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.

Brennan screwed a difficult shot wide in the 24th minute but they concocted their smoothest break on their next attack, with Brennan playing in the impressive Michael O’Shea who flicked a clever ball to Rory Donnelly. For a split second, the Cooraclare forward had Alan Quirke’s goal in his sightlines but then Eoin Cadogan arrived to grab a fistful of Clare jersey and kill the movement stone dead. The spoiling play earned Cadogan a yellow card and might have acted as a lesson to the Clare defence.

The second half had all the competitive tension of an afternoon stroll along the promenade in Lahinch. Cork had too much on the scoreboard and too many forwards who could take scores with ease. Paddy Kelly failed to start the game because of injury but Daniel Goulding came in to land a couple of fine points and all of Colm O’Neill’s scores were gems. Nonetheless, Cork were collectively lack-lustre and committed several lazy fouls in the second half as Clare kept pushing for a goal.

In fact, there were good stops at both ends: Clare fullback Barry Duggan threw himself in front of a shot by O’Neill in the 44th minute and in the last three minutes, the ever vigilant Alan Quirke made a strong block to preserve the Cork clean sheet.

But the match meandered to a close and this win leaves Cork with a four-week lay-off before they return for the All-Ireland quarter-finals, where it all went pear-shaped a year ago. A punishing few weeks of training beckons.

Clare must now face the more crucial business of getting their minds and bodies ready for the fourth-round qualifiers. Despite the chastening nature of this match, they are just a lone game away from the last eight, which would represent a phenomenal achievement. But in the pantheon of great Munster finals, this one will not be remembered for very long.

CORK: 1 A Quirke; 2 R Carey, 3 M Shields, 4 E Cadogan; 18 E Cotter, 7 N O’Leary, 5 P Kissane; 9 A O’Connor, 10 A Walsh (1-1); 23 F Gould (1-0), 19 C Sheehan (0-4), 12 P Kerrigan (0-2); 13 C O’Neill (0-4), 15 N Murphy (1-0), 14 D O’Connor (0-2). Subs: D Goulding (0-2) for N Murphy (52 mins), D O’Sullivan for P Kissane (55 mins), J Fitzpatrick for A O’Connor (57 mins), C O’Driscoll (0-1) for C Sheehan (66 mins), M Collins for F Goold (66 mins). Yellow cards: E Cadogan (25 mins), C Sheehan (45 mins).

CLARE: 1 J Hayes; 2 K Harnett, 3 B Duggan, 4 L Healy; 5 E Coughlan, 6 G Kelly (0-1), 7 J Hayes, 8 G Brennan (0-2), 9 G Quinlan; 10 S Brennan, 11 S McGrath, 12 A Clohessy; 13 R Donnelly (0-3), 14 D Tubridy (0-3, 0-2 frees), 15 M O’Shea (0-4). Subs: G Kelly for E Coughlan (half time), N Browne for G Quinlan (half-time), D Russell for A Clohessy (60 mins), S McNeilis for B Duggan (67 mins), C Talty for S Brennan (70 mins). Yellow card: D Tubridy (65 mins).

Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).

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