The Clare supporters, who were very much in the majority in a crowd of 12,995, rose to acclaim their U21 hurlers on the half-time whistle; this contest all but done and dusted with the home outfit ahead by 1-15 to 0-5.
Little over half an hour later they poured onto the turf of Cusack Park, the county’s young heroes carried aloft as they celebrated a third consecutive Munster title.
Heading out the gates close to 10pm, Shane O’Donnell and Tony Kelly were still signing autographs in front of the main stand. You’d hardly think it given the riches which befell the county in 2013, but this was a victory Clare hurling desperately craved.
It has been a testing summer for the Banner, their defence of the Liam MacCarthy Cup ending without a single championship win. Five days on from the senior exit it was left to the U21s to pick up the pieces, a task they just about managed with an extra-time victory over Tipperary.
Last night though, was a return to normality — Shane O’Donnell raising the green flag on 21 minutes, Tony Kelly orchestrating the attacking strings to devastating effect and Colm Galvin doing likewise at midfield. If there was one overriding message emanating from Cusack Park it was that this talented crop of young hurlers haven’t gone away. Their graph continues to soar.
“To captain a Clare side is a fantastic honour, but to captain a three-in-a-row-winning one is something special,” said Tony Kelly. “I would like to pay tribute particularly to the management of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor that put us on the road back in 2010.”
That was the summer this particular group announced themselves on hurling’s stage, the Munster minor title annexed, the All-Ireland crown just slipping through their fingers. Last night then was their fifth provincial crown on the hop (minor in 2010 and 2011, U21 2012-14). Indeed, the victory marked the county’s fourth U21 title in six seasons. For Cork, their wait for U21 silverware will extend to an eighth year.
And from early on in this encounter it was evident said barren spell was set to continue. Shane O’Donnell’s goal on 21 minutes, a most delightful flick after being put through by David Reidy, crowned a glorious opening period for the home side in which they established a 1-9 to 0-1 advantage. Seven wides were also tallied during this spell such was Clare’s dominance, while Patrick Collins was called into action to deny a rasping Aaron Cunningham effort on five minutes.
Cork again operated a sweeper system with corner-forward Robert O’Shea redeployed to midfield. It simply didn’t work. Colm Galvin and Eoin Enright, though outnumbered, ruled with an iron fist and the supply of ball trickling through to Alan Cadogan and Anthony Spillane was in no way to a forward’s liking. Encapsulating the pair’s frustrating evening was their combined tally of 1-0, Spillane kicking to the net on 40 minutes.
In any event, Clare had the contest wrapped up by the time Fergal Horgan sounded the interval whistle.
Half-forward Bobby Duggan was the toast of the opening act, splitting the posts on eight occasions. Indeed, his second point of the final whistle summed up perfectly the evening’s fare. A probing delivery was launched in Alan Cadogan’s direction, it was Seadna Morey, however, who emerged with possession. Cadogan swung the hurley in frustration while Clare moved the ball effortlessly up the field where Duggan scored from 65 metres.
Cork registered two points from open play in the first half, just two of their staring front six (Michael Collins and O’Shea) on the mark.
Matters didn’t improve for the Rebels at the turn of ends, Spillane’s goal on 40 minutes doing little to stem the saffron and blue tide. David Reidy’s point on 36 minutes ensured each of Clare’s starting forwards were on the board and they outscored Cork by 0-7 to 0-4 in the final quarter — substitutes Cathal O’Connell and Shane Gleeson getting in on the act.
Scorers for Clare: B Duggan (0-10, 0-5 frees, ’0-1 65); A Cunningham (0-4); G Galvin, T Kelly (0-1 ’65), D Reidy (0-3 each); S O’Donnell (1-0); S Gleeson, P Duggan (0-2 each); C O’Connel (0-1).
Scorers for Cork: R O’Shea (0-7, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ’65); M Collins (0-3), A Spillane (1-0); S O’Keefe, K McIntyre, M Sugrue (0-1)
Subs for Clare: S Gleeson (Cratloe) for B Duggan (40 mins), M O’Connor (Douglas) for A Spillane (51), C O’Connell (Cratloe) for O’Donnell (54) A O’Neill (St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield) (56), S McGrath (Feakle) for Enright (57), B Cleary (Sixmilebridge) for Colleran (58).
Subs for Cork: M Sugrue (Bandon) for Walsh (13 mins), K McIntyre (Carrigaline) for Cahalane (HT).
CLARE: K Hogan (Clooney-Quin); J Colleran (St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield), J Browne (Ballyea), S Morey (Sixmilebridge); J Shanahan (Sixmilebridge), C Cleary (Kilmaley), G O’Connell (Ballyea); E Enright (Kilmaley), C Galvin (Clonlara); B Duggan (Clarecastle), T Kelly (Ballyea); P Duggan (Clooney-Quin); A Cunningham (Wolfe Tones), S O’Donnell (Éire Óg), D Reidy (Éire Óg).
CORK: P Collins (Ballinhassig); S Murphy (Blackrock), C Barry (Castlelyons), C Buckley (Na Piarsaigh); K Kavanagh (Carrigaline), K Burke (Midleton), C Walsh (Midleton); D Brosnan (Brian Dillons), R Cahalane (Ballymartle); S O’Keeffe (Blackrock), C Spillane (Castlelyons), M Collins (Ballinhassig); A Spillane (Castlelyons), A Cadogan (Douglas), R O’Shea (Carrigaline).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).