Conor Counihan’s poker face is impervious to scrutiny but thanks to Billy Morgan this weekend we got some insight into his mindset.
“When Conor took over in 2007, the one thing he said to me was ‘I think the players are too nice,” recalled Morgan on Newstalk. “I said: ‘They are too nice.”
Yesterday, at least in the first half, Cork ruled with an iron fist and via the straight, powerful running of Paul Kerrigan and Aidan Walsh, had the game won by half-time.
They couldn’t rely on much sympathy either. All their scores came from play with only Colm O’Neill having a scoreable free opportunity.
Not that Cork complained. It was the sort of pragmatic play you’d expect from would-be champions.
Even if things fizzled out in the second half, they still beat Clare by three points after the break.
Leading 3-7 to 0-7 at half-time, the sad-sized crowd of 9,139 were treated to a display of might and speed in the opening half that saw Clare simply overrun.
Gary Brennan’s ability in the middle helped them to keep the scoreboard ticking over but a comeback was never on the cards.
Cork could afford to kick seven wides in that first half — the same amount as Clare — and kick a few attempts into Joe Hayes’s hands.
Will it by their sword that the open draw in Munster perishes? We’ll find out in the coming weeks but yesterday Cork looked after themselves and got the job done.
The 20-5 free count against them might suggest they bullied their opponents into submission but then Clare could have employed some professional fouls to avoid those three first-half goals as well.
With 52 minutes played, they had conceded just one free. They simply stood off Cork’s forwards too much.
Fintan Goold, one of two late replacements for Cork, smashed home his side’s opening goal in the 13th minute but should have been closed down before he pulled the trigger.
While Walsh’s mazy and powerful run before slotting home the second eight minutes later was laudable, more could have been done to stop him in his tracks.
Kerrigan then turned on the afterburners and made a beeline for the danger area in the 32nd minute before setting up Nicholas Murphy for the third and final goal.
The legitimacy of the score was questionable but by striking at the heart of the Clare defence, Cork had demonstrated how they were going to win this game.
What followed appeared a willingness to vary their attack. O’Neill kicked as many wides as he points (four) but he was a constant threat.
Ciarán Sheehan’s conversion rate was slightly better and he also finished with four on a day when all six starting forwards were on the scoresheet by the 34th minute.
The absence of the playmaking skills of Paddy Kelly were hardly felt but will be needed against tougher opposition. That being said, Michael O’Shea and Rory Donnelly gave Ray Carey and Eoin Cadogan difficult assignments, the Clare corner forwards bagging 0-7 between them from play. Alan O’Connor opened brightly for Cork but Brennan was more than his equal in midfield.
So Counihan has enough stick to beat a few players with in the gaping four weeks before the quarter-finals.
But he will be satisfied with most aspects of this, his third Munster title with Cork and first since 2009.
Even without Graham Canty, the half-back line stood up to scrutiny and Noel O’Leary was disciplined in his leadership from centre-back.
Alan Quirke enjoyed yet another shutout and Cork’s concession rate reads two goals in 11 games this year, a statistic underlying just how mean their rearguard unit are.
It’s also worth mentioning only one of those two goals in the league came from play and they depart Munster without Quirke having to collect the ball from his net.
Clare did have a few goal chances either side of the half but when the goalkeeper wasn’t denying them, his defenders were. Carey blocked Tubridy in the 17th minute and Donnelly found Eoin Cotter equal to his attempt in the 40th.
Quirke ensured there was no consolation goal either, two minutes from the end of time when sub Niall Browne’s shot was snuffed out.
At the other end, O’Neill could have grabbed a fourth bar Barry Duggan’s desperate goal-line save and the Clare full-back was called on again to stand in the way of Donncha O’Connor in the 50th minute.
Even at that early stage, the sense of inevitability was present, Cork having done what they needed to do.
Scorers for Cork: A Walsh 1-1; C Sheehan, C O’Neill 0-4 each; F Goold, N Murphy 1-0 each; D O’Connor, P Kerrigan, D Goulding 0-2 each; B O’Driscