Patrick O'Connor: 'Hurling was the big winner'
By John Harrington
Clare defender Pat O’Connor knew he’d just been part of a very special occasion when he spoke after Saturday’s epic drawn All-Ireland SHC semi-final with Galway.
A storming contest that went to extra-time finished with a fitting final clap of thunder when Jason McCarthy hit a last-gasp equaliser for the Banner county.
“Hurling was the big winner,” said O’Connor. “Some outstanding performances from individuals out there on both sides. Galway are an exceptional team.
“We’re trying to reach their level and we haven’t got there yet because we haven’t them beaten but we’ll go back and we’ll look at it, learn a few things and we’ll give it one hell of a shot again next week.”
Clare looked a long way off Galway’s level when they trailed by 1-7 to 0-1 after 16 minutes of Saturday’s match.
But the decision at that juncture of the game to push Colm Galvin back into a sweeping position in front of the under-pressure Clare full-back line ultimately proved a master-stroke.
Galvin began hoovering up the long Galway deliveries that had been causing havoc in the Clare defence and his accurate distribution put the Banner on the front foot.
“Yeah, yeah, and credit again when they knew to push him out because he played a lot of hurling out around the middle as well so it was a balancing act,” said O’Connor.
“Credit to Colm as well the way he played it, it needs a performance out of him too when he goes back there and he did exceptionally well.
“We had 90 minutes to look at each other there, we’ll know an awful lot about each other and I’m sure next weekend won’t disappoint again.”
What was most impressive about Clare’s recovery after that disastrous start to the match was that they never panicked.
They just kept chipping away at Galway’s lead and got themselves back into the game by outscoring the Tribesmen by 0-8 to 0-1 between the 18th and 33rd minutes.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think the key was composure,” said O’Connor.
“There was no panic. We had analysed how we would get at Galway and you have to hand it to Galway, they’re an exceptional team.
“They started like a train on fire but we came into it. We’re in the last four now, teams are very good and will have their purple patches.
“We felt we made our purple patches count and they made theirs count. I suppose the one at the start was obviously a disappointment and the first half of extra time, we were wasteful in those two periods.”
Clare led for the very first time in the match when Aron Shanagher’s goal at the start of the second period of extra-time pushed them into a two-point lead, but Galway came roaring back again and looked to have won it through a Johnny Coen point until McCarthy’s late, great equaliser.
“I thought we had it, I thought we had it. When John [Conlon] went through then I was just waiting for the net to bulge but it didn’t.
“Those are the things that happen. It’s all about reacting. Galway reacted, we reacted, Galway reacted again and we had the last shout.”
The ability of both teams to recovery – both physically and mentally – from Saturday’s ferociously contested encounter will be a critical factor ahead of this Sunday’s replay.
The match seemed to take more of an attritional toll on Galway as key players like Gearoid McInerney, Joe Canning, and David Burke were forced off with injury, but Clare had their walking wounded too.
“I don’t know, there’s a lot of limping,” said O’Connor. “When your goalkeeper goes down with cramp it’s been a stressful evening!
“Sore bodies, lads were cramping, it’s just a sign of the conditioning of both teams. Just knowing our set up and knowing what the lads have done with it, the conditioning side and the medical side, you couldn’t speak highly enough of them to drag the bodies through 90 minutes of an All-Ireland semi-final.”