Hurling: Lyons pride as Banner's gutsy performance puts Tribe back to square one; ALL IRELAND QUARTER FINAL: Galway v Clare GALWAY 0-17 CLARE 1-15 CYRIL: THEY PLAYED THEIR HEARTS OUT.
A WISE old trio were re-united deep in the bowels of Croke Park's Cusack Stand yesterday. One by one they arrived outside the Clare dressing room to congratulate Cyril Lyons.
Ger Loughnane, Mike McNamara and Tony Considine - the Holy Trinity that inspired the Banner County to All Ireland glory in 1995 and 1997. Lyons was part of that 95 panel, and he finished up with a Celtic Cross for his remarkable contribution as a player.
For McNamara yesterday there were divided loyalties.
Trainer of Galway but Scariff through and through. For Loughnane and Considine there was none of the sentimental stuff.
They knew just what this meant to Lyons, a man emerging from Loughnane's shadow.
As goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald left the pitch Considine grappled him with an almost maternal hug, whispering words of wisdom in his ear and grinning from ear to ear when he finally made his way to Lyons through the scrum.
Some people thought there were no legs in this Clare team anymore. Loughnane, Considine and even McNamara never stopped believing. You got the feeling they'd love to be back at the coal face. In reality, they are.
Lyons looked drained after hurling's version of a ping-pong match.
"At half time there was only a score in it. We told the players their bad half was behind them and the best was yet to come. And they grew and grew," he gushed.
"One score from play in the first half and we were very lucky that Gilly got the goal. At 0-6 to 0-1 it looked like they would pull away because they were playing brilliantly. But our lads gave a brilliant performance of guts and determination in the second half.
"A draw would have been a fair result and what can you say to a team that loses by a point in an All Ireland quarter final. Thanks for a tremendous match," he added.
"But there's 70 minutes in the game and form can fluctuate. We knew at half time that we could only get better. We gave it 35 minutes of pure hell in the second half and as the game went on we got to grips with the Galway forwards.
"We struggled very badly in terms of getting scores in the first half, but you have to admire our never say die spirit. But heart and courage won the game for us, but it may not be enough the next day."
All round it was a day for the old guard, lads the Holy Trinity groomed for greatness. McMahon, O'Connor, Lohan, Gilligan.
"These lads never lose their class," Lyons smiled. "The sad thing is it's taken three years to get back to Croke Park to remind everybody how good they really are.
"This is a huge win for us. Before the Wexford game I said that if we were lucky enough to win that we wanted the winners of Cork-Galway. We needed stern test to find out what we were made off. We got it today and stood up to it. And that will stand to us the next day.
"Waterford did what we couldn't do, they beat Tipperary. We played Tipp last year, they beat us, same again this year. Waterford beat them with style and it will be a huge test for us."
For Lyons this is vindication. After the Tipperary defeat the cynics couldn't keep quiet.
"A long time ago," he pointed out. "That was May 19, it's now July 28, it's a long time, over two and a half months. Maybe it was a bit early for our lads to find real championship form. It's one of the benefits of the qualifier system that you get a second chance and players get a chance to improve. It's been of enormous benefit to us."
Skipper Brian Lohan was equally breathless after rolling back the years yet again.
"Pure elation," he gasped. "Thrilled with how things went and how we got back into it. In the first half we were very poor and it took us a long time to settle. We were in real trouble but for Seanie McMahon in the first half.
"We had much more of a presence in the second half and Ollie Baker made an awful difference."We put them under a bit of pressure and we were getting scores a bit easier than them.
"When we got it back to two points it was game on."
And a word for Jamesie, a man with a particular fondness for scoring points into the Hill 16 end. Remember 1997?
"At half time he didn't say anything but you could see that he was disappointed with how he played in the first half," Lohan revealed.
"He went inside on his own, didn't talk to anybody, but came out and showed exactly what he's made of."
Galway boss Noel Lane was struggling to come to terms with another shattering blow. All Ireland runners-up last year. Out in the last eight 10 months later.
He was also struggling with referee Willie Barrett's decision to penalise Diarmuid Cloonan when he tussled with Tony Carmody. Gilligan banged home the resultant free.
A free out then? "That was my reading of it, yes," said Lane tersely.
"Midway through the second half we drove a few chances wide," he added.
"Our forwards needed to find more space and more direct ball but Clare were putting our half forward line and midfield under a lot of pressure. We were struggling for 50-50 balls with bigger, stronger men.
"It's very disappointing for players, manager and supporters. We were hoping we'd a stronger squad and we'd a good victory against Cork.
"But the new system didn't suit us, we would have liked harder games. But you have to admire Clare and the game was more intense than we thought."
And what about staying on in search of that elusive All Ireland title? "We'll go away and think about it."
Plenty of soul-searching ahead.
PAIN IN THE NECK: Eugene Cloonan breaks his hurley across Clare's Brian Quinn; IT'S BEHIND YOU: Cloonan and Lohan seem to lose their bearings; GUTTED: Defeat another blow for Noel Lane; ON THE RUN: Alan Kerins of Galway is chased by Griffin and Hoey; POINT MADE: Colin Lynch races past Alan Kerins to grab the winner; PARTY TIME: Davy Fitzgerald celebrates victory for Clare with team mate Ollie Baker; CLOSE CONTACT: Damien Hayes and Sean McMahon