AN exhibition of free-taking by Ryan Clifford helped Cork to a flattering nine-point victory over Clare in the ESB Munster MHC semi-final at Semple Stadium last night.
Clifford hit nine points from placed balls as the Munster champions set up another final decider against All-Ireland champions Tipperary in 11 days’ time, but there will have to be a big improvement if they hope to retain their provincial title.
Apart from Clifford’s excellent marksmanship, another huge plus for Cork was the introduction of Padraig Goold to their attack. The Na Piarsaigh youngster sent out a clear message he should never have been left off the team, scoring four superb points and creating the goal.
Defensively Cork were excellent, with Jack Harley, Alywin Kearney and Eoin McCarthy giving nothing away. Goalkeeper Darren McCarthy made a couple of excellent saves, while at midfield Killian Murphy, after a shaky start, hurled well. Apart from Clifford, the Cork attack lacked penetration and it’s an area the selectors will pay most attention to before the final on July 8.
Cork were quickest out of the blocks and led with a Clifford point from a free two minutes in. Clare were level three minutes later when Blain Earley pointed. Favourites Cork weren’t having matters all their own way as Clare, with Caimin Morey outstanding at centre-back, hit the front for the first time with a succession of points.
Cork’s first touch was poor and they struggled to cope with Clare’s no-nonsense hurling. But their forwards couldn’t make any impression on a strong Cork defence in which Alywn Kearney and Jack Herlihy were excellent and coupled with playing too far out, there was never a hint of a goal. The Leesiders did create a goal chance in the 20th minute when Robert White put Luke O’Farrell through but the Midleton youngster’s first-time strike shaved the crossbar for a point .
The game lacked sparkle and Cork were almost totally dependent on Ryan Clifford for scores. He was closely marked by Diarmuid Walsh which resulted in a lot of frees, and the Newtownshandrum player converted six to give his side a 0-9 to 0-6 lead coming up to half time.
Clare peppered the Cork defence in the closing minutes and should have drawn level but goalkeeper Darren McCarthy was off his line quickly to save superbly from Pat Vaughan, and at the break, their three-point lead was still intact.
Play improved marginally on the changeover but, after Kevin Heagney cut the deficit with a Clare point, Cork went on a scoring spree, landing four points in a row, two by Clifford and at the end of the third quarter led 0-14 to 0-8.
The introduction of Goold helped to consolidate their position and he created the goal when the hit the sliotar into the Clare goalmouth but in his attempt to clear the danger, corner back James Gunning only succeeded in steering the ball into his own net, and there was no way back for the Banner boys.
Clare battled on and it was no fault of Kevin Heagney, Caimin Morey and Blain Earley that they were beaten, but they could never get in for a goal that might have made a difference.
Scorers for Cork: R. Clifford 0-9 (0-8 frees, 0-1 65); P. Goold 0-4; J. Gunning 1-0 (og); R. White 0-2; K. O’Farrell, E. McCarthy, D. Stack, R. O’Driscoll,. D. O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
Clare: B. Earley 0-5 (0-4 frees); K. Heagney 0-3 (0-2 frees); S. Collins 0-2; B. O’Connell, C. Morey, E. Madden, J. Conlon 0-1 each.
CORK: D. McCarthy; J. Herlihy, A. Kearney, E. McCarthy; L. McLoughlin, C., O’Donovan, S. McDonnell; K. Murphy, M. Sexton; R. White, M. Bowles, D. O’Sullivan; L. O’Farrell, D. Stack, R. Clifford.
Subs: P. Goold for Sexton; R. O’Driscoll for White; G. O’Connor for McDonnell; M. O’Mahony for Stack.
CLARE: D. Tuohy; D. Nash, B., Glynn, J. Gunning; N. O’Connell, C. Morey, B. O’Connor; C. Duggan, S. Collins; K. Heagney, D. Moloney, J. Conlon; D. Honan, P. Vaughan, B. Earley.
Subs: R. Shanahan for Vaughan; E. Madden for Moloney; I. White for O’Connell; J. Fennessy for O’Connor.
Referee: P. Casey (Waterford).