Sullivan, Shane O’Neill, Patrick Horgan and Daniel Kearney, was one of just a handful of Cork players to do themselves justice on the day.
Cork scored just one goal in their four games prior to the final, and yet it was their ability to get goals against the run of play and at crucial times of the game that saved them. There has been a suggestion that Cork – despite having three players in their ranks with All-Ireland medals – were more affected by the occasion, and Barry-Murphy admitted last week that the pressures of playing in a final will be less of a factor this time around.
“There's a lot of different issues involved in the build-up to a final as we all know, getting gear, the razzmatazz of a function after the game and all that kind of stuff, a lot of side issues that have to be dealt with. This is a lot more relaxed, much more a game than a final.
“We were all in the same boat (not having played a final before) and it certainly does take away a lot of issues that go with being in a final. It starts being a game now more than a final alright.”
Getting players back to a mental and physical peak three weeks after one of the biggest games of their lives is just one of the challenges presented by a replay. Add in the Saturday evening throw-in, the fact that the lights will be switched on at Croke Park and the game will have a very different feeling to the September 8 clash.
There have been just six All-Ireland final replays in the history of the Association, but of course this is the second year in a row the game failed to be decided on the first day, as Kilkenny and Galway also drew in the 2012 final. Kilkenny came out well on top in the second instalment last year, having had to watch Joe Canning fire over a late equaliser to send the game to a replay,
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald has named an unchanged side for the game, which is hardly unexpected given his players did everything that could have been expected of them in the drawn game except win it. Speaking at the Clare press night last week, Fitzgerald was determined to leave go of any thoughts that his side had thrown away a great opportunity to win a first All-Ireland title since he manned the goals in 1997.
“I could look back and it say, we should have won it," he said. "I could look back at it and say that a minute into injury time, we'd take a draw. The best thing I did, and even from a team point of view, we say, we're going to draw a line under this. There's no point dwelling on it either way. We have lessons to learn. We have learned the lessons that we had to learn - there were mistakes made out there the last day.
"So there's no point dwelling back on it like that. It's like the last game we played, we have to learn from it and drive on. That's the way we have approached it."
While Fitzgerald hasn’t made any changes in personnel, he may have to decide now whether or not to revert to the use of Patrick Donnellan as an extra layer of cover in front of his full-back line, a tactic that worked so well in earlier games. The concession of three goals the last day will worry Fitzgerald, and Conor Lehane’s goal, when he beat his man for pace and waltzed through the Clare cover, would surely have been prevented by the placing of a sweeper on the edge of the ‘D’.
Remarkably, this will be the sixth time the sides have met this year, having already clashed in the Waterford Crystal Cup, the Allianz League (twice), the Munster Championship semi-final and the All-Ireland final. Prior to the draw, Cork had won the last four championship clashes between the sides.
With these two sides, though, history should really mean very little, but it remains to be seen how much each will have learned from the drawn game. Cork can only play better, surely, while for all their intricate patterns and the masterful stickwork, Clare will have to be far more ruthless if they gain the upper hand again.
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, the honour of taking over as All-Ireland champions after the great Kilkenny era will fall on an exciting young team playing a refreshingly entertaining and vibrant version of the ancient game.
CORK: A Nash; S McDonnell, S O'Neill, C O'Sullivan; B Murphy, C Joyce, W Egan; L Mc Loughlin, D Kearney; S Harnedy, C McCarthy, P Cronin; L O'Farrell, P Horgan, C Lehane.
CLARE: P Kelly; D O'Donovan, D McInerney, C Dillon; B Bugler, P Donnellan (c), P O’Connor; C Ryan, C Galvin; J Conlon, T Kelly C Ryan; P Collins, D Honan, C McGrath.
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