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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Unlikely heroes keep Banner raised high for another week

Galway 1-30 Clare 1-30 (All-Ireland SHC semi-final)

THE EQUALISER: Clare’s Jason McCarthy fires over the equalising score late in extra-time of Saturday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
THE EQUALISER: Clare’s Jason McCarthy fires over the equalising score late in extra-time of Saturday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

In Clare, they seem to like their heroes unheralded.

Back in 2013, it was Domhnall O'Donovan - then a 24 year-old corner-back of not-quite-certain starting status - who scored arguably the county's most famous Championship point to force a replay from their All-Ireland SHC final with Cork.

Therein, a kid named Shane O'Donnell - known then nationally only as a promising forward with a fetish for scoring goals - made just his second Championship start and hit a hat-trick.

That was almost five years (1,764 days to be precise) before Jason McCarthy was unmasked as Clare's latest saviour, the man who scored the final, replay-establishing, point of last Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final with Galway from not a million miles where O'Donovan made his iconic stroke.

"Jason doesn't miss those," grinned Clare joint-manager Donal Maloney afterwards and we'll have to take him at his word on that.

How unheralded was McCarthy?

In Clare's six Championship games before Saturday evening's tumultuous semi-final with Galway, McCarthy played just 44 minutes, comprising three second-half substitutes appearances.

He played no part in their quarter-final victory over Wexford and his equaliser, the calmest act of a gutsy and measured move from a Clare puck-out after Johnny Coen appeared to have won it for the reigning All-Ireland champions was just the third Championship point of McCarthy's embryonic inter-county career.

Prior to Saturday, McCarthy was known better in Clare for his participation in the 2017 edition of Ireland's Fittest Family, when he, his parents Pat and Patricia and brother Aidan made the final of the television programme's competition.

On Saturday evening, a full hurling match plus one half of extra-time was played before Clare's joint managers decided to put McCarthy on.

He was their sixth sub.

Their fifth was O'Donnell, a re-entry after being taken off in the 67th minute.

And before that, Maloney and Gerry O'Connor reached for Clare's other unlikely hero of the evening, Aron Shanagher.

Though still only 21 himself, Shanagher has already made a name as a robust target man of rich promise but an ACL injury he suffered last November was expected to keep him out for the entirety of 2018.

Nobody suspected any different until he was named on the Clare bench on Friday night when the official squad was announced.

"It's pretty amazing," Maloney stressed.

"As cruciate ligament recuperations go, it's incredible. That was one of his trademarks in terms of that catch and turn and bang.

"He's a very, very driven young man."

As Croke Park darkened at 7:05pm on Saturday evening and the rain fell, that long ball from Colm Galvin seemed to drop in slow motion before Shanagher's snatch, turn and finish electrified the ground and put us into a frenetic fast forward.

They were the individuals who salvaged this game and this summer for a Clare team who badly need a big win but the single most influential moment of the match came around 19 minutes in, when Maloney and O'Connor decided to bring Galvin back as a sweeper.

The role is the subject of a typical traditionalist versus modernist debate currently raging in this sport but there was no doubting its affect on Clare's game.

Progressive

Bringing an extra defender back might not sound like the most progressive move for a team trailing by nine points against reigning All-Ireland champions but the simple securing of puck out possession changed Clare's evening.

From there, Peter Duggan and John Conlon became more relevant because they were being fed more sympathetic passes, to the point where both got on top of their men.

Yet having worked their way back to within four points of Galway at half-time, Clare's management clearly had plenty to say to their players.

"To be honest, when you go nine points down to Galway at half-time, you have a lot of stuff to fix and the players wanted to discuss things and trash things out," Maloney revealed when asked what took Clare so long to re-emerge for the second half.

"You only get one shot at this and look if we caused anyone any offence we are sorry but we've had it both ways, we have been waiting on the field and we have had other teams waiting for us as well.

"To be honest we lost track of time but we were trying to sort a lot of stuff.

"Your season is riding on this and you have to get it right.

"And the players did, they got it right and turned in a huge second half."

The replay is this coming Sunday in Thurles (2.0), it could be another thriller.

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