BY AUGUST, ONLY four counties remained. With the footballers preparing for their own All-Ireland semi-final, Dublin’s dream of a historic double was still alive as the hurlers lined out against Cork.
More than 62,000 fans in Croke Park watched an enthralling contest in which 18 different players scored and the sides were level a remarkable 15 times.
Cork led by a point at the break and the balance tipped further in their favour when Ryan O’Dwyer was sent off for a second yellow card with 20 minutes to play.
But the game hung in the balance until the 66th minute when Pa Horgan pounced on a moment’s hesitation by Gary Maguire and scored the goal that sent Cork through to the All-Ireland final.
Anthony Nash (Cork goalkeeper): “The moment we ran out in Croke Park, the roar we heard was just frightening. We were expecting a huge Dublin turnout but the Cork support that day were just phenomenal.
It was like a basketball match with the amount of scores in it. I’d say it was a fantastic game to watch. Lads were knocking over scores from all sides of the field.”
Johnny McCaffrey (Dublin midfielder): “Our preparations were very good going into the Cork game. I thought we dealt with it all very well.
“The game was so fast from the start and it was hard to realise what was going on. It was a very free-flowing game with so many scores on both sides.”
Anthony Nash: “The goal at that stage was a ferocious boost for us. They were definitely well in the hunt despite having someone sent off. No one wishes for someone to be shown a red card, it’s just about reacting to it.”
Johnny McCaffrey: “The goal was the big thing for them. I don’t think the sending-off was as big a deal. It’s so chaotic out on the pitch that it’s very hard to use the spare man. We still had a chance to win the game anyway. Ryan (O’Dwyer) was a loss because he was playing so well.”
Anthony Nash: “It was relief more than anything at the final whistle but also elation at knowing you’re going to play in the main event.
An All-Ireland final was a dream for a lot of us. We thought we wouldn’t get there for a long time. We celebrated that we were.
Johnny McCaffrey: “Fair play to Cork, they got the crucial scores and deserved to win it. But it definitely was a defeat that hurt.”
With Cork safely through, the stage was set for Clare and Limerick in the second semi-final a week later. Darach Honan’s goal gave the Banner an early advantage and Davy Fitz’s side never looked back, winning 1-22 to 0-18 to book their place in a first All-Ireland final since 2002.
Brendan Bugler (Clare wing-back): “We learnt from our mistake before the Cork game. People were not looking a game ahead, they were just looking to Limerick. Everything was swinging with them after the fantastic year they’d had.”
Seamus Hickey (Limerick wing-forward): “We were well immersed in the hype but we were of the opinion that we were handling it pretty well, certainly as well as we could.
“We didn’t believe we were better than we were. We’d put back-to-back performances together for the first time in a long while. We were nothing but positive.”
Brendan Bugler: “We got a bit of luck in starting well whereas they missed quite a bit. If they’d tagged on a couple more points in the first-half, it could have been different.”
Seamus Hickey: “From the very off, Clare threw a few different things at us — Pa Donnellan to midfield, Conor Ryan going back to centre-back.
Then things went wrong in a frighteningly quick series of events.
“Our shooting wasn’t where it needed to be. We were taking potshots from different places of the field.
“Graeme (Mulcahy) had a great chance in on goal but a last-ditch tackle from Pa Donnellan stopped him and Pa Kelly made the save.
Straight away when I went down, I knew I’d done some serious damage (Hickey damaged his cruciate ligament).
Nothing was going right for us.
Brendan Bugler : “They’re the games you want to play in. 70,000 people there, one of the highest attendances at a semi-final. There was obvious joy afterwards. A few of the older lads hadn’t played in an All-Ireland final at any grade, so that meant a lot.”
Seamus Hickey: “I went in to the medics room to receive treatment and when I came back out in the second-half, the rot had stopped. We actually started to pick off a few scores.
We could make excuses but the truth is that Clare had a hot hand. They came with a plan and executed it.
After a rollercoaster championship, Cork and Clare took centre stage to decide matters on the second Sunday of September.
Cork went into the game as slight favourites but trailed 0-12 to 0-10 after a first half that was made to look tame by what followed after the break.
As Clare tried to stretch their advantage, Cork continued to claw them back with goals from Conor Lehane, Nash and Pa Cronin.
Then with the clock ticking into stoppage time, Pa Horgan’s 10th point of the afternoon seemed to have snatched victory for Cork — but nobody had counted on Clare corner-back Domhnall O’Donovan who picked the most dramatic circumstances to score his first championship point.
Brendan Bugler: “We enjoyed the build-up. I’d only just started a job down in Kilkenny and no one was really saying anything about it there. We had an idea that it would be a free and open game, like all the games we’d played against Cork this year.”
Anthony Nash: “We went in a few points down at half-time having been outplayed for a lot of it.
Hoggy got a point from near the sideline just before the break. That score gave me tingles down the spine. We dug in and started hurling more like we could do.
Brendan Bugler: “Cork are hard to shake off. In the second-half, I started to think ‘God almighty, are they ever going to stop coming back at us.’
“They got the killer punches. We played possibly our best game all year but they got the big scores.”
Anthony Nash: “After not getting many goals all year, it was strange to get three in a half. Conor Lehane’s was the tonic that we needed. Pa Cronin’s set us up that bit more.
I wasn’t thinking about the scoreboard when I got my goal. I ran up to take the free, blocked out everything, and just focused on the strike.
