In a year when hurling reached new heights it was fitting that the game’s showcase event should have been graced with a contest that was exhilarating and breathtaking, a true epic.
It takes two great teams to deliver a contest that never once eased-off. Clare is worthy champions and probably should have won by more. The general opinion was that Cork would play better in the replay and that Clare needed a few goals to reclaim the title.
The counties delivered on both counts. If Walter Walsh lit up the 2012 replay, young Shane O’Donnell was the star on Saturday. The 19-year-old was not picked to start but the news before the game was that he would be given the full-forward role.
Full credit to manager, Davy Fitzgerald for this tactical master stoke. O’Donnell had three goals scored by the 19th minute. When Cork reflects on those goals they will not make pleasant viewing because the defending was abysmal.
The Rebels full-back line was regularly exposed but the defensive frailties were more noticeable on their half-back lie. Cork consistently failed to contest Clare puck-outs and the Banner men revelled in the open spaces.
Such was the manner of the Clare performance, especially in the first half, that they punished every Cork error with a classy score. Cork improved in the closing 10 minutes of the half and manager, Jimmy Barry Murphy would have been delighted to be only four points behind at the interval.
It got better for Cork in the second half as Clare’s scoring rate slowed dramatically and their defence were far from assured. When the sides drew level in the 60th minute the initiative was with the Rebels.
However, within a minute the game was gone from Cork with Conor McGrath’s goal, which was again the result of poor defensive play from the Rebels. Clare had some anxious moments in the half, but when Cork asked some searching questions the new champions responded in emphatic fashion.
If the past decade or more belonged to Kilkenny, as we come to the end of what has been a truly remarkable hurling championship, is Clare to be the dominant force in the next decade?
The final score in any game can sometimes be misleading. That was certainly the case in the recent All-Ireland senior football final when just a single point separated Dublin and Mayo.
The result was as close as it could be on the scoreboard, but over the 70 minutes the Dubs were by far the better side. An analysis of any All-Ireland final will show that on the day a couple of players on the winning side perform to a level that ultimately decides things.
Brogan the star
So it was with Dublin against Mayo. Bernard Brogan was the ultimate executioner with a personal tally of 2-3, but throughout the team the new champions displayed the superior footballing brain and a work ethic that their opponents could not match.
Championship sport is now a 20-man game. This is where Dublin held the upper hand. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the strength of the Dublin panel was a decisive factor.
Mayo coped well with a couple of Dublin’s early kick-outs but the ease with which the winners dominated this facet of the play in the second half left Mayo reeling.
The result was very cruel on Mayo and its supporters, but Dublin is deserving of its 24th title title and the Sam Maguire Cup.