Cork give a beating to Clare and tradition
Cork 3-16 Clare 0-13:TIME FOR the old debate. As expected, Cork won their 37th Munster title yesterday. But only 9,139 people gathered in the shadowy Mackey Stand to see a match that, while peppered with eye-catching scores, was defined by a score and atmosphere that made the provincial tradition appear dated.
Cork did not pretend that this was the most thrilling day of their sporting lives, but for the small band of Rebel loyalists these Munster days will always have one major relevance. If Cork are winning these trophies, it means Kerry are not.
Clare’s dreams of reprising the summer of 20 years ago, when they raided the Kerry empire and won an unlikely provincial title, never looked likely to materialise here. They played some good football and Conor Counihan will probably have some choice words for his full-back line, who coughed up 0-7 to Clare’s sharp corner forward duo. In addition, Clare came up trumps at midfield, with Gary Brennan showing huge integrity and a terrific range of fundamental skills as the day grew ever more impossible for the outsiders. Clare decided to honour the occasion by going out and playing their game rather than setting up a system to try and minimise the Cork attack. It was a calculated gamble and it was honourable and, as Michael McDermott would explain afterwards, they felt they had no other choice.
Nonetheless, Cork led by three clear goals at half-time. Each of these scores originated from the direct, full-tilt runs at goal for which the Cork men have become renowned. Fintan Gould (14th minute) and Aidan Walsh (23rd minute) both concocted wonderful solo efforts from deep, seizing on a breaking ball in midfield and wasting little time in sprinting on as-the-crow-flies route towards Joe Hayes goal. In each case, the finish was spectacular, Gould planting a shot past the Clare goalkeeper’s right shoulder while Walsh, who froze the rallying Clare defence with a feint, making good with a perfectly placed left-foot shot.
Both men must have been stunned by how much freedom they had during those efforts: they scarcely saw a yellow shirt on their way to goal. Paul Kerrigan, Cork’s original speed merchant, engineered the Rebel’s third goal of the half with a similar run and played a hand pass for the loitering Nicholas Murphy to palm into an empty net.
There seemed to be a doubt as to whether Murphy made contact with the ball or whether Kerrigan’s pass had gone directly into the goal. But the umpire raised his flag straight away and just like that any remote sense of an upset drifted away from the Gaelic Grounds.
That Clare conceded just one free to the Cork men over the first 49 minutes of the match could be interpreted as laudable discipline given the quality of marksmen wearing red. But they would have been better off halting those Cork runs and picking up fouls and yellow cards if necessary rather than try and play straight-up defence. That decision to play the Cork attackers in a straight one-and-one match-up left the Clare defence under terrific pressure.
In the first 15 minutes, the excellent Ciarán Sheehan claimed several high balls and once he turned sharply, he found great plains in front of him. Once a Cork man got running, Clare were unable to get the numbers back to limit the damage.
But you could see the sense of Clare’s gamble at the other end of the field, where their game-plan was working well. Brennan was the pick of the midfield bunch up to half-time and as well as matching Cork for points, Clare threatened with a few goal chances of their own.