THERE may be a tendency in the GAA to liberally bestow classic status on games, but the rush to throw garlands on this All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final is wholly justified.
The impressive scoring totals do little to convey the sense of excitement and drama that we witnessed in Semple Stadium on Saturday. Over 82 minutes Clarinbridge and De La Salle churned out 53 scores but it was the tingle of excitement that ran like a current through this game of racing emotions that set it apart.
The finale summed it all up. Waterford and Munster champions De La Salle looked to have applied the grace notes to their victory when the talisman John Mullane and substitute Lee Hayes popped up with the points to nudge them into a 1-27 to 2-22 lead. Then twice Clarinbridge rained hopeful high balls into the De La Salle goalmouth and twice the Waterford men steadfastly held firm. Referee James McGrath permitted one last attack and Paul Coen launched a delivery forward where it dropped from a crowd of players to where Clarinbridge star Alan Kerins was lurking.
“I just took that ball down and went forward”, recalled Kerins afterwards. “I had it in my head all week that if we were stuck late on and needed a goal, I’d just try to put a dip on any shot I might have. Thankfully someone managed to tap it into the net. Actually who got it by the way?”
The scorer was midfielder Eanna Murphy who batted to the net after Kerins drive flew off the hurley of De La Salle full-back Ian Flynn. Kerins’ confusion summed up the shock that reverberated around the stadium as the outcome was digested. Clarinbridge boss Micheal Donoghue shook his head afterwards and attempted to absorb the reality that they had won a game he believed to be dead.
“It was two minutes into injury-time and of course you start to think it’s gone. But it was unbelievable all through the way it ebbed and flowed. The lads have shown great resolve throughout the championship. They kept plugging away again and when the opportunity presented itself, Eanna was there.”
This was a savage defeat for De La Salle. The memories of their All-Ireland final capitulation two years ago fuelled their drive this season and they played some terrific hurling here. Centre-back Kevin Moran was a colossus all through and up front John Mullane provided typical inspiration with an 0-11 point haul. Yet they were not just reliant on their stars. Stephen Daniels, Dean Twomey and Jake Dillon were the figureheads in helping them overcome an 0-11 to 0-8 half-time deficit. Brian Phelan showed a glacial nerve to nail the injury-time free that rescued a draw. And then substitute Eoin Madigan looked to be the hero in extra-time as he chipped in with 1-3. They did so many things right and shone in so many sectors, yet departed without any reward. Amidst the giddy chaos that ensued in their post-match celebrations, Clarinbridge spared a thought for their Waterford counterparts.
“Poor old John Mullane out there, he’s one of the greatest players of our generation,” stated Kerins. “I know him well and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a great exponent of the game and I’d love to see him win an All-Ireland. Unfortunately he was in our way and we’d to deny him. A lot of those guys like Brian Phelan and Kevin Moran were awesome out there. Hopefully they’ll get one someday.”
Clarinbridge will get their shot at glory now on St Patrick’s Day. Their mix of shrewd experience and burgeoning youthful talents proved pivotal on Saturday. The Kerins brothers lead the way in the scoring stakes with Alan firing 0-6 and Mark claiming 2-5. Mark had been stricken with a virus in the build-up to the match but he was still immense. He crashed a 20-yard free to the net in the 61st minute to haul Clarinbridge back into contention and smashed home his second goal from a penalty in the 66th minute. Those marquee names were aided and abetted by the sterling defensive play of centre-back David Forde and wing-back Michael Donoghue, the dynamism of midfielder Barry Daly and the class of corner-forward Eoin Forde who clipped over five marvellous points.
But ultimately it was an unstinting refusal to cave, a trait they have displayed all season, which saved Clarinbridge. Nine years ago they lost out in the showpiece against Birr and it has been their misfortune to collide against great Galway teams in the interim. Now they have a fine chance to succeed.
“To be honest I never thought I’d see a Galway title again, such was the dominance of the likes of Portumna and Athenry”, remarked Kerins. “They dominated club hurling in Ireland, never mind just in Galway. To nick a county title was great, but to get an All-Ireland one now as well would be super. I’d retire happily on Paddy’s Day then.”
Scorers for Clarinbridge: M Kerins 2-5 (1-4f, 1-0 pen); A Kerins 0-6; E Forde 0-5; E Murphy 1-0; P Coen 0-2; S Forde, S Burke, B Daly, D Forde 0-1 each.
Scorers for De La Salle: J Mullane 0-11 (0-6f); E Madigan 1-3; J Dillon, B Phelan (0-2f, 0-1 ‘65) 0-3 each; D Twomey, J Keane 0-2 each; P Nevin, K Moran, L Hayes 0-1 each.
CLARINBRIDGE: L Donoghue; C Forde, B Burke, P Callanan; J Cannon, D Forde, M Donoghue; B Daly, E Murphy; S Burke, M Kerins, S Forde; E Forde, A Kerins, P Coen.
Sub: A Armstrong for S Forde (58).
DE LA SALLE: S Brenner; D Russell, I Flynn, M Doherty; B Phelan, K Moran, S Daniels; C Watt, D Twomey; P Nevin, D Greene, J Mullane; J Keane, E Barrett, J Dillon.
Subs: E Madigan for Watt (35), L Hayes for Twomey (70), Twomey for Dillon (78).
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).
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