*Eoghan Gunning lifts the Irish Press Cup. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
CLARE ARE ALL-IRELAND minor hurling champions for the second time.
Venue: FBD Semple Stadium, Thurles
While this success has been achieved before in 1997 for Clare, this is the first time that Clare have won provincial and All-Ireland minor titles in the same year.
Having beaten the so-called traditional powerhouses of Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny along the way plus victories against Limerick, Waterford and now Galway, the title of All-Ireland champions is fully earned.
Second half goals from Ógie Fanning and James Hegarty sent Clare on their way. They may have played much of the better hurling in the opening half, limiting Galway to a single point from play but the concession of two green flags in the first twelve minutes meant little would separate them until the third quarter.
A commanding third quarter pushed them towards glory, Clare outscoring Galway 2-04 0-03 and draining their opponents of energy. This made even more impressive by the fact that full-back Ronan Keane was forced off with injury at half time. That Clare had twelve different scorers over the hour indicates the array of talent within the side.
But those that have followed this young Clare team know that they have character oozing from their veins. It’s why whenever they had to, they produced a response both to the two first half goals and to every time that Galway nudged in front for the opening half.
Personnel with knowledge on this Clare side will also know that they have a habit of showcasing commanding second half displays and it was once again the case, this time propelling them to national glory.
Their ambition was made clear in Eoghan Gunning’s speech after winning the Munster final. It is a disappointment that the Broadford teenager was not given the opportunity to make such a speech on this occasion but he continued to impress after the win, recording a video for Clare sponsor Pat O’Donnell and dedicating the win to him, the Crusheen man had been unable to attend the tie due to a minor illness.
Michael Collins may have kicked off the scoring inside the first fifty seconds but Galway struck for goal in their first attack, Aaron Niland’s long range free was caught by Jason Rabbitte, he held off all in his way and batted the ball past Mark Sheedy for their opening goal.
Brian O’Connell’s side nudged in front with white flags from Evan Price, Michael Collins and two from Marc O’Brien before midfielder Cullen Killeen dispatched their second goal on twelve minutes.
Aaron Niland added another placed ball for Galway before Clare levelled with three points in a row, Sean Arthur opening his account before another O’Brien double. Niland traded efforts with Arthur and Ógie Fanning as the sides remained deadlocked on twenty minutes.
Mark Sheedy pulled off an excellent save to deny Niland from a green flag on twenty three minutes and within fifteen seconds, Clare worked the ball up field and pointed through Eoin Begley to lead by one.
Respective full forwards Rabbitte and O’Brien added scores to ensure that Clare maintained that one point advantage at the break.
Straight from the throw-in, Galway levelled through midfielder Michael Burke but in the next attack Clare struck for their first goal, Marc O’Brien had a wonderful flick to tee Fanning and he had a powerful effort to see Clare ahead by three points.
With thirty six minutes on the clock, there was a major turning point. A long range free from James Hegarty slipped through the fingers of Galway netminder Shane Murray and into the goal, Hegarty then added a free from distance in the next attack to see Clare hold their biggest advantage, that of six points.
Now they were firmly in the driving seat and only a difficulty in adjusting between the accelerator and brakes could stop them. Inagh/Kilnamona duo Fred Hegarty (a boomer) and Jack Mescal pointed along with Michael Collins to see them hit three in a row before Niland converted three frees on the bounce.
James Hegarty and Harry Doherty added further scores for BOC’s side before Harry Holmes roofed the sliotar to the Clare net on fifty six minutes, reducing the deficit to four points.
Composed as ever, Clare didn’t panic and added scores through O’Brien, Eoin Carey and Michael Power to ensure Cullen Killeen’s last minute goal was not significant in the overall result.
It started on a wet and windy night in Shannon but for Clare it ends in the glorious sunshine and heat of Semple Stadium. They’ve had an amazing journey and to secure national honours is no less than they deserved. That may be the beginning and end note of their championship bid but they work started long before this and included Zoom hurling sessions, many trips to Caherlohan and a lot of sacrifice but on days like this it all pays off.
Once again they had many players to step up, at seventeen Eoghan Gunning has firmly established as a fan favourite, he produces the performances to justify this and really came to life in the second half. Centre-back James Hegarty was influential when the pressure was greatest in the opening half while Seán Arthur, Evan Price and Marc O’Brien were others to stand out on a memorable day for the Banner County.
Scorers for Clare: M O’Brien (0-7, 0-5 frees), J Hegarty (1-2 frees), Ó Fanning (1-1), M Collins (0-3), S Arthur (0-2), E Price, J Mescal. M Power, H Doherty, F Hegarty, E Carey and E Begley (0-1 each).
Scorers for Galway: A Niland (0-8, 0-6 frees), C Killeen (2-0), J Rabbitte (1-1), H Holmes (1-0), M Burke and M Fallon (0-1 each).
1: Mark Sheedy (Sixmilebridge)
2: Eoghan Gunning (Broadford)
3: Ronan Keane (Killanena)
4: Conor Rynne (Inagh/Kilnamona)
7: Jamie Moylan (Cratloe)
6: James Hegarty (Inagh/Kilnamona)
9: Evan Price (Clarecastle)
5: Matthew O’Halloran (Sixmilebridge)
8: Jack Mescal (Inagh/Kilnamona)
12: Seán Arthur (Newmarket-on-Fergus)
11: Michael Collins (Clonlara)
10: Ronan Kilroy (Banner)
13: Ógie Fanning (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield)
14: Marc O’Brien (Cratloe)
22: Eoin Begley (Clonlara)
17: Fred Hegarty (Inagh/Kilnamona) for Keane (HT)
15: Michael Power (Newmarket-on-Fergus) for Begley (38)
20: Harry Doherty (Clarecastle) for Fanning (52)
18: Eoin Carey (Cratloe) for Mescal (52)
24: Emmet Mulcahy (Tulla) for Kilroy (63)
1: Shane Murray (Kilconieron)
2: Thomas Blake (Oranmore-Maree)
3: Seán Murphy (Clarinbridge)
4: Gearóid King (Castlegar)
5: Dylan Quirke (Athenry)
6: Donnacha Campbell (Cappataggle)
7: Ed O’Reilly (Liam Mellows)
8: Michael Burke (Skehana/Mountbellew-Moylough)
10: Darragh Counihan (Clarinbridge)
11: Colm Burke (Oranmore-Maree)
9: Cullen Killeen (Loughrea)
12: Conor Gilligan (Craughwell)
13: Brian Callahan (Ardrahan)
14: Jason Rabbitte (Athenry)
15: Aaron Niland (Clarinbridge)
23: Michael Fallon (Clarinbridge) for Campbell (HT)
20: Stephen Keane (Sarsfields) for O’Reilly (39)
24: Harry Holmes (Ballygar) for Burke (39)
21: Eoghan Mulready (Kilconerion) for Callahan (57)
Referee: Michael Kennedy (Tipperary)