THE pain of losing an All-Ireland final was still fresh, but O’Loughlin Gaels coach Andy Comerford pulled no punches when asked where it all went wrong.
“If someone had come in to watch that game and left after 20 minutes, they’d wonder how O’Loughlin’s lost that match by that much when they saw the final score,” he said. “But, funny things happen up here (Croke Park) – I know that myself.
“When you get chances you have to take them. You can’t come into an All-Ireland final, throw away wide after wide as we did in the first half and expect to win. At the crucial time pressure will come on teams up here and it did – that’s what happened.”
The former Kilkenny All-Ireland winning captain knew O’Loughlin’s had started well, but didn’t grab every opportunity that came their way.
“Fifteen minutes before half-time we were eight points to three up,” he said. “We had more opportunities to score three or four more handy points, shots that went wide by no more than a metre, but they were chances you have to take.
“The flip side of that is instead of going in six points up at half-time we went in level. That gave great momentum to the Clarinbridge lads – when they went in they were able to say to their players, ‘listen lads we only played for ten minutes, but we’re level’. It gave them the momentum coming out for the second half.
“Our lads were dead at half-time,” Comerford admitted. “You’re looking at a scoreboard where you’re three, four, five, six points up and then all of a sudden you’re coming out for the second half all square and they get the first three scores. Psychologically it’s a bit of a downer, but we were beaten well in the end. We were beaten in a lot of positions – it was very disappointing.”
It was a frustrating end to an afternoon which started so brightly for O’Loughlin’s, who came out and did all the hurling from throw-in.
“There’s no doubt about it but we had all the momentum early on in the first half,” he said. “We seemed to be going really well, and had Clarinbridge in all sorts of trouble; a goal at that stage could have been a crucial score for us, but they got it.
“Going in at half-time level, when they only hurled for about ten minutes, was a great position to be in,” he added. “We, on the other hand, had the boys inside. They had manufactured their lead, gone five points up, but having seen it all get blown away was hard. It was tough to lift them up.
“We said if we could get the first score, get into that rhythm again we might have a chance of pressing on, but Clarinbridge got the first three scores of the half. The lads felt we could rebuild, but unfortunately it just didn’t happen that way for us. They (Clarinbridge) got the first crucial scores of the second half, and it proved hard for us to pick it up from there.”
It was a tough defeat to take, but Comerford could still pick out some positives for his club.
“To get into this position was an unbelievable achievement,” he said. “It has surpassed any aspirations we had at the beginning of the year. Credit to the boys, the players and everyone in the club who came up to support us, it was fantastic.
“I know the lads are disappointed, but they’ll build on that. There are young players coming through, and it’s big days like this which will bring them on a ton when it comes to the local championship later this year.
“It’s fierce disappointing, but you have good days and bad days – when you win them you have to celebrate. When you lose, unfortunately it’s the flip side of that. That’s what happened today.”
Given that Clarinbridge had lost their first final (2002), perhaps O’Loughlin’s could use that as a spur to go one step further in the future?
“Time is a great healer, but that’s another day’s work,” said Comerford. “All we can do now is congratulate Clarinbridge, and congratulate O’Loughlin’s too. In fairness to all our hurlers when we played Ballyhale we were faced with being knocked out of the championship, but then came back to win both the county and the Leinster finals against all the odds.
“The pressure was piled on to the lads, making them favourites for the All-Ireland final. We thought we had the better team, but it was just that one lapse in concentration before half-time which really cost us,” he added. “Do that, and you pay the price.”