Clare’s young guns fire first warning shot for 2015

They haven’t gone away, you know. Clare’s exit from the senior championship may have been premature, but the county’s younger band of hurlers did not lie down after that disappointment and ended the year in spectacular fashion on Saturday night. 

Clare’s young guns fire first warning shot for 2015

This victory, however, not only ensured at least one All-Ireland title was retained, it saw the first warning shot fired for 2015.

The saffron and blue juggernaut rolls on. Take note.

And what a spectacle it was to see the thousands of Clare supporters streaming onto the pitch at the final whistle, that almighty roar when Tony Kelly hoisted the Cross of Cashel into the air.

The U21 final proved yet another marvellous occasion for hurling, fantastic colour, a fantastic atmosphere and a real absorbing battle. Sure, it didn’t reach the dizzying heights of last Sunday week’s senior classic, but you could not complain about the quality of fare here. Five goals, an exhibition of hurling from Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin, with every other player giving their utmost.

The difference over the hour? Clare’s big-name players stood up to the mark imperiously.

Tony Kelly’s first-half performance spelt disaster for Wexford, with the centre-forward hitting six points from play. If the opening half belonged to Kelly, then the second period was owned by Colm Galvin. The midfielder split the posts on four occasions. The two, put simply, were untouchable.

As I have often wrote, the danger for young hurlers playing at senior level is the tremendous pressure burdened on their shoulders when dropping down to U21. We expected. They delivered.

The movement of Kelly and Galvin covered the admission fee alone. Positions do not mean anything to these two men. They have been given the freedom by Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor to roam wherever they see fit and given the level of intelligence with which they operate, is it little wonder they tallied a combined 11 points.

Indeed, positions mean very little to this Clare team as a whole. How many times did we see Jamie Shanahan foraging across the Wexford half-back line? Had he not number seven on his back? Shanahan’s first-half point typified the confidence of this team. The management’s faith in these players is such that they themselves dictate where they play, where they operate.

The contest’s opening goal summed up the difference between the two sides. A green flag should have been raised at the Wexford end. Gary Moore hit the crossbar, Conor McDonald saw his rebound blocked. Clare swept down the field. Galvin to Shane O’Donnell to David Reidy. Goal. That simple.

Wexford heads should not be hanging this morning. They contributed to an immense battle and can take but positives from the game. Liam Ryan, Aidan Nolan, Garry Moore and Conor McDonald were superb. McDonald is a special talent, causing Jack Browne the world of trouble. They will yet be a force.

Three questions for JJ Doyle and his management: Why wasn’t Jack Guiney moved into a central role, so as to bring him more into proceedings? Leaving him on the wing was a mistake. Why wasn’t David Dunne started from the off? He finished as their top scorer from open play. And why was Eoin Conroy left on Tony Kelly for the hour? It was clear by half-time he was in trouble.

So, with a third consecutive U21 title secure, where do Clare go from here? Over the next couple of weeks, they will be clapped on the back, complimented and praised wherever they go.

Let them learn not to lose the run of themselves, to keep their feet firmly on the ground. The real test for these players is what they deliver next.

Minor and U21 All-Ireland titles are quickly forgotten, it is senior glory that defines a hurler. Clare have already achieved said feat, but are capable of more than one Liam MacCarthy Cup triumph. This is the best group of players ever to emerge from Clare and they must now go on to consistently deliver at senior level. That is the arena where it really matters. They must be hungry for further glory. They must model themselves on Kilkenny, who never get fed up of winning.

More in this section