Brendan Bugler: “I thought that (Horgan’s point) was it. I was directly behind Brian Gavin, looked up at the big screen and there was 72 minutes gone.
I just hoped he wouldn’t blow it.
Anthony Nash: “The wrist work that Hoggy displayed was frightening for the point near the end. When you’re inside there and it’s the 71st minute, you have to think this could be it.”
Brendan Bugler: “Domhnall’s point typified everything we were about. We work the ball into the man in the best position. Clare players didn’t panic — Pat (O’Connor) doesn’t get the credit he deserves for that.”
Anthony Nash: “It wasn’t as if we switched off. Simply their corner back came up and got a great score of his own. We had to get ready to go again.”
Brendan Bugler: “Who wasn’t surprised that Dunny scored it?
I ran over afterwards and said ‘how the hell did you go up there?’ But thank God, he did.”
YouTube Credit: theclareherald
0-25 to 3-16: a draw.
And so for the second time in as many years, the All-Ireland hurling championship would be decided by a replay. This time, however, it would be played under Saturday night lights in Croke Park.
Davy Fitzgerald played his wildcard early, naming 19-year-old Shane O’Donnell in his team just hours before throw-in. It proved to be a masterstroke as O’Donnell scored a hattrick inside the first 20 minutes and finished the day with 3-3, the Man of the Match award, and an All-Ireland medal.
O’Donnell’s starring role was just one strand of a classic final which saw Cork claw their way back level having been eight points down before Clare kicked on in a devastating finish, clinching the title for the first time since 1997.
Brendan Bugler: “We were delighted after the (drawn) game but it was a big anti-climax. We’d to get ready for another three weeks of training.
Anthony Nash: “You’d everything planned in your life for after the final: work is booked off, the banquet is organised, you don’t ever take a draw into consideration. It came to the Monday and it was a strange sensation. All of a sudden you’re back in Cork and training again.”
Brendan Bugler: “The management knew we needed goals if we were going to beat Cork. That’s where Shane (O’Donnell) came into it and he made some impact early on. We worked very hard but it was a carbon copy of three weeks beforehand as they kept on pulling it back.
Anthony Nash: “For the replay we were chasing the game constantly and hanging in there. Like the Limerick game, lads put in an awful lot of energy to get level, then Clare had a bit more to come up the field again.
“We had to chase for a second day and Clare this time were able to get the goals. When you have a lead, your tactics can change, but we had to go free.
“If we’d tried to close up shop, we wouldn’t have got the goals. A lot of people come up and say why didn’t you do this or that. But playing in front of 80,000 people, it’s not that easy.”
Brendan Bugler: “Conor McGrath’s goal was key. We needed a moment of magic and fair play to him, he produced a phenomenal touch and skill. Even then Nash got a 21-yard free which we’d to stop and Moylan got a goal.
“The only time we knew we had 100% won it was when Darach got the goal. The final whistle was amazing.”
Seamus Hickey: “I watched the two games with envy. I was doing some commentary for Newstalk at them. When you’re watching two teams you’d already played, you have to be some bit envious.
“The standard of hurling on show was unreal. In the immediate aftermath of Patrick Horgan’s point, I was in disbelief that Clare could be about to lose. It took immense character to do what Domhnall O’Donovan did.”
Johnny McCaffrey: “I’ve been at the last few finals and was looking forward to them, but I wasn’t looking forward to this because of the way we’d lost the semi-final. You’re thinking that you should be there. I went in to the first game and watched the second one from home.
“Looking at the hurling on show, they were amazing games. It would have been strange to see Cork win the first game but that team has serious character. Clare’s class though showed in the end in the replay.”
Brendan Bugler: “It was a whole new experience for us. We enjoyed it and we embraced everything that came with it.
“We’re heading into the new year now and we’re going on the team holiday. But when we came back, 2013 is all in the past. This group of players want to build on this.
Anthony Nash: “I loved being with the lads for the length of the year, we’d some great experiences.
People come up to congratulate you on your season but personally I don’t think it was a great year. To me a great year is ending up with a title.
“We’d a good year and gained a lot of experience. But there was no silverware.”
Brendan Bugler: “We’d a fantastic run with the club Whitegate as well to win the Clare intermediate championship. That made the year extra special for me and I was captain.
“I hadn’t done a lot of training during the year with them but the very first night back after the All-Ireland, I had a huge incentive to win as I wanted those boys to experience something.”
Anthony Nash: “We won with the club in October in the intermediate championship in Cork. It was great for us in Kanturk. You play with your friends and you achieve something with them.
“Did it help after losing with Cork? It’s not possible to compare. I view it as two separate teams, two separate competitions.”
Brendan Bugler: “I suppose it was a brilliant year for hurling. The unpredictability of it meant it was a great year.
“I don’t know was the standard necessarily higher, it’s been fantastic in other years as well. So many teams were in the mix, and mainly for that fact, I think it made for a great championship.”
Paraic Duffy (GAA Director-General): “You’d deal with a lot of people in this job who might not have a huge interest in the GAA. But I have never seen as many people talking about hurling since the All-Ireland finals. Administrators from other sports have been talking about what an incredible game it is.
“The only thing that worries me is how the hell do you follow that for next year?! But no doubt this was a very special year.”
– Brendan Bugler, Anthony Nash, Seamus Hickey, Johnny McCaffrey and Paraic Duffy were in conversation with Fintan O’Toole; Brendan Maher and Joe Canning were in conversation with Niall Kelly.