Intriguing history reaches unforgettable climax
Cork and Clare have shared many significant days in the past four decades but next Sunday is for keeps
Cork for their part have reason to regard warmly the modern tradition with Clare. The counties’ four most recent meetings in Munster finals – 1999, ’86, ’77 and ’76 – have been won by Cork en route to All-Ireland success and you have to go back farther than 40 years to 1972 to break that sequence.
When Clare, for all of the fury and at times spite that passed between the county and Tipperary in the late 1990s, look back at those great years they can more easily identify the milestones of that journey by reference to Cork.
In 1995 the semi-final in the Gaelic Grounds was the launch pad for that most memorable of summers. Seán McMahon ‘making himself useful’ with a broken collarbone at corner forward because there were no more replacements and forcing the line ball from which Ollie Baker clipped in the winning goal and Frank Lohan making a late critical intervention to prevent a score at the other end.
Clare powered on to make it their summer. Afterwards outgoing Cork manager – the late, redoubtable Johnny Clifford on his last tour of duty – had a lengthy conversation in the abandoned Mackey Stand with Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
A couple of months later JBM took over the Cork job and served a long and arduous apprenticeship, which led incrementally from the horrors of a home thrashing by Limerick a year later through two successive defeats by Clare in 1997 and ’98 to the Promised Land in ’99 when they beat Clare and added an All-Ireland.
Ninety-eight was particularly hard. Weeks after thrashing Clare in the NHL semi-final and adding the league title, Cork marched innocently into no-man’s land in a Munster semi-final and were pounded to dust. With the match settled but not over, Loughnane prowled down the touchline in Semple Stadium. The Clare crowds rose in acclamation as in an ancient Roman triumph.
The years to come were Cork’s – three All-Irelands in seven years – but matches with Clare still had significance. The All-Ireland semi-final of 2005 showcased John Allen’s clarity on the sideline when he replaced incumbent All Stars Brian Corcoran and Ronan Curran in a late throw of the dice to repel Clare.
The following year, the ludicrous ‘Semplegate’ incidents hobbled Cork with insupportable suspensions for the Munster championship.
Yet, despite all that has gone before, the two counties will never have played a more important fixture than is due next Sunday – a match that will live longer in the memory of the winning county than any of its predecessors