Clare 2-17 Kildare 1-19: The joy was evident and there were plenty celebrations but perhaps the most notable aspect of this historic victory for Clare was the absence of delirium.
There might have been some commentary beforehand, suggesting that victory in a Division 3 League final at Croke Park might mean more to the Bannermen than their opponents but it is very clear from the reaction of management and players alike that this is only a step on the journey.
“It is a great feeling, it was a fantastic experience for us” Clare boss Colm Collins said. “We came back well. They had a great start, they went ahead. It looked like they were dominating, but we kept battling away. Bit by bit we came back.
“There was some excellent play and work from our lads. I’m very proud of them, I’m just absolutely delighted.” Then came the message to be heeded, in case not everyone was on board.
“They are a tremendous bunch of players. They work really hard, it is a lovely thing for all of them. We will have to get it out of our system so we can concentrate on Limerick in the first round of the Munster Championship.
“That is the important one.” He need not have worried. Already, inspirational captain Gary Brennan had downplayed any attempts to make this a watershed moment for the standing of football in the county. It was to be taken for what it was.
“I don’t know really. What it means is that this group has won a cup and that’s something we had never done before so it’s brilliant.
“It was hard to believe that it would happen with 15 minutes to go but there’s spirit in this group.
“We knew Louth had come back in the first game and we’d said that before the game. We kept fighting, we kept defending, and thank God we came out of it.”
Brennan had much to do with why that happened, helping turn around the initial midfield dominance enjoyed by Kildare.
That superiority helped feed young tyro Neil Flynn, the U21 talent who announced himself to the wider GAA world in stunning fashion in the opening quarter with a wonderful goal and some brilliant dead-ball striking as Kildare moved six points clear.
Once Brennan and Cathal O’Connor got the upperhand on Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick, that supply dried up, while it provided more ammunition for a hard-running forward division that had already been causing Kildare problems.
When the teams met in the last regulation game at the beginning of the month, Clare found oceans of space and were fouled far too often for Kildare manager Cian O’Neill’s liking. It was more of the same as David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary shot six points from frees.
Clare could have had four goals but in the end, they had to settle for one as Brennan gathered Keelan Sexton’s long ball and fed the onrushing Tubridy, who blasted beyond Mark Donnellan from close range.
That made it 1-10 to 1-9 in favour of Clare at the break.
The lead changed hands on numerous occasions in the second half and Kildare just had their noses in front, thanks largely to four points from Adam Tyrrell, two of which were excellent efforts from play.
Tyrrell had to leave the fray injured though and Feely was sent off for a second yellow card in the 59th minute.
Tommy Moolick was desperately unlucky to see his piledriver cannon off the crossbar six minutes from time but when Paul Cribbin sent over two booming points, it looked like Kildare would just get over the line.
That was to reckon without Brennan though, who made another brilliant catch and left a couple of defenders floundering, while also drawing Donnellan, before giving Dean Ryan the simplest task of palming to an empty goal.
It was level once more entering what would be an action-packed eight-minute period of injury time.
The teams exchanged points and Clare had Graham Kelly dismissed on a straight red card for a stamp on Fergal Conway.
Kildare lost Ryan Houlihan for a second yellow card and Cleary held his nerve to slot the winner in the 77th minute.
There was still time for Flynn to send us to extra-time but the unfortunate Maynooth man dragged his free wide.
Scorers for Clare:
D Tubridy (1-5, 0-5 frees); E Cleary 0-5 (4 frees); D Ryan (1-0); P Lillis, J Malone (0-2 each); E Coughlan, K Sexton, P Collins (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kildare:
N Flynn (1-6, 0-5 frees); A Tyrrell 0-6 (4 frees); P Cribbin, E O’Flaherty (0-2 each); F Conway, A Smith, T Moolick (0-1 each).
J Hayes, S Malone, K Harnett, M McMahon, S Collins, D Ryan, C O’Dea, G Brennan (c), C O’Connor, P Lillis, E Cleary, J Malone, D Tubridy, K Sexton, P Burke.
P Collins for S Malone (ht), S McGrath for Burke (54), E Coughlan for O’Dea (67), G Kelly for Sexton (68), J O’Dea for McMahon BC (70+7).
M Donnellan, O Lyons, C Fitzpatrick, D Hyland (c), R Houlihan, F Conway, J Byrne, T Moolick, K Feely, A Tyrrell, E O’Flaherty, P Cribbin, E Callaghan, A Smith, N Flynn.
C McNally for Callaghan (47), K Murnaghan for Tyrrell inj (54), E O’Connor for Smith (58), E Powderly for Fitzpatrick inj (70+1), Daryl Flynn for Moolick (70+6), E Bolton for Conway (70+7).
N Mooney (Cavan)
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