Banner boys turn eyes to senior glory

Clare 2-20 Wexford 3-11
Cusack Park, 2008. Thousands of Clare supporters pour on to the Ennis field.

The county’s U21 hurlers, bidding to annex a first provincial crown, had won a 20m free which would have secured them the Munster title after 12 failed final attempts. The free was never struck. Referee Jason O’Mahony was notified by his umpire that Clare goalkeeper Donal Tuohy had stepped outside the square for the previous puck-out. A 65 was awarded to Tipperary. Pa Bourke converted to swing the verdict in their favour.

Mayhem ensued and a garda escort was required to bring O’Mahony safely from the pitch.

Semple Stadium, 2014.Saffron and blue-clad fans spill inside the whitewash in their thousands.

Tony Kelly hoists the Cross of Cashel into the evening air. The subsequent roar deafening.

With every revolution, there is always a first shot fired. For Clare, it was the 2008 Munster final. Amid all the controversy, a journey began that evening. The destination was reached on Saturday night. A third consecutive All-Ireland U21 crown achieved, the county’s fourth in six years.

“After that night in Ennis people said was it never going to happen,” reflected joint-manager Donal Moloney. “The U21 was the last holy grail that Clare hurling needed to reach. We didn’t know if it was ever going to happen.”

Central to this latest victory was the most distinguished member of the Clare quintet never to have lost a championship match at U21 level in three years. Athletic, pacy, beautiful skill, intelligent, ever accurate and never selfish. Tony Kelly has it all in hurling terms. He showed it all in Thurles.

The captain contributed seven points from play, six of which arrived during a flawless first-half showing from the 2013 Hurler of the Year.

“It was a nice way to sign off to win your last underage match, but to win it in an All-Ireland final in Thurles and to do the three-in-a row is special,” he said. “Everyplayer will tell you once the first few go over you get a bit of confidence up and everything you strike after that seems to go over. It was just one of those nights. I suppose when things are going well, they are going well.”

So how does it compare to last September? “I suppose it’s a bit extra special. Since the start of the year we were going on about how we had unfinished business since 2011 when we lost the All-Ireland minor semi-final to Galway. That’s done now.”

Kelly’s senior colleague Colm Galvin was another to shoot the lights out in Thurles, finishing with four points. The pair registered the three final white flags of the contest, included in that two absolute gems from Galvin, to seal victory for the Banner.

The flurry of scores, once and for all, killed the Wexford resurgence, a comeback effort tapered by two David Dunne goals. Seven minutes into the second period, corner-forward Aaron Cunningham finished to the net a sweeping move involving Jamie Shanahan and Bobby Duggan. Galvin split the posts subsequently and all of a sudden the favourites were 2-11 to 0-9 clear.

Clare’s opening major of the contest arrived midway through the first half, stemming from a Gary Moore strike which cannoned off Keith Hogan’s crossbar. Galvin launched possession down the other end and a searing Shane O’Donnell run ended with David Reidy flicking to the net — 1-8 to 0-6 the interval difference.

The signs were now ominous for Wexford and when Jack Brown repelled Jack Guiney’s penalty effort, the road back for JJ Doyle’s charges looked bleak. On 44 minutes, however, they engineered a lifeline. Guiney put through David Cash, the substitute dropping possession at the vital moment. Fellow substitute David Dunne broke through, snapped up the sliotar and beat Hogan.

You’d have said game on here, but this Clare team are a cut above and rattled off four unanswered points to move nine clear — Bobby Duggan (0-3, two frees) and Kelly the providers.

Crucial too was the decision of Guiney not to convert a run-of-the-mill free directly after Dunne’s green flag. The half-forward sprayed possession to the unmarked Conor McDonald, who saw his goal attempt blocked.

In any event, Dunne’s second major closed the deficit and the Wexford supporters hit full voice when lively full-forward Conor McDonald fetched Liam Ryan’s delivery over Browne and buried. A Guiney free meant the gap was down to three (2-17 to 3-11). But that is when Clare dug deep again, finishing like athoroughbred.

So, what now for this Clare group — 14 of the panel overage for 2015? “There is no point winning underage if you are not going to progress onto senior. That’s the bottom line,” asserted Kelly.

“Look, its lovely winning minors and U21s, but you need to progress onto senior level and build a team that wins All-Irelands at senior like Kilkenny have done. That’s something we will be striving to do over the next few years.”

Scorers for Clare: T Kelly 0-7; A Cunningham 1-2; B Duggan (3f), C Galvin 0-4 each; D Reidy 1-1; G O’Connell, J Shanahan 0-1 each.

Scorers for Wexford: J Guiney 0-7 (6f, 1 65); D Dunne 2-0; C McDonald 1-1; G Moore 0-2; C Devitt 0-1.

CLARE: K Hogan (Clooney Quin); J Colleran (St Joseph’s Doora Barefield), J Browne (Ballyea), S Morey (Sixmilebridge); G O’Connell (Ballyea), C Cleary (Kilmaley), J Shanahan (Sixmilebridge); C Galvin (Clonlara), E Enright (Kilmaley); B Duggan (Clarecastle), T Kelly (Ballyea), P Duggan (Clooney Quin); S O’Donnell (Éire Óg), A Cunningham (Wolfe Tones), D Reidy (Éire Óg).

Subs: C O’Connell (Clonlara) for G O’Connell (48 mins), A O’Neill (St Joseph’s Doora Barefield) for O’Donnell (55), S O’Brien (Clonlara) for Colleran (60).

WEXFORD: O O’Leary (Buffers Alley); A Kenny (Buffers Alley), Kenny (Rapparees), E Conroy (Naomh Éanna); J White (Oylegate-Glenbrien), S O’Gorman (Adamstown), J O’Connor (St Martin’s); A Nolan (Half Way House Bunclody), C Devitt (Ballyfad); J Guiney (Rathnure), G Moore (Glynn-Barntown), PP Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn); R Clarke (Faythe Harriers), C McDonald (Naomh Éanna), K Foley (Rapparees).

Subs: D Dunne (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy) for O’Connor (35 mins), J Cash (Shelmaliers) for White (42), C O’Leary (Oulart-The Ballagh) for Moore (52), P Sutton (Oulart-The Ballagh) for Cash (58).

Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).



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