THE dogged manner in which victory was attained in Sunday’s thunderous All-Ireland club intermediate hurling semi-final was THE achievement as far as Kilkenny champions, Clara were concerned.
Getting to the All-Ireland final in Croke Park on February 10 was wonderful and will be a huge day for club and parish, but the unbreakable spirit shown by the players surpassed all else, their manager insisted.
Many a team would have been broken by talented and mentally strong Silvermines (Tipperary), but the Noresiders hung in to the bitter end and eventually wore down their opponents.
“The players answered all the big questions posed to them,” insisted delighted manager, Robert Shortall, who will have to step down after the All-Ieland final in two weeks time because of work commitments. “I was so proud of the players. At half-time and at the end of normal time we had to tell some players a few home truths about their performance, but they all took it and responded magnificently.
Can’t beat spirit
“You can’t beat that sort of spirit and character. To me that was the big achievement; meeting and topping Silvermines spirit because they are some team. Going to Croke Park is great for the parish and followers.
“For me the thing is to see the character growing in the team all the time. I hope it is something that grows further, because they will need it taking on the huge challenge of the senior championship in Kilkenny this season. That will be a different thing entirely.”
St Gabriel’s of London will provide the opposition in GAA headquarters, and boosted by numbers who have been forced to follow the emigration trail, they could any sort of team.
“You can take it they are a good team,” Mr Shortall continued. “They wouldn’t be in the All-Ireland final otherwise.”
Mr Shortall, while thrilled with the outcome, remembered that during the closing few minutes of normal time Clara nearly threw the match away when they cobceded a foolish free that gave Silvermines the lead point.
War of attrition
“We were staring defeat in the face them,” he smiled. “Keith (Hogan) showed great bravery when driving over that last free. It wasn’t easy because it was no day for free takers. That was a tough one with the last puck of the game.
“Really it was a war of attrition. It was a pure, pure battle. You could take no ball, nothing for granted. All our homework suggested Silvermines were a serious team. After a few minutes of play we knew for sure how serious a team they really were. They have some terrific hurlers, and their spirit is second to none as well. We are thrilled.”
He insisted that the Clara performance was up there with some of their best showings ever.
“We will celebrate today,” he said when he smiled again. “It is great to have come through a battle like that. You have to celebrate it.
“We will get down to things on Tuesday night again, a recovery session or whatever. Next weekend we will pick it up again. A game like that is worth 10 training sessions.
“Lads were going down with cramp and all sorts of things, but they refused to give it. It wasn’t easy to watch, but having come thorugh on the right side of things I can only say I thought the players were great. We know they are good and the attitude is top class. Some of the subs came on and were taken off.
“Everyone does their bit for the good of the club. Two minutes could be enough to make the difference. That was the attitude from the lads who came on. They had to clear ball, get in a tackle or whatever. One mistake could have cost us.
“I was saying during the second half that the wides were totting up and it could have cost us. Silvermines didn’t appear to be hitting wides at all.
“The lads wanted so much to get to Croke Park. After a performance like that you don’t get carried away. It teaches you that the basics matter – the chasing, the hooking, the blocking, being disciplined, never giving up. The basics are what it is about.
“For the parish it is great. Everyone can have a day out in Croke Park. But we will have to work hard for a victory, which would make the day a really good one.”