Clare joint-manager Donal Moloney has heaped praise on the character of his players who, he believes, have been unfairly criticised since claiming a shock All-Ireland title back in 2013.
The Banner went toe to toe with reigning champions Galway in an epic All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park on Saturday evening and even an extra 20 minutes of play failed to separate them when the last act played out.
The sides will now meet again in Thurles with a 2pm throw-in next Sunday and Moloney clearly felt that Clare, who were nine points down at one point in the first-half of normal time, answered a number of critics with the manner in which they responded in adversity.
“Our boys have taken a lot of criticism over the years, which we have always deemed very, very unfair. Even in Davy (Fitzgerald)’s time they were taking huge criticism because they are the most professional group of men I have ever seen. It is a privilege to be associated with them.”
Galway found their groove from the first whistle, and would have been out of sight had they not amassed a dozen wides in the first-half, but Clare still had a mountain to climb after such a poor first quarter and they did it in some style.
It made for what Moloney described as a “magnificent game of hurling”, yet another in a summer flush with them, and to think that it all looked so bleak for the Munster side as they struggled to find their footing on a first visit to Croke Park in five years.
“Even in the first quarter of an hour, Galway had terrific momentum and we knew they did that to Kilkenny in the Leinster final replay and we had planned for that and thought about it,” said Moloney.
The redeployment of Colm Galvin from midfield to the sweeper spot paid huge dividends for Clare who finally managed to staunch the bleeding while finally establishing a base from which to threaten a Galway defence that had been so comfortable at first.
Moloney paid credit to Aaron Shanagher whose goal in the second period of extra-time put Clare in front for the first time.
Aron Shanagher with his side's first goal of the game in extra-time. pic.twitter.com/2iusl5yKWC— The GAA (@officialgaa) July 28, 2018
The Wolfe Tones na Sionna clubman had originally been ruled out for 2018 having suffered a cruciate ligament injury late last year.
Introduced off the bench here for his first appearance of the season, he caught a long ball on the edge of the square before finding the net with an emphatic strike on the turn and yet Clare still required a last-gasp equalising point from Jason McCarthy to secure the replay.
It was a sensational score, goalkeeper Donal Tuohy belying the roars from the crowd to send the puck-out long and the ball instead passing through another four pairs of hands at close quarters before the substitute sent the sliotar over the bar.
“Yeah, it probably had shades of Domhnall O’Donovan in 2013, right? Yeah, they were about the only calm heads in the stadium, those boys, at that stage, in terms of how they built it one pass over the head and onto the next guy and the next guy. Jason doesn’t miss those.”
And so off to Thurles they go next Sunday. What a summer it has been.