Conlon basks in Clare’s glory

THE GAA’s pleas to supporters to stay off the Croke Park pitch fell on deaf ears once again on Sunday after Clare’s emotional victory over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland U21 hurling final.

The authorities’ stance on health and safety grounds is understandable but so too is the desire of the fans to celebrate, to share their joy with the heroes.

The players enjoy this experience too and it is every youngster’s dream to look down at the throngs from the Hogan Stand steps.

The outpouring of unbridled revelry brought back memories for many of the days when the Banner won senior All-Irelands in 1995 and 1997.

Clare centre-forward John Conlon was present and correct 12 years ago, and he recalls being prevented from joining in the celebrations out on the field. The disappointment was crushing for a star-struck nine-year-old but then he wasn’t to know he would eventually get his chance.

“It was magnificent” said Conlon. “I can’t explain it. It’s a dream come true. We don’t get to All-Irelands that often in Clare so to finally win one and see the sea of people out there – I couldn’t get over it.

“I was here in ’97 and disappointingly I wasn’t allowed out onto the field after the match. Someone pulled me back. I thought I wouldn’t get up for the presentation (this time), there were so many people on the field.”

While Clare had begun well and led by two points at half time, when Kilkenny went two clear in the second half, it looked like a brave effort at making history would be in vain.

But unlike so many, John Minogue’s crew were not about to yield to the black and amber juggernaut.

Donal Tuohy saved from Richie Hogan, Cormac O’Donovan pointed the winner from midfield, and Cian Dillon and Eamon Glynn denied John Joe Farrell a goal opportunity at the death. Nothing new for this group, Conlon reminds us.

“We have been through this all year. The belief in this team is unbelievable. It’s like a good club team and you don’t seem to see that so much with Clare lately. Last year drove us on for this year and it bonded us. We go out together and socialise, everyone gets on like a house of fire.

“There’s great belief. Darach Honan is our main scorer every day. (Kilkenny) held him down, but other lads popped up.

“(In the backs), Ciaran O’Doherty came out with one ball he shouldn’t have come out with and Cian Dillon was catching ball out of the sky that I never saw him catch! All the half-back line – it was a team effort.”

It was no accident that “last year” was mentioned by Conlon. The controversy of the Munster final wasn’t referred to in the build-up, but it remained a motivational source.

On that occasion, a close-in free was awarded to Clare with the sides level and time almost up, only for the decision to be reversed and a 65 to be awarded to Tipperary which was pointed.

“It wasn’t said, but deep down the eight or nine of us from last year, it did drive us on. It was heartbreaking. We were going for our first one.”

They got it this year and made the best of their opportunity. And Conlon has plenty of plaudits for Minogue and the rest of the management team.

“They’re a great group and we wanted to win for them. Every one of them brings something to it. It’s a happy group, like a happy family.”

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