Colm Collins hails Clare legends as fans do themselves proud
It just wasn't to be for the Clare footballers.
They started like a dream and finished with every last manageable step left out on the O'Moore Park turf, but in the end they were second best. Only just.
And though this narrow, gut-wrenching one point defeat will sadden and gnaw away at them for quite a while, there will come a time when every Clare person present in Portlaoise will realise that Sunday July 7 2019 was actually a heroic day. There will come a time when they will look back on it with pure pride.
Because from 1.30 onward, they had the All-Ireland football championship under a saffron and blue spell. They were making all the noise.
In the stands they savaged and on the pitch they matched those in green and yellow. Sometimes it's just not meant to be.
There are moments leading up to throw-in when you can gauge how a game is going to pan out. The Meath footballers were the first out onto the field for the pre-match team photo and they were greeted with modest cheers from supporters present. Maybe that's what it's always like.
A couple of minutes later came the Clare lads and half the crowd was standing. The other half was rocking from the rafters. The roars could have been heard in Offaly. That's how it's done.
The game would take on a similar pattern. With Gary Brennan striding out, Gordon Kelly hitting hard and with David 'Tubs' Tubridy balling, Meath were a little bit shell-shocked for a while.
Clare certainly had the better of that first half. Maybe not certainly, maybe just because their giddy fans were cheering each contested ball, were jumping with every kick and were screaming every point over the bar.
It seemed like they were enjoying this more. It was a true sight to behold and when you consider that many of these same supporters paid €25 to watch a minor match in Semple Stadium only the day before, just because it was a double header with a football qualifier that they had no interest in, and still journeyed again on Sunday, it really is a true credit to the county.
In the second half, Meath's superior fitness showed. Donal Keogan was unstoppable and young Ethan Devine was brilliant for a man who wasn't named to start. They had too much, Clare lost their rhythm but they still somehow stayed alive. Their passion, their defiance kept them there.
They could have got lucky with a late knock-on, deflection or a rebound but didn't. As a neutral with no ties either way before throw-in, it would have been a very welcome tonic.
After the game, that same class abounded. Colm Collins, the Clare manager and famed gentleman spoke to the media with grace and with patience. It's fairly clear why he has the distinction of being the third longest serving Gaelic football manager in the country.
He paid tribute to his Clare warriors. Kelly, Brennan, Malone and co.
"These fellas every day they go out, they give so much to Clare," he said.
"They’re a pleasure to deal with. They’re such professionals. They’re the reason this team has been very competitive. There’s great credit due to them, the Clare people should be proud of them..."
Six years in the job, he won't be making any hasty decisions on the future.
“What we’re going to do now is keep our powder dry. I don’t think that making decisions on the back of a championship defeat is the right thing to do. I’ll just see and give it a bit of time.”
Gary Brennan, their stalwart and spiritual leader was just as obliging.
"We were concerning them, but I suppose we never had them panicking. We just didn't create as much in the second half as we did in the first. It was similar to last week, we were coughing the ball up. If we had been able to create a few more chances, maybe we'd have troubled them.
"We got back to round 4 again. We haven't been there since 2016, but ultimately, it's hugely disappointing today and it will take a while before we get any great pride from it..."
That day will come eventually though.