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Actor Bill Murray was among the spectators for Clare's defeat of Wexford.

Groundhog Day for Bill Murray and Clare

The hurling Gods! You just can’t be up to them. Who knows, maybe that’s what makes the game so great.

We never know what they have ordained and they hardly know themselves, but when we saw Bill Murray take his seat beside his golfing pal JP McManus in Semple’s Ard Comhairle, we should have known that this would be different.

We should have known too when Frank Murphy suddenly appeared — and like any good backman was touch-tight on Murray — that it was already different.

There was more: Murphy had a hooded eye and concentrated look bearing all the hallmarks of a man up for championship; meanwhile, Murray always has those crazy eyes that say, “I’m up for championship.”

We all were up for it — at least we thought we were, but truth told for long periods of the afternoon we weren’t; instead, we were underwhelmed.

It helped Bill Murray take centre stage — he was the man, even to the extent that he was man-of-the-match candidate for a while, just because he was the most talked-about man in Thurles as this All-Ireland quarter-final failed to set the pulses racing in the way the Munster final had brought everyone’s temperature to fever pitch.

There was a simple explanation for that though. We all got drunk — even committed and lifelong pioneers and disciples of Fr Murphy’s temperance movement — and legally high at the Munster final, such was the exalted and dreamlike state that the players had elevated the noble art of hurling.

We were up on the stratosphere with them, but there was only one way to go after that.

And after the high, always comes the low — so it was for those looking on, but also for the players, who seemed punch-drunk and pedestrian in comparison to 13 days previously. Slower to react, lacking the same physicality and intensity, the hunger and the derring-do.

In other words, hungover.

Of course, the only thing for a hangover is the cure — and in this case, it was administered at half-time when Brian Lohan certainly wasn’t whispering sweet nothings. We don’t know what was said or how he said it; what we definitely know, however, is that something badly needed to be said to shake Clare out of their lethargy.

And, you can be sure it was old-school stuff and less reliant on the statistical and spreadsheet analysis generated by inputting all the first-half data into an iPad.
Needs must. It was take a short grip of the hurley and bang the table time.

Before the game, there was a glimpse of this old-school curriculum when Wexford manager Darragh Egan could be seen in the final huddle just before his players took up their positions.

You didn’t really need to lip-read was he was saying — seeing him in action was enough as he as just tapped the Wexford crest on his tracksuit top.

Tapping it was a reminder of what this game had to mean to them, pride in the jersey and where it came from, 100 years after the birth of Cúchulainn’s son Nicky Rackard, making their own mark on history and all that.

Brian Lohan could have done the very same at half-time. Why? Because they had to go back to the values that made them great in this championship. Giving what they had for every ball; bringing a frenzied, yet calculated, war to the hurling field; thriving in the chaos that any war creates.

They did just that, even if they still found themselves six points adrift with just over ten minutes to go when it looked like that hangover hadn’t gone away.

It had though, because some cameos early in the second half really smacked of the dressing room dressing down of a few minutes before.

Two turnovers were all it took to show a different Clare for that second half. In the 37th minute Shane O’Donnell chased down Paudie Foley, with Tony Kelly following in his tracks and between them they forced the turnover and a sideline cut that Kelly took quickly into the path of the sprinting Diarmuid Ryan, who fired over from an acute angle.

It was a point, but much more crucially it was a slice of the energy and application that had been missing in the first half. And it went on from there.

Straight from the short puck Peter Duggan hassled Martin O’Hanlon, then Tony Kelly’s rush put the frighteners of Damian Reck as Wexford retreated, with the unrelenting Kelly then sprinting back out the field to hook Simon Donohue as he tried to clear.

Peter Duggan may have pulled the scoring chance that came from all this hard work wide, but it didn’t matter — what really mattered in these two incidents was that the Clare of the Munster final had returned.

The hangover was gone. At last.

That’s ultimately what won this game for Clare, even if it looked as if the hurling Gods had it in for the team in that second half.

Those Gods intervened just as hurling’s greatest God since Christy Ring — King Henry Shefflin himself — had enough and decided to beat the traffic and head for home with his Galway team.
By then it looked as if a good chunk of the 34,640 attendance wouldn’t be long in following as Wexford led by 3-10 to 0-14.

It was no consolation to Clare that the Wexford goals screamed square ball on the double, but worse than that it looked as if the titles of one of Bill Murray’s most celebrated movies had come back to haunt Clare and ultimately kill them. Not Caddyshack, even if there was calamity attached to both second-half goals; not Ghostbusters, as the ghosts of 2014 looked like coming back to kill Clare as underdogs Wexford were on the cusp of a first championship win over the Banner in eight years.

Instead, it was Groundhog Day. We were here before, because Wexford’s third goal was Groundhog Day all the way.

We were back in 2018 and Clare were playing Tipperary in the Munster Championship in Semple Stadium and things were on the knife-edge as the home side led by four and were looking to close the game out.

The chance to do that came when Jake Morris raced down on goal — he pulled the trigger and his shot beat Dónal Tuohy but instead of finding the net hit the butt of the post and allowed Clare to build a move from the back that ended when Ian Galvin flashed home to the net for a great goal.

Four years on and it was Ian Galvin’s turn to race down on the same goal he scored into in 2018 — he pulled the trigger and Mark Fanning was beaten but this time it came back off the crossbar and allowed Wexford to build a move that ended up with Lee Chin flashing to the net.

Groundhog Day, Mr Murray. Groundhog Day, but this time at Clare’s expense. Bah humbug.

Exit King Henry and enter Clare. The real Clare.

The Gods. That’s the only explanation for it.

How else do you explain Aron Shanagher who had a negligible impact on Clare’s year up to this game — he hit just 0-2 in three league games, while he’d nothing to show for cameo appearances against Cork and Limerick in the round robin stages of the Munster Championship.

But on this day he provided an impact off the bench that hasn’t been in him since 2018 when his goal helped Clare draw the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway after extra-time. It was a long time coming, but he hit 1-2 here as Clare’s tour de force saw them outscore Wexford by 1-9 to 0-2 when it mattered most, when the game was there to be won.

When it was won Bill Murray was out on the field straight away — presumably he wanted to congratulate man of the match Shane O’Donnell, or maybe it was manager Brian Lohan or captain Tony Kelly.

Along the way we hope he wasn’t asked about what he thought of the hurling. All because, if he did, his reputation as a comedian would be ruined, as he couldn’t come close to hurling’s greatest comedic line uttered by rugby legend Gareth Edwards.

It was 40 years ago this September when Edwards attended the Kilkenny v Cork All-Ireland final and was asked by an RTÉ reporter whether he’d like to be out there with a hurley. “I wouldn’t like to be out there without one,” he replied.

Gold. All-Ireland gold.

The only All-Ireland gold Bill Murray could have come up with was if he told Brian Lohan, “myself and JP will see ye in Croker next month for the Clare/Limerick All-Ireland”.

Why not! Plenty of time for more Groundhog Day, after all.

And Bill Murray knows that more than any of us.

It’s getting close now. Tantalizingly so.

About Joe O'Muircheartaigh

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