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My Favourite Game: Saturday night lights true classic

Clare (5-16) v Cork (3-16) 2013 All-Ireland SHC final replay September 28, Croke Park

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UNSTOPPABLE: Clare’s Shane O’Donnell in action against Shane O’Neill of Cork during the 2013 All-Ireland SHC final replay at Croke Park. Photo: SPORTSFILE

UNSTOPPABLE: Clare’s Shane O’Donnell in action against Shane O’Neill of Cork during the 2013 All-Ireland SHC final replay at Croke Park. Photo: SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

UNSTOPPABLE: Clare’s Shane O’Donnell in action against Shane O’Neill of Cork during the 2013 All-Ireland SHC final replay at Croke Park. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Perhaps it's because we have been spoiled with spectacular hurling summers over the past few years, but it feels like the 2013 All-Ireland finals are ranked too low on the list of modern classics.

But there was something special about those games and, in particular, the second night. Replays almost never live up to their billing but in T-shirt weather under the lights, Croke Park crackled with a different type of energy.

Cork's blue bloods, led by the venerable Jimmy Barry-Murphy, versus Clare's fearless tyros and Davy Fitzgerald - the tie oozed sub-plots.

You'd have gotten long odds on the replay topping the drawn game but it delivered in every single way.

Even now, it's easy to make a case for the first game to be ranked amongst the great finals - as it turned out, it wasn't even the best hurling final played that year.

The context of the replay was that Cork had nearly stolen it the first day. History would have it that Cork led for just two of the 140 minutes they played across both days. And Patrick Horgan's brilliant injury-time point looked to have come at the perfect time before corner-back Dómhnall O'Donovan famously secured a draw and a place in Clare hurling history.

Pucked

Even before a ball was pucked, the replay had made history as the first All-Ireland final to be played under floodlights. The 5pm throw-in on an warm late September evening set the stage for a brilliant game.

By the end, there was near-unanimous agreement that the replay had (just about) outstripped the first day in terms of drama and excitement. The events in Croke Park that day even prompted an editorial in 'The Guardian' newspaper in London.

As early as 11 minutes in, a breathless Michael Duignan on co-commentary was enthralled. "What a game," he said as he watched the previously unheralded Shane O'Donnell rack up a cold-blooded hat-trick inside 20 minutes.

And if O'Donnell's brilliance caught most off guard, then Cork's goalkeeper Anthony Nash's close-range frees brought another strand to the 2013 finals.

At that time, his technique was already in the crosshairs of those in charge of the game's rules and his style would later be ruled illegal on health and safety grounds. For that game, it was still legal and after plundering a goal in the drawn game, he repeated the dose in the second match.

Croke Park has seen many things in its storied history but the sense of anticipation as the Kanturk man made his way upfield was incredible. He banged in a second goal in as many games midway through the first half but Clare were the better side. At one stage, Davy Fitzgerald's men led by eight points but after half-time Cork had their best period.

Gradually, they reeled Clare in with Stephen Moylan chipping in with an important score.

Fitzgerald's men were shipping water at that point and the tension was building. Even the normally-reliable Colin Ryan hit the post with a free. It looked like Clare's young team had run out of road.

O'Donnell produced only their second score of the half before the Banner tacked on two more, and they led by three again.

But Cork fought back.

This time, Séamus Harnedy found the net with a brilliant goal. Level again on the hour mark, we were set for a grandstand finish.

O'Donnell rightly takes the plaudits for his three goals but Conor McGrath's effort, which arrowed into the top corner at the Canal End, was spectacular.

A few seconds later, Tony Kelly whipped over the kind of score that showed why he would clean up at the awards ceremonies that winter.

Then O'Donnell brought his tally to 3-3 to put Clare six up, with just over five minutes to play.

There was time for another twist. Moylan lashed home a goal and suddenly there was just a score between them.

Deep into the two minutes of injury-time, Harnedy, who was brilliant down the home stretch, fielded a ball close to the Clare goal and for a moment it looked like he had room to get his shot away.

Clare, however, cleared their lines and Darach Honan plundered their fifth goal of the game.

A game that was sprinkled with other brilliant little moments, not least the timing of Brendan Bugler's tackle on Horgan as he looked set to pull the trigger in the first half, finally came to an end.

The rest of us took time to draw breath and head into evening to digest an epic, while 'The Guardian' implored the GAA to make the footage available to all.

"Last weekend, 82,000 people wearing the red and white of Cork or the yellow and blue of Clare watched their heroes play out what many regard as the greatest All-Ireland hurling final.

"Hopefully the Gaelic Athletic Association will do all sports fans everywhere a massive favour and produce DVD copies of this memorable game."

In our new series, we've asked our writers to detail the one match that stands out in their memories from all the rest and why it still means so much to them