Cork 0-20 Clare 0-17
The last time Cork and Clare played on into the evening was the fabled All-Ireland final replay of two years ago. On Saturday night in different circumstances the counties again provided a compelling spectacle but one that differed from 2013 in a couple of respects.
Most obviously, Cork won this time but they did so in a different type of game. Gone were the orthodox configurations of those previous matches, which yielded 11 goals, and in came the elemental hustles of the crowded middle, pared-back full-forward lines and sweeper defence.
Ultimately the match was won by a hot streak from Patrick Horgan whose scoring burst of four in the last 10 minutes - divided between frees and a couple of great points from play - was part of an unanswered five that turned the match upside down taking Clare from two points ahead at 0-17 to 0-15 to a three-point defeat.
Ironically it was Jimmy Barry-Murphy, long identified as something of a Luddite in these matters, who delivered the more convincing defensive unit even if at times they looked on the point of being overwhelmed by the free-running Clare hurlers for whom Tony Kelly, determinedly marked by Brian Lawton, proved the biggest scoring threat.
The two-man full-forward line of Shane O'Donnell and Darach Honan threatened much but Brian Murphy and Stephen McDonnell clung on to the task of marking them with determination and focus and the system, with Mark Ellis again highly effective playing sweeper, did the rest.
“Everybody’s trying to work out the system that suits their own players best,” said Barry-Murphy, “and going back to the league final and the Munster championship game, we knew we were conceding too many goals and we knew we had to get our defensive set-up right. And we’re still trying to get it right, it’s a work in progress and we feel we’re going the right way at least.
“Early on we tried different things, we weren’t sure how we would play; you have to try different things as the game goes on. Brian (Lawton) had an outstanding game. He’s pretty new to this level; equally I thought Bill Cooper was incredible. His work-rate, his effort all over the field, it was superhuman.”
Séamus Harnedy was another whose levels of industry never flagged from the moment he put Cork ahead within 18 seconds to the very end when he fired the comeback with a big catch just after they had fallen two behind.
It was all a recurring nightmare for the 2013 champions, who have now lost their three most recent high-stakes matches - relegation play-off, Munster quarter-final and this All-Ireland qualifier - by a score despite holding the initiative going into the last 10 minutes.
On five occasions Clare led by two points but could never kick on and build a more substantial lead. This became a pattern of the match in that Cork led by two four times. Both teams appeared to lose momentum as the match opened up for them, allowing the other to recover.
That was until Cork made the final break on the scoreboard, opening up the winning three-point margin - the biggest lead of the whole match and at the time you most want it.
Cork deserved the win. They did what all winning teams have to do: limit the damage when the opposition is on top and take the crucial chances - they managed this even in injury-time before the interval and led by one.
The latter part of the prescription may sound peculiar in a match that saw 37 wides between the teams, apportioned exactly as the final scoreboard, 20-17 to Cork. But conditions were poor and between the two qualifier matches, the Killinan End drew three dozen wides with only Dublin keeping the inaccuracies in single figures.
“It’s disappointing, it’s hurting us all,” said Clare manager David Fitzgerald afterwards. “Cork won the game and fair play to them; they took their opportunities at the end.”
He then claimed that he had been advised to replace one of his players at half-time.
“Probably unfortunate we had to take off John Conlon at half-time. We didn’t want to do it, we didn’t want to do it but we were more or less told that if we didn’t do it it would be happening very quickly and we might be down to 14, which is hard. He got a yellow early.”
Asked who had communicated this message, he wasn’t forthcoming.
“You gave a fair idea what the story is. I don’t want to go into it. When you have to take off one of your ball winners it’s tough. He’s massive ball winner for us, it’s disappointing. In fairness we were getting the heads up on what was in his (referee, Barry Kelly’s) head.”
He said that he wouldn’t be making any decisions on his future before discussing the situation with county board.
CLARE: 1. Patrick Kelly; 2. David McInerney, 3. Cian Dillon, 5. Brendan Bugler; 4. Séadna Morey, 6. Conor Ryan, 7. Jack Browne; 8. Pat O’Connor, 9. Colin Ryan (0-2, frees); 10. John Conlon, 11. Tony Kelly (0-2), 12. Shane Golden (0-1); 13. Darach Honan, 14. Shane O’Donnell (0-1), 15. Conor McGrath (0-2). Subs: 23. Aaron Cunningham for Conlon (half-time), 19. Pat Donnellan for Colin Ryan (42 mins), 26. Colm Galvin for Golden (49 mins), 22. David Reidy for Morey (57 mins),
CORK: 1. Anthony Nash; 2. Damien Cahalane, 4. Brian Murphy, 3. Stephen McDonnell; 7. Cormac Murphy (0-1), 12. Brian Lawton, 5. Aidan Walsh (0-1); 8. Daniel Kearney, 6. Mark Ellis; 13. Alan Cadogan (0-1), 9. Bill Cooper (0-1), 15. Patrick Horgan (0-8, five frees); 10. Conor Lehane (0-2), 14. Séamus Harnedy (0-2), 11. Patrick Cronin (0-2). Subs: 21. Rob O'Shea for Kearney (43 mins), 25. Jamie Coughlan (0-1) for Cadogan (50 mins), 23. Paudie O'Sullivan (0-1) for Cronin (58 mins), 26. Darren McCarthy for Lawton (65 mins), 10. John Conlon for Honan (67 mins).
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)