At the finish, Michael Ryan and his three selectors stayed on the sideline where they had stood all day, heads bowed, surveying the death of a season.
Well-wishers filed by to offer condolence. Respectful handshakes. A hug. Not quite house private. Youngsters offered hurleys and they were signed, but it seemed a bit much.
Long ago, Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor had embraced before melting into the throng of Banner jubilation. Wrapped in the warmth of their people and a certain kind of deliverance.
When they emerged, ashen faced, sucked of all energy, there was only relief etched on their faces.
“You’re judged, it’s an absolute dog eat dog, inter-county environment,” O’Connor said. “If you don’t feel pressure in this job, then you’re not doing it right because there is phenomenal expectation from the Clare supporters and ourselves and we deliberately put pressure on the players and ourselves.”
Around him, under the Kinnane Stand, backroom teams already had laptops out.
Downloading some logic to explain it.
After four weeks of going to the bottom of every well in Munster, did it all come down to the width of a post? Did two summers simply diverge in the 18 seconds between Jake Morris hitting the post and Ian Galvin rattling the net?
Or did something more fundamental and visceral emerge in the minutes after that slice of Banner fortune?
“Basically what we’ve been doing for the past six months is, we’ve been actually asking these guys why they’re doing this. The players have gone away and reflected what it means to play for Clare,” Gerry O’Connor said.
“We pulled it out of the fire because for the whole 75-80 minutes that we were out there on the field, we never let up. The character and the actual skillsets and the stamina and the mentality and physicality of our team was tested to the absolute limit.
“I’ve got to really add the crowd, our supporters, who we appealed to all week to come down and support us were phenomenal in how they supported the team.”
“Hearing the Banner roar really helped us,” offered Peter Duggan, who had drawn two of those guttural booms in that seminal closing spell.
The roars had subsided to a contented hum as they lingered for an hour on the field after, savouring a first win here in 90 years, a win that keeps them alive.
Back under the stand, the shop-fronts told the other side of the story. “Huge reductions, clearance sale on selected Tipperary items.”
The sign had been there all day, in fairness, not shouting local confidence. They feared a long summer trying to shift pens and keyrings and teddy bears.
Still, there had been ominous signs for Clare too in the chat leaking around the bowels of the stadium beforehand.
“Limerick, next week. Well?”
As Ger Loughnane almost said, death concentrates the mind better than another stay of execution.
Before the off, O’Connor had put all that loose talk of life and death in perspective and urged his players to lift a county battered by tragedy in recent weeks. And he vowed Clare were treating this as a last-chance saloon.
Maybe weary Tipp couldn’t have handled another scorching day, but protective cloud wrapped Thurles and they roared into this with the adrenaline of the condemned.
John McGrath’s surge through the middle pumped the first surge of ‘Tipp Tipp Tipp’ around the arena. Jason Forde snapped a beauty. Billy McCarthy was at scene of every mugging.
Seamus Callanan was slow to a ball but hooked Patrick O’Connor from behind, earning the kind of roar he often had to bury a screamer to warrant.
Tipp had reached a pitch they hadn’t managed yet this year. “We got to a performance level that anyone would be happy with. But so too did Clare,” Ryan said.
Not yet Clare hadn’t. When McCarthy’s goal flew in, it looked fair reward for his personal endeavour and Tipp’s overall dominance.
Clare’s radar, Tony Kelly’s radar, was off. PM O’Sullivan’s A-Team line came to mind.
“A ferocious amount of shooting but mystifyingly little damage.”
Tipp looked bulletproof.
If anything, the trademark Thurles HawkEye delays were bringing Clare respite. At one stage, the flagging system apologetically promised it was reloading.
“Drive it, drive it,” pleaded the Clare faithful, wanting John Conlon more involved. If this didn’t improve there would be judgment alright.
“They were going like a train and we were hanging onto their coat-tails for much of that first quarter and we couldn’t seem to do anything right,” said Maloney.
Ryan punched the air at a catch and clearance from Sean O’Brien before Tipp showed off a necklace with their old trademark embossed on it. A Brendan Maher surge, into Bonner, Callanan released to swivel.
Yet Hawkeye rescued Clare and did Tipp quite produce a passage as near-perfect thereafter?
Clare rallied, as if word of Waterford’s demise in Limerick had filtered through, concentrating minds. Kelly finally nailed a couple and Podge Collins found himself on the field before half-time. Soon Podge Collins had found himself again.
Tipp looked to be in reverse and only led by four at the break. Had they any hope of gluing two strong halves together for the first time this summer?
Early in the second half, Patrick O’Connor was done for charging and Clare wrapped Paud O’Dwyer in an indignant cordon reminiscent of Keano and company in their pomp.
It all served to underline what this meant to them, it was worth the yards penalised.
A familiar Paudie Maher missile smelt of Tipp reasserting themselves, but it was answered in kind by a less familiar dispatch from Jack Browne.
Podge had a point confirmed by HawkEye, which seemingly had rebooted, much like Clare.
It wasn’t perfect but Conlon was more involved, Tipp were fouling and Duggan was punishing.
Maybe Tipp had weathered the storm with Callanan’s block for Bonner’s score. Or when the first real snap of Seamie’s wrists this year made it five up again.
But Clare were in touch when the sliding doors moment arrived. The idea of asking a 19-year- old to influence this cauldron seemed outrageous but there Morris was, collecting from Cathal Barrett and shaping to finish things.
Instead, 18 seconds later, at the other end, Galvin struck, Gerry O’Connor’s “assassin”.
Tipp weren’t dead, though Brendan Maher’s limp ashore was a further bitter blow.
Noel McGrath nudged them back in front but five added minutes on top of four weeks of digging deep and soul-searching looked a lot to ask.
So Collins and Duggan hit the winners and Ger Loughnane spoke afterwards of driving back through Toomevara and Nenagh to remind them their old neighbours had risen again.
But the emotion pouring out of Patrick O’Connor in his embrace with Callanan — captured beautifully by Ray McManus — told this story better.
This wasn’t about Clare’s rivalries, or old scores, it was finding something deep in themselves again and answering their own people who wondered if they really had the stomach for it.
Ryan deflated, derailed, had more to reflect on than a slow summer of retail at Lar na Pairce.
“We’ve been hit by a train. It’s going to be a long summer. We won’t know what to do with ourselves.
“What will bother us and keep us awake at night is that level of performance which was elusive..we found it today but we didn’t get anything out of the game. If we had found that level of performance (other days) we may have taken something out of this championship.” He wondered had they given too much to the league, should they have as fair to the clubs during April. And he will have plenty of time to wonder.
For O’Connor, judgment day had shown everyone the team he’d seen all along.
“That’s the real beauty of today, when it really mattered, we showed our character and we delivered on the ability that we know is deep within this team on a regular basis.”
Championship goes down to wire
The top three teams in Munster — Limerick, Clare, Cork — have secured their 2018 All-Ireland SHC futures with the provincial final pairing up for grabs. Tipperary and Waterford, who each had to play four games in 21 days, exit the competition.
A win or a draw for current table-toppers Limerick (five points) in Ennis on Sunday and they will be Munster finalists.
However, Clare (four points) could take their spot should they win at home and Cork (four points) defeat Waterford, who have nothing now to fight for other than avoiding a bottom position of no consequence, in Thurles. Clare and Limerick will face off twice in the space of two weeks should Cork lose to Waterford and Clare win or draw in Ennis. Should Clare and Cork finish on the same points, Cork will progress, having beaten the Banner in the opening round in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
- John Fogarty
As much as Brian Cody and Davy Fitzgerald found fault with the scheduling of the new hurling championship after Saturday’s game, and have done so on several occasions, there was an acknowledgement from the pair that it has its charms. Cody mentioned that county players “love” having so many games, while the Wexford manager testified to his own grá for the round-robin system. Cody again made his point about the impact it is having on clubs. Nobody expects the structure of the new SHC format to change dramatically but little tweaks could go along way to finding a happy medium. The schedule could be altered (three weeks is too long a break to the Leinster final) or extended by a week so that all counties in the province could be afforded a two-week gap between games - or even have the chance to arrange club championship matches.
- John Fogarty
What is it about Meath and glorious qualifier defeats to northern opposition? Saturday’s defeat was their third to Tyrone in six seasons in the qualifiers and their sixth in a row to Ulster teams. They’ve had two one-point and two two-point defeats in that time, indicating that they always go down fighting. It also indicates that Meath can’t pull a result out of the fire like they were once famous for and it remains to be seen if Saturday’s gutsy loss is enough to keep Andy McEntee in the job. Various Meath players walked away over the last 12 months or so and a review of McEntee’s two years in charge is expected. He choked back tears in the post-match interview on Saturday evening having stated after his appointment in August of 2016 that, ‘This is the ultimate management job in Meath and I’m a Meath man.’
- Paul Keane
Yesterday there was a vocal following for the men in green and white in the Gaelic Grounds. It was no surprise they were louder than the Waterford fan base, which traditionally dislikes travelling to Limerick, and they were hugely in the majority in the attendance of 23,194.
They were also well represented in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at the previous game, against Cork, and the gathering bandwagon is not just a huge plus for John Kiely’s team, but for hurling as a whole. Limerick — and Wexford — have long been placed in the ‘sleeping giant’ category in terms of hurling, and decent runs in this year’s championship will add considerably to the pageantry involved.
- Michael Moynihan
If Dublin’s annihilation of Longford did nothing else it offered us a glimpse of life PC: Post Cluxton. Dublin’s longest-serving player, and captain, hobbled off after a huge, and frankly bizarre, late challenge from James McGivney who was correctly red carded. Evan Comerford’s very first offering was an unconvincing punch that only half cleared Robbie Smyth’s high ball in from a sideline. It resulted in Diarmuid Masterson also scoring a goal. The Ballymun man, who dropped a clanger in last year’s O’Byrne Cup against Wexford, hardly put a foot wrong from there on. He’s seen as Cluxton’s heir, though the Parnells man doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time so
- Paul Keane
Rory Gallagher, as Donegal manager, was an Ulster final loser in both 2015 and 2016 and will in two weeks’ time try to take his native Fermanagh to a first ever Anglo-Celt Cup. Gallagher was also part of the Donegal backroom team for their Ulster title wins of 2011 and 2012 under Jim McGuinness.
The style of football for this year’s final will be in stark contrast, with Gallagher’s Fermanagh very defensively-minded and Declan Bonner’s Donegal will prioritise attack.
- Alan Foley
PaperTalk GAA Podcast: Clare's deliverance but what now for Tipp and Waterford?
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