Back in ‘God’s’ hands now

Midway through the first half of the minor match a dark-haired young lady materialised in the press box, instantly standing out from the people in the vicinity by virtue of being both female and attractive.

Back in ‘God’s’ hands now

She wore jeans, heels and a white T-shirt.

The slogan on the back of the T-shirt?

“JBM is God.”

That pretty much summed it up. Allegiance not to a Cork player or even to the county itself but to the man in the bainisteoir’s bib.

The manager as the county, not merely representing it but incarnating it. And not any oul’ manager either. Jimmy Barry-Murphy, the man who sits at Ring’s right hand.

We deplore, or at any rate affect to deplore, the cult of the manager in modern Gaelic games. Yet rarely has there been a hurling final viewed so much through the prism of the respective bosses.

On a practical level that was easily understandable. This Clare team is far too callow to possess an identity of its own over and above the general shorthand of “young and promising”, or to be full of instantly recognisable characters like Dalo and Jamesie and Ollie Baker and Brian Lohan.

Sometimes there’s no option but to use the manager as a hook on which to hang his team.

So, although they may not have been his players to the extent that many of them came to prominence on All-Ireland-winning U21 teams managed by others, this was Davy Fitz’s team playing Davy Fitz’s system.

Ditto with Cork, who had lost too many of the old guard of the mid-Noughties for the newbies to be recognisable outside the confines of their own clubs.

Thus for easy reference they were not Cork but Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s Cork.

As if 30 All-Irelands and 123 years of success weren’t enough, the wearers of the blood and bandages came sprinkled with the very special fairy dust of the modest man from Glasheen.

After yesterday’s encounter we can flesh things out a little more. Clare are no longer young and promising; they’ve arrived.

Davy produced the better — by a mile — team on the day, all style and swagger and verve and limpid first touch and points with wings. Imagine hitting 25 points, all white flags, in an All-Ireland final and not winning. Incredible.

It was very nearly worse than that for them, of course, very nearly the heist of the century. For the past 40 years, ever since he terrorised the Galway defence as a crewcut teenager in the 1973 All-Ireland football final, it’s been apparent JBM was born under a lucky star. After Pat Horgan put Cork 3-16 to 0-24 ahead in the last minute of normal time yesterday it looked like we had underestimated quite how lucky a star it was.

But Brian Gavin extended the quality of mercy to Clare in injury time, Domhnall O’Donovan became the hero of the moment with the levelling point and some sort of justice was done.

And then Gavin at last blew the long whistle to put an end to what was a more enjoyable game than last year’s Kilkenny/Galway draw without being remotely related to a classic.

For a classic, both teams have to play well. Yesterday only one team played well. JBM won’t need to be told that.

A couple of statistics relate some of the tale. With 34 minutes gone, five of the Clare forwards had scored from play; only one of the Cork forwards had. And when with 53 minutes gone Horgan hit his side’s second wide it was an illustration not of the favourites’ accuracy but of their dearth of possession. They’d driven only two wides because they hadn’t had enough ball to drive any more than that.

Five points down five minutes from half-time and in danger of becoming seriously detached.

Five points down midway through the second half and in danger of falling off the pace altogether.

What kept them in it? Their very Corkness. Kept them at it and kept them in it.

The sheer tenacity of his boys is one of the two obvious positives JBM can take from the game. The other is the near-certainty that they cannot hurl as badly again in the replay.

Not that his opposite number has any reason to belabour himself. The sole mild criticism that can be aimed at Clare is that they failed to threaten Anthony Nash’s goal often enough. Then again, why get worked up about the lack of goalscoring chances if you’re keeping the scoreboard ticking over as merrily as the underdogs were? Davy can award himself further brownie points for his tactical battleplan. Instead of starting with a spare defender, as forecast by the world and his mother, Clare lined out in conventional array, with Pat Donnellan in front of centre-back Conor Ryan instead of mopping up behind him. One would love to discover how many carefully laid Cork plans were shredded by that particular little wheeze.

Jimmy wasn’t slow about throwing on his subs and he was right not to be, though one imagines he would accept the introduction of Cian McCarthy misfired — a move he wasn’t too proud to rectify.

By a not dissimilar token, Davy was slow about throwing on his subs and he was right to be. If it ain’t broke, etc.

Whose team played better? Davy’s. Whose team deserved to win? Davy’s. Who was the happier manager last night? Surely Jimmy.

And which of them will know his team can play better — have to play better, indeed — on September 28?

Easy. The pendulum has swung towards Cork. Towards Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s Cork.

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