Cork quietly collect another Munster title as Clare crumble

The Leesiders trailed by eight points at one stage but came back to emerge victorious

Cork 2-24 Clare 3-19

Somewhere along the way, Cork will be given their due. It will probably take winning an All-Ireland – and that’s probably fair enough – but even with this, their second Munster title on the bounce, there is a sense that they still haven’t convinced the whole of the hurling world of their credentials. It’s not entirely fair but there it is.

They can only do what they can only do. If nothing else, they came through here with their mettle strenuously tested. When John Conlon appeared to seal his man of the match award by stroking his fifth point from play as the clock ticked 35 minutes, Clare were 2-11 to 0-9 ahead. They were scoring as they pleased at one end of the pitch and holding every Cork forward bar the heroic Patrick Horgan at the other. “Coasting,” as co-manager Gerry O’Connor put it afterwards.

If this Munster championship has told us nothing else, it’s that an eight-point lead is no suggestion of infallibility. Still, such was Clare’s domination at that point that it appeared all they needed to do was shepherd their advantage to the break intact and Cork’s second-half incline would be too steep. If this Munster final had a turning point, then, it was the puck-out that followed Conlon’s fifth score.

Seamus Harnedy hadn’t done a whole lot in the game, save for a snaffled early point following some sloppiness in the Clare defence. But here, when he absolutely, positively, no-room-for-messing had to, Harnedy got a telescopic paw on Anthony Nash’s puck-out, shrugged off a foul and headed for the Town End, slipping a pass to Luke Meade for Cork’s first goal as he went.

When Mark Coleman bent a picture-perfect sideline cut over the bar a minute later, it meant that Cork went to the break four points down but feeling like they could fight lightning.

“That’s the one thing,” said Nash afterwards. “We’ve played together so much. The new format kind of helps because you’re playing more and more games together. Last year we’d a good run of games as well but look it’s definitely a positive to do what we did. As a team before we’ve come back in tougher situations. There was never any panic really with the lads.”

If there had been, it wouldn’t have felt out of place. Not for the first time this summer, Cork were opened up repeatedly in that first half. Conlon was untouchable at full-forward, torturing Damien Cahalane for four points and then drawing his new marker Colm Spillane into a yellow card foul as soon as he was switched onto him.

Tony Kelly was a fitful enough presence but the one time he forced himself on the afternoon, he skated off on a 60-metre run that left Coleman coughing in his dust before dishing off to David Reidy for Clare’s first goal. When Peter Duggan got a flick to a long-range free from goalkeeper Donal Tuohy for their second on 34 minutes, Clare were rampant.

It would be harsh to accuse them of falling asleep just short of half-time - not to mention it would diminish the majesty of Harnedy’s take and pass for Meade’s goal. But they certainly came out a touch dozy after the break, needing a sharp save from Tuohy to keep Harnedy out almost immediately.

Darragh Fitzgibbon hoisted a point soon after, the first act of a huge second half from the leggy Cork midfielder. Horgan, unimpeachable all afternoon, came out and tossed his third from play over his shoulder a minute later and then potted a 65. Clare’s lead was gone by the 45th minute.

They wobbled at precisely the wrong time. Duggan had been flawless up to half-time but missed three frees in the 15 minutes after the break. Just as significantly, Clare’s supply lines to Conlon became fatally disrupted. He barely touched the ball in the second half and finished it with the same five-point total he brought into it. If the winning of the game for Cork came at the far end, the saving of it came in erasing Conlon’s influence.

“That’s why they’re champions and worthy champions,” O’Connor said. “The game is played over 75 minutes, we just weren’t able to get possession from our own puck-out as regularly as we were in the first half and as a result of that there was a lot of ball being cut out by their half-back line and feeding their forward line. Also, as a consequence of that our supply to our full-forward line, particularly to John who was having an excellent game in the first half, we were being starved of possession inside in the full-forward line in the second half.

“In the first half, we were using our midfielders and our wing-backs as puck-out options. I think Cork probably had a discussion about that at half-time and they pushed up on our half-backs and midfielders. But we still got a few puck-outs to our half-backs and midfield but we were probably turned over or the ball was dropped.”

When the game turned Cork’s way, it stayed turned. Clare went behind for the first time all afternoon with Harnedy’s second point in the 46th minute and were never able to get themselves in front thereafter. Podge Collins insinuated himself into the game here and there and knifed a couple of points, Conor McGrath came off the bench to grab one of his own.

But Cork were equal to all over it. Harnedy streaked through to cherry his display with Cork’s second goal after Bill Cooper spotted him in his own half-acre around the Clare 45. It put them 2-18 to 2-15 ahead in the 57th minute and the closest Clare got to them after that was when Ian Galvin flashed home a making-up-the-numbers goal in injury-time.

Cork’s Munster title, then. What that buys them from here on out though, only the road will tell us.

CLARE: Donal Tuohy, Patrick O'Connor, David McInerney, Jack Browne, Seadna Morey, Conor Cleary, Jamie Shanahan, Colm Galvin (0-1), Cathal Malone, Peter Duggan (1-7, 0-6 free), Tony Kelly (0-1), David Reidy (1-2), Podge Collins (0-2), John Conlon (0-5), Shane O'Donnell.

Subs: Jason McCarthy for Malone, 49 mins; Conor McGrath (0-1) for O’Donnell, 55 mins; David Fitzgerald for Shanahan, 58 mins; Darragh Corry for Reidy, 63 mins; Ian Galvin (1-0) for Cleary, 68 mins.

CORK: Anthony Nash; Sean O'Donoghue, Damien Cahalane, Colm Spillane; Christopher Joyce, Eoin Cadogan, Mark Coleman (0-2, 0-1 sideline); Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-2), Bill Cooper (0-1); Daniel Kearney (0-2), Conor Lehane (0-1), Seamus Harnedy (1-4); Luke Meade (1-1), Shane Kingston, Patrick Horgan (0-11, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65).

Subs: Robbie O’Flynn for Kingston, 57 mins; Michael Cahalane for Meade, 64 mins; Lorcán McLoughlin for Kearney, 66 mins; Dean Brosnan for McLoughlin, 73 mins.

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).

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