CLARA have produced many a fine display in their time, but few if any compare with the excellence of this effort which will see the famous maroon and white colours flying in Croke Park later this month.
On a filthy, wet, cold and wind swept day in Portlaois no one had a right to expect much. Yet, two determined and skilful teams threw heart and soul into the battle and produced super fare in this All-Ireland club intermediate hurling championship semi-final on Sunday.
Clara beat Silvermines (Tipperary) by 0-19 to 1-14 after extra-time.
Some of the striking was right out of the top drawer. The effort all round on a heavy and slippery pitch was magnificent and sustained, and it had to be.
As the action flowed along like a torrent, there wasn’t time to catch a breath and the players simply became slaves to the cause. Some probably drew on reserves of mental and physical strengths they didn’t know they possessed.
It was a day for hurlers imbued with the warrior spirit, ‘laying bare their soul for the love of the parish’!
Silvermines lost in the end because their legs appeared to weaken in injury-time, but a small thing could have turned the game for them. They were within 20 seconds of winning at the end of normal time, only to be deprived by a top class strike from a 65 metre free by Keith Hogan, who silenced the jeers filling the stand as he sent the white flag flying (0-15 to 1-12).
That jeering incident aside, this was a thoroughly sporting affair with the main men, the hurlers, throwing every last ounce they had into the effort to get to Croke Park on February 10 for a showdown with St Gabriel’s (London).
“No one left anything in the tank,” insisted thrilled Clara manager, Robert Shortall afterwards. They sure didn’t!
A player who missed a beat left his team vulnerable. Things were that tight!
There were heroes all over (in no particular order) – Keith Hogan, Liam and Lester Ryan, John and Conor Phelan, David Langton, Tom Ryan, James Nolan early on and Shane Prendergast in the later stages for Clara; the magnificent Orrie Quirke, David Boland, Jason Forde, Ronan Sherlock, Damien Boland and Donal Keogh for Silvermines.
Why? Because they showed courage, spirit and skill in abundance, and because they hurled to what was virtually their last breath. We extend our thanks to all for taking the sting out of an awful day.
You know, Clara nearly blew it. Eight second half wides could have cost them. Then with time running out a silly foul on deadly finisher, Jason Forde gifted Silvermines the lead point from a 20-metre free in front of goal.
Keith Hogan showed nerves of steel when blasting that long, match saving free between the posts at the town end to leave it at 0-15 to 1-12 at the end of 60 minutes.
As the Tipperary’s lads fell off the pace a bit, Hogan and Clara power on in extra-time. One first half point from Hogan – after two misses, mind you – and an exquisite score from Liam Ryan after stepping inside his opponent on the right wing edged Clara 0-17 to 1-13 ahead at the break.
A foul on Willie Keogh earned Jason Forde another score, and the match was level again, this time at 0-17 to 1-14 in the 71st minute.
A terrific cross field pass from Jack Langton opened up space for sub Christopher Bolger to shoot Clara in front again. And then on 75 minutes Keith Hogan popped over the last point to send Clara Croker bound after a tight contest during which the scores were level 10 times.
With water lodging in front of both goals, and the rain belting down Clara opened really well. A hat trick of points from Hogan during the opening nine minutes suggested they might have the edge, especially so as they were playing into the wind.
After Forde got Silvermines off the scoring mark, David Keogh scored a lovely goal with an angled drive from the right edge of the square in the 13th minute to put them in front. The real game was on! It was nip-and-tuck all the way.
Twice during the half the scores were level. At half-time a 33rd minute point from a free by Forde left Silvermines leaders by 1-5 to 0-7.
Conor Phelan, one of the surest handlers of possession all afternoon, equalised within 90 seconds of the restart. Five times subsequently Clara shared parity, but they never got in front.
Eventually they did, in the 67th minute when Keith Hogan took the honours. We weren’t to know it at the time, but they were on their way to Dublin. A mighty, mighty effort.
Scorers - Clara: Keith Hogan (0-10, 0-5 frees, 0-1 65); Liam Ryan (0-3), Austin Murphy (0-2); Lester Ryan, Conor Phelan, Ciaran Prendergast, Christopher Bolger (0-1 each). Silvermines: Jason Forde (0-8, 0-6 frees), Daniel Keogh (1-0); Orrie Quirk, David Boland (0-2 each); Willie Keogh, David Keogh (0-1 each). Clara - Kevin Nolan, Tom Ryan, John Phelan, Sean O’Shea, Neil Prendergast, Shane Prendergast, David Langton, Jack Langton, Lester Ryan, Conor Phelan, Austin Murphy, Liam Ryan, Brian O’Shea, James Nolan, Keith Hogan. Subs: Ciaran Prendergast for B. O’Shea (ht); Christopher Bolger for J. Nolan 48th min; Killian Phelan for A. Murphy 55th min; James Nolan for C Prendergast 70th min; Dermot Nolan for S. O’Shea; Conor O’Shea for K. Phelan 76th min. Silvermines - C. Sherlock, M. Leamy, B. Timmons, D. Boland, D. Keogh, R. Sherlock, N. Quirke, C. Gleeson, O. Quirke, W. Keogh, D. Boland, S. Quirke, D. Keogh, J. Forde, D. Keogh. Subs: P. Fogarty for D. Keogh 47th min; G. Toohey for S. Quirke 69th min; D. Keogh for P. Fogarty 75th min. Referee - O. Elliott (Antrim).