THERE is no need for the woefully uninitiated to steal quietly into Croke Park.

Such is the concentrated focus of the surrounding 82,300 supporters that one could in the manner of Lady Godiva gallop into the Cusack Stand, modesty covered only by a cloak of ignorance, and remain unnoticed for the entire afternoon of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.

It is compulsory for major sporting events to create an atmosphere within a stadium that causes one to remember with fondness those days when one had hair on the head that would stand to attention on roared orders from somewhere deep inside.

Croke Park on a finals day is at the very tip of this sporting phenomenon but, being Ireland, it follows a toast to the eternal reality of an extraordinary atmosphere of a September Sunday with something more profound, that drifts in song and words on the wind but cannot be fully grasped or even articulated.

Hurling speaks to the soul of an Irishman. The greatest day of observance was conducted yesterday as Cork took on Clare in the All-Ireland Senior Championship.

Every final has its own backstory and the 2013 version had one to rank with the best. It was marked by the absence of Kilkenny which, for 12 of the past 15 years, have come up to Dublin for the final almost as a matter of divine right. Galway and Tipperary were favoured to be their most formidable opponents this year.

Yet Cork, revitalised under a legend, and Clare, driven by a demon, survived the season to test their body and spirit in front of the hurling nation that comprises 2400 clubs in the country under the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), and a further 400 abroad.

Reduced to its simplest terms, this final was a tale of the unexpected. To cut to the end of a compelling drama, it is one that will be repeated in three weeks. Clare 0-25 drew with Cork 3-16. This is the dry arithmetic. It does nothing to describe the excitement of a match that started in fury and gained momentum.

This was the first all backdoor-final since 2004, that is both clubs had been beaten previously this season and survived to the final because of a sort of repechage system. Both clubs, too, had contested a relegation play-off in April. Both clubs now will contest a replay for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

It is a measure of the turbulence of the day that Clare equalised with the last puck of the day yet will feel aggrieved at the result. Patrick Horgan had put Cork ahead at what seemed the end of a frantic match but Domhnall O'Donovan saved the Banner County with the last swipe.

Clare's performance, though, was committed throughout and carried belief as its standard.

Yet Cork, a county that is said to suffer from a superiority complex, marched on Dublin with a confidence bolstered by a wonderful history of 30 championships and with Jimmy Barry-Murphy at the helm. Barry-Murphy would be hurling's Pele, but only if the great Brazilian was also an invincible coach. Barry-Murphy has won at All-Ireland senior and minor (under-18s) level as both a player and a manager. He also won an All-Ireland final as a Gaelic football player and was an excellent soccer player. He may not be God in Cork but could stand in if the deity had the day off.

Davy Fitzgerald, the Clare coach, is a former goalkeeper with the occasional madness of the breed. Such is the reckless bravery of the custodians in hurling that one suspects the men in white coats who stand by the goalposts to adjudicate points are also there to accompany the goalkeepers to the nearest psychiatric unit after the final whistle. Fitzgerald is not one to take a step backwards and he arrived with a young Clare team, with the county only having a history of three wins in the major championship. Yet Clare, too, are young and innovative, and personified their explosive manager when they ran out of the tunnel in the manner of shrapnel from a landing shell. They caused some damage to Cork in the first half.

Leading 12-10, Clare managed to withstand three goals from Cork in the second period to lead until the final seconds before being overhauled, and then pulling back. A brilliant goal from Conor Lehane and a decisive finish from Pa Cronin were split by the sight of Anthony Nash, the Cork goalkeeper, taking a Sunday stroll of more than 100 metres to dispatch a free hit past his counterpart.

But if Cork scored the goals, Clare made their point in a variety of ways. Their tactic was to smother Cork and then engineer room in midfield to shoot long and true. On 25 occasions the sliotar slipped through the Cork posts. These sometimes outrageous hits were not enough to see off Barry-Murphy and his players.

It was left to Clare to be rueful even though they had escaped from what would have been a dreadful, dispiriting defeat. They could thank O'Donovan for turning up in an unexpected position and then even more unexpectedly swiping the ball between the posts. His manager disclosed afterwards that the defender would have been far from his first choice to take advantage of such a desperate situation.

Fitzgerald, a character so fiery that journalists would have been forgiven for placing their recording devices in front of him with the aid of asbestos gloves, was almost eerily deliberate when reflecting on the second draw in the major final in 57 years. He skirted any invitation to criticise the match referee, who made some close calls in favour of Cork. Instead, he praised his opponents as a fine side and said of his players: "They do not know when to quit."

No-one, player or fan, flagged in a febrile afternoon in Dublin. Hurling drank deep and long a great final yesterday. They will have one more for the road on September 28.