Bord Gais Energy GAA All-Ireland U-21 Hurling Final

Conlon shows nerves of steel to point way for new breed

Clare 0-15 Kilkenny 0-14

From the Irish Independent newspaper

Monday September 14 2009

Another Sunday in Croke Park, another Plan B. Whatever chance the hard-pressed stewards had to keep Kilkenny off the field, they hadn’t a prayer once referee Cathal McAllister blew his whistle for the final time to pronounce Clare All-Ireland U-21 champions for the first time. The ‘edge-of-the-seat’ manner of their victory made it an impossibility to provide any secure cordon afterwards as they came pouring from the stands in a whirlwind of excitement to acclaim a new generation of heroes. No county wears its collective heart on its sleeve more than Clare and while the numbers were less than 1995 or ’97, the joy that greeted this win was overwhelming. The fact that they beat the game’s most imperious county is a consideration for another day. They needed to draw on all the county’s traditional grit and obstinacy to first rein in Kilkenny and then keep them at bay in a truly gripping finish.

McAllister only had to award seven frees, four to Kilkenny, in a second half that ebbed and flowed to a wonderful hum before finally resting on Banner shores. They’ll cherish it in Clare after a decade that failed miserably for the most part to build properly on the legacy of Lohan, Daly, McMahon, O’Connor and Fitzgerald. The bitter relations between some of the game’s protagonists in more recent years can be put behind them now as they look to a brighter future underpinned by some of these players. Clare had held sway throughout the first half, empowered by the force of their full-back line that saw Cian Dillon make some wonderful catches and Eamonn Glynn and captain Ciaran O’Doherty sweep all before them.

Centre-back Nicky O’Connell and centre-forward John Conlon, the eventual man of the match, also played leading roles as the Banner wriggled clear by the break. Colin Ryan’s marksmanship from placed balls — six frees and a ’65 were converted — punished the indiscipline of the Kilkenny defence every time. Kilkenny did manage to get to grips with Darach Honan, Clare’s main threat, who struggled in the physical furnace he found himself in. That said, an injury since the semi-final win over Galway may also have held him back. He was taken out of it by Kilkenny corner-back Paul Murphy in injury time at the end of the first half, a tackle not too dissimilar to Jackie Tyrrell’s on Seamus Callanan the previous week. Ryan’s free made it 0-8 to 0-6 but it was a fragile lead, however, and sure enough when Richie Hogan popped over his second score just on the restart, Kilkenny found impetus from it.

David Langton’s game rose at centre-back, Mark Kelly went to a higher gear at midfield, Colin Fennelly ran at the Clare defence and from a deeper position Hogan found more room and had more influence. The two-point lead didn’t last long with corner-forward James Nolan equalising and then Fennelly putting them clear. Kilkenny just got tighter in the close exchanges and smarter with possession, forcing Clare into mistakes that may have cost them dearly. Conlon steadied them with a point on 39 minutes when he emerged from a thicket of options, spurning the scent of a goal he might have had for a safer option. It was a good call.

Nolan went by Dillon for the lead again and Hogan sent Kilkenny two clear as the game took on a predictable route in that third quarter. But Clare had the will and when Cormac O’Donovan pointed on 43 minutes to close the gap again, and ‘keeper Donal Tuohy brought off a remarkable save from Hogan, who had to settle for a point on 49 minutes, Kilkenny would have sensed an unwillingness in their opponents to yield. Emboldened by that defiance, Clare braced themselves for the home straight and drew energy from the crowd. Conlon’s equalising point (0-12 each) on 51 minutes did more than anything to lift them and while Fennelly and Liam Ryan drove wide uncharacteristically at the other end, it was Conlon again who sent them clear, showing nerves of steel in such a dogfight.

Kilkenny weren’t about it yield either and came back with inspirational scores of their own, Kelly taking a pass from Hogan to drive them 0-14 to 0-13 clear with his third point. Still Clare kept coming however. Ryan pointed a long-range free and then O’Donovan, with less than a minute remaining, fired over on the run from about 50 metres. Kilkenny had time and their full-forward John Joe Farrell spurned a glorious chance to equalise when he delayed sufficiently to allow pressure from the full-back line and the threat was averted, giving rise to jubilant scenes once again. For Clare manager John Minogue, a selector with Cyril Lyons in 2002, the prospect of a new generation witnessing this was most pleasing.

“We haven’t had good days since 1997 so it’s a good victory for a new generation. There are a lot of young kids who didn’t see Clare winning in 1995 or ’97. It’s important but whether it will add huge glory to Clare or not we will have to wait and see.” Conlon was happy that the bitterness of their 2008 Munster final defeat to Tipperary can be parked now. “The belief all year has been unbelievable. We just felt we couldn’t be beaten. It’s like a good club team. You haven’t seen that with Clare lately. I don’t know did last year drive us on for this year. We socialise together, everyone gets on like a house on fire.” The flames from that blaze can illuminate the next decade.

SCORERS —

Clare: C Ryan 0-9 (8f, 1 ’65), J Conlon 0-3, C O’Donovan 0-2, C Morey 0-1.

Kilkenny: R Hogan 0-5 (1f), M Kelly 0-3, J Nolan, C Fennelly, J Mulhall 0-2 each.

Clare — D Tuohy 8; E Glynn 8, C Dillon 8, C O’Doherty 8; D O’Donovan 6, N O’Connell 8, J Gunning 5; E Barrett 7, C O’Donovan 8; C Morey 6, J Conlon 9, S Collins 7; C Tierney 6, D Honan 5, C Ryan 7. Subs: C McGrath 7 for Tierney (44), P O’Connor 5 for Morey (49), E Hayes for Gunning (53).

Kilkenny — C McGrath 7; P Murphy 7, P Nolan 7, C Fogarty 6; M Walsh 7, D Langton 7, Lester Ryan 7; M Kelly 8, Liam Ryan 7; C Fennelly 8, M Bergin 5, J Mulhall 8; R Hogan 8, J J Farrell 6, J Nolan 7. Subs: N Cleere 5 for Bergin (49).

Ref — Cathal McAllister (Cork)

Roll of Honour

BORD GAIS ENERGY GAA ALL-IRELAND U-21 HURLING FINAL Roll of Honour

11 – Cork (1966-68-69-70-71-73-76-82-88-97-98)

11 – Kilkenny (1974-75-77-84-90-94-99-2003-2004-2006-2008)

10 – Galway (1972-78-83-86-91-93-96-2005-2007)

8 – Tipperary (1964-67-79-80-81-85-89-95)

4 – Limerick (1987-2000-2001-2002)

1 – Waterford (1992)

1 – Wexford (1965)