“YOU don’t win All-Irelands if you don’t have character and there is great character in this squad”.
So said Clare team coach Cyril Lyons shortly after Sunday’s historic All-Ireland U-21 victory over Kilkenny at Croke Park.
It’s a view shared by his fellow management and by hurling followers across the county.
“The ending was as nailbiting as you could ever wish for. It looked when they went 12 to 10 up that the game was going from us. We levelled at 12 all, it went 13 to 12 and then 14 to 13. I looked at the clock and there were two minutes and I said we would get two points and we got two points. Then Colin struck a great free before Cormac O’Donovan hit what proved to be the winning point,” said the Ruan clubman.
“It was a nervous first half. I felt we were the better team but any time we made a mistake or didn’t take the right option, they scored from it,” he added.
“We were 8 to 6 up at half time but they came out strong in the second half. We got amazing scores. John Conlon got two or three excellent points. It was a very disciplined performance.”
The team coach was particularly happy with the display of the defence.
“Our backs, who had been much maligned all year, were absolutely brilliant today in terms of their tackling, their clearing, their hooking, their blocking. At the very end, when it looked like Kilkenny might score a goal, it was so well smothered and cleared,” Lyons said.
“It was a fitting end to the year and a fair reward for the players for the work they have done.
“Our backs were comfortable for most of the match, just at times we made a slip or didn’t take the right option and we were punished for that.
“They possibly got half of their scores from unforced errors or Clare not taking the right option. That’s the tradition they have built up, where they get the maximum reward for the minimum amount of possession.
“You have to hand it to our lads. Today was going to be a dogfight. You had the classic hurling game the last day. We felt at training for the last three weeks that this was what we had to be ready for. When lads were needed to stand up and go for the hard score, they were in our dressing room,” the Ruan school principal said.
Cyril was particularly pleased that all the players in the panel were fit to play in this final.
“It reflects so much on the lads who were injured that they worked so hard to be ready for this,” he said.
He agreed that this win “has changed the picture” for Clare hurling.
“I remember walking out of Cusack Park when Clare got beaten by Galway in the qualifier saying not only is the weather bad but Clare hurling’s future is bad. This has changed the picture and there is a bright future because not only are these lads good hurlers, they are good men.”