Kevin Halpin was a picture of frustration and inner-turmoil outside the Newmarket dressing room in the immediate aftermath of their sudden death loss to De La Salle. Outwardly he congratulated each player as they exited the field on another impressive, gritty display but he also couldn’t hide his anguish at such a cruel final twist.
“It was like getting punched in the stomach. The way the boys fought all day and gave everything, I thought it was just turning our way. We were finally breaking them down, we were getting a few breaks and were unlucky with a few frees while only the width of the crossbar denied Mikey McInerney’s great shot.
“You know, if that had been an inch lower, we could have driven on and you could even hear it in the crowd at that time because the volume raised when we drew level. We had all the neutrals behind us and that is a credit to the players because they wear their hearts on their sleeves and they gave it everything today for the game of hurling.
“So it’s just a shame, an awful shame to lose a game like that, to lose a goal, a team that conceded very few goals all season.”
Such a late blow understandably rankled with the selector but as he gathered his thoughts and reflected on the overall game, he began to point to their own missed chances, especially in a crucial period of dominance midway through the second half.
“Mikey McInerney’s shot… how unlucky was that?. You know he hits those kind of shots day in and day out in training and I’ve always said that if he could reproduce what he does on the training field on big days like today, he could explode onto the inter-county scene and everybody would know his name. He is a phenomenal player and an inch was all that was in it.
“But the five wides cost us midway through the half because if we had gone two or three points up at that stage, you could see the tenacity to drive on in these 15 boys and even 30 plus lads. The squad is such at the moment that there are 33 guys fighting for places, so much so that it’s hard to pick two teams at training and that competition has helped those who make the team. Now they know how to fight and dig in and get down and dirty and I believe that if we did go two or three points up, there was no comeback for De La Salle.
“That’s taking nothing away from De La Salle. They are a class side and a big, big physical team and they gave it their all but it was just hard to take at the finish. You were watching the last 30 seconds hoping to get to extra-time to regroup and gather our thoughts because we had missed two good chances near the end.
“We just needed to compose ourselves and refocus for the extra ten minutes and I think if we had got to extra-time, our superior fitness would have got us through because they are incredibly fit and have put in a massive effort all year. And look, the most unfortunate thing about this for our guys is that they have to go home now, gather their thoughts and go back at it next week.”
With precious little time to pick through the bones of such an uncompromising exit, Clonlara will be waiting eagerly in the wings this Sunday as they bid to exact revenge for their championship semi-final exit to Newmarket at the same venue almost five weeks earlier. But having already created history, Halpin is confident that his side can pick up the pieces and have enough potential to maintain their current dominance on the domestic scene for the foreseeable future.
“As a mentor, even though you are gutted and you can feel a tear coming, you have to meet all the players and congratulate them on their performance today.
“At the end of the day, they have bridged a gap, they have bridged a 31 year gap just two weeks ago and when the disappointment of today fades and the dark days of winter come, they can still sit down, look at the mantlepiece or wherever they have that county medal and that’s what will get them back up in January. That’s what will keep them ticking over in the gym during the winter and they will come back because here’s more in this team.
“We are not a one-hit wonder. This team wants more and this club wants more.
“We are back on top for now, everybody is going to be gunning for us and I have no problem saying that because everyone was gunning for Crusheen in the last two years.
“Newmarket are there now to be shot down so they will have to prepare properly at the start of next year and it is even going to take an immense test of character to get back up for next week against one of our greatest rivals and a great team in Clonlara.
“I’m sure Clonlara are itching to get back at Newmarket but as of now, we hold the two trophies. There are only two trophies in Clare senior hurling and we hold them at the moment and we will fight to hold onto them.”