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HURLING: ALL IRELAND HURLING FINAL: KILKENNY v CLARE: DJ: I THOUGHT IT WAS OVER.. AND THEN THIS; Kilkenny.....2-20 Clare...........0-19: From injured spectator to All Ireland hero in just TEN weeks.

Byline: Orla BANNON

TEN weeks ago DJ Carey could never have dreamt of a day like this.

When he sat in Croke Park and watched his Kilkenny teammates beat Wexford in the Leinster final, he thought his year was over.

A car accident and an appendix operation looked to have put paid to the 32-year-old playing any part in Kilkenny's championship campaign this summer.

But the flesh and the spirit were willing and yesterday he found himself back on the stage he loves best, doing what he does best - starring for the Cats in another superb All-Ireland victory.

After a convincing display on his comeback game against Tipperary in the semi-final, he put on another five star show against Clare yesterday hitting a majestic 1-5.

The goal after just three minutes gave the Cats a lead they were never to lose and his outrageously skillful point in the 51st minute was the point of the match - if not the championship.

Despite only playing two inter-county games all year, the Young Irelands man is now a cert to win his ninth Allstar award and admits the dramatic turnaround in a few weeks has staggered him.

"It's marvellous for myself to be back," he confessed.

"I'd given up on the year 10 or 12 weeks ago, I felt my year was gone but days like this make it all worthwhile.

"I've always found it hard to be a spectator, it's as simple as that and I didn't enjoy sitting there watching the lads.

"I tried not to think about it much because it was frightening to think I might not be back.

"But things came right for me and hopefully I won't be a spectator again for another few years."

It's incredible to think that DJ produced such an outstanding level of performance on the back of just eight weeks training.

Undoubtedly the most gifted hurler of his generation, he's probably the only man who could have done it and Cats fans will hope he goes on terrorising defences for a few years yet.

With four All-Irelands now under his belt following on from the wins in 1992, '93 and 2000, he revealed he still has the desire to keep going.

He said: "I have the heart to go on.

"It's all about whether you have the legs and hunger for next year but next year is a long way away.

"I'm going to enjoy win number four first."

Clare were always playing catch-up and apart from a brief spell at the start of the second-half when they piled on the pressure and got within three points, it was a one-sided final.

Of course, Carey's deft finish after just three minutes set them on their way and he explained it was exactly the start they wanted.

"It was a great boost to Kilkenny, we were looking for a good start because we felt Clare were concentrating on a good start themselves.

"We got ahead and kept tagging on a few points to keep that cushion between us.

"But whatever we won by there was only a puck of the ball in it."

Henry Shefflin was another hero hitting 1-7 and DJ heaped praise on him afterwards.

"Henry's goal in the second-half was crucial because it killed them off.

"He is a wonderful talent and I'm only sad I won't be playing alongside him for another 10 years."

Manager Brian Cody declared Carey "defied logic" with his amazing comeback but praised his defence for shutting out the Clare forwards.

"The two lads up front will get all the headlines I'm sure but I thought our defence was superb.

"DJ's goal at the start gave us a fabulous cushion early on which was vital because Clare put us under serious pressure early in the second half.

"But we dug deep, held on and hurled again and you don't win All-Irelands unless you have character and this team has it in abundance."

This wasn't exactly one of the all-time hurling classics but Cody couldn't have cared less after guiding Kilkenny to their 27th All-Ireland senior crown.

"I've no idea whether it was a great game or not but as far as I'm concerned, it was a fabulous game!"

Inspirational captain Andy Comerford puffed on a well-earned cigarette as soon as he entered the dressing-room and reflected on a fantastic year's work.

Lifting the McCarthy Cup was the culmination of a wonderful summer as the Cats really got the cream winning the league crown, Leinster and All-Ireland titles.

"We might have lost two All-Ireland finals (98 and 99) but most of us have won two now and we've fairly buried the ghosts of the past today," he grinned.

The O'Loughlin Gaels man then stood up and gave a rousing speech to his team about how to conduct themselves.

"You can hold your heads high, all 30 of you because it was a 30 man effort and we needed every one of you.

"But you must remember to respect yourselves and your families.

"Have your few drinks but do it with dignity and pride - always remember you are a Kilkenny hurler and don't spoil the respect you have earned by doing anything rash."

Clare manager Cyril Lyons admitted that Kilkenny were "worthy winners".

He said: "I don't know how many wides they had (three) but everything they hit from midfield up seemed to go straight over the bar.

"We had slim chances of goals but no clear cut chances.

"We did well to get it back to three points early in the second-half but we really needed a goal to draw level and put the game back in the melting pot.

"But fair play to Kilkenny, they've won everything this year. They're the champions and deservedly so."

Few expected Clare to reach the final but Lyons was struggling to find any positives out of their year's work.

"Maybe in about ten days time I'll be able to tell you what the positives are.

"But when you look at the sideboard and you don't have anything it doesn't seem like a good year now."What do

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IN IT'S RIGHTFUL HANDS: DJ Carey with the Liam McCarthy; WISHFUL THINKING: Cats fans have their say; LET THE PARTY BEGIN: Kilkenny players celebrate; POWER AND THE GLORY: Hickey stops Gilligan as Comerford lifts the Liam McCarthy
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 9, 2002
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