A CONOR McGrath point a minute from the end of normal time gave Clare a rare but deserved victory over Cork in the Munster MHC at Pairc Ui Chaoimh last night.
It means a place in the semi-final for Clare, while Cork must now beat Limerick to advance any further.
Clare owed much to full forward Darach Honan, who was their top scorer with 2-2. Unfortunately, he was forced off with 10 minutes to go with a leg injury.
Both defences were decidedly shaky, hence the glut of scores. But credit to Clare, they performed well particularly in the second-half with Luke O’Loughlin, Paudie Fitzpatrick and Brian Glynn impressive.
Kevin Heagney showed his versatility when switched to full-forward for the closing minutes after Honan went off with a classy point and, after Aidan Walsh did likewise for Cork two minutes from time, extra-time looked very likely until McGrath’s winner.
Paul Haughney had the game’s opening score after just 20 seconds. Tomas Downes levelled it after three minutes before Haughney notched a goal of sheer class.
Clare settled well after the early Cork scores. Kevin Heagney and Kevin Moynihan got on top at midfield and, as the Cork defence were exposed by the lively Clare forwards and in particular Darach Honan.
Points by Tomas Downes, Patrick O’Connor and Simon O’Brien had the Banner County back in the game and urged on by their vocal supporters, Honan struck for the first of his goals in the 10th minute. Cork failed to clear the danger and Honon brought the sliothar in along the ground before easily beating the goalkeeper. From a position of being a goal in front, the home side found themselves a point down.
And it got worse as the lively Clare attack began to pick off a succession of points to lead by four at the end of the opening quarter. Cork recovered somewhat and with Paul Haughney sparkling at corner-forward they struck for three unanswered points to be just two down coming to the break.
However, there was a tremendous air of anticipation around the ground every time Darach Honan got possession and, now operating in the right corner, he skinned his marker before racing away for a second major.
However, in typical fashion, Cork struck back strongly and in the closing two minutes to half time hit back with a goal and a point, the goal a splendid effort by Simon O’Brien, and at half time a 2-10 to 0 2-9 Clare lead didn’t look to be good enough for them.
The second-half developed into a tremendous contest and while Cork had wind advantage they failed to make any great use of it as the Clare defence tightened considerably. Paul Haughney, who threatened to win the game on his own for Cork in the first-half, was rarely seen on the change over with the result the home attack never threatened.
With the game delicately balanced at 2-16 each and extra time looming, Cork lost defender Darragh Rodgers for a second bookable offence. Numerically stronger in attack, Clare came forward looking for the winning score and it came after substitute Ian Fahy won a close-in free which Conor McGrath duly converted.
The final whistle sounded seconds later and from the reaction of the Clare team management, it was a victory well worth the journey.
Scorers — Clare: D. Honan 2-2; C. McGrath 0-5 (0-4 frees); K. Heagney 0-4 (0-3 frees); T. Downes, P. O’Connor 0-2 each; F. Kennedy, K. Moynihan 0-1 each.
Cork: S. O’Brien 1-7 (0-4 frees); P. Haughney 1-3; A. Walsh, C. Sheehan 0-2 each; M. Collins, M. Sexton 0-1 each.
CLARE: K. Brennan; D. Nash, B. Glynn, C. Chaplin; L. O’Loughlin, P. Fitzpatrick, B,. O’Connor; K. Moynihan, K. Heagney; S. McConigley, T. Downes, P. O’Connor; M. Barry, D. Honan, C. McGrath.
Subs: F. Kennedy for McConigley; D. Morey for Barry; K. Ryan for Nash; I. Fahy for Honan.
CORK: D. McCarthy; B. Collins, P. Honohan, E. Moynihan; D. Rodgers, P. O’Shea, W. Egan; S. O’Farrell, A. Walsh; C. Sheehan, D. Roche, M., Sexton; M. Collins, S. O’Brien, P. Haughney.
Subs: M. Carroll for Farrell; R. Crowley for Roche.
Referee: M. O’Connor (Limerick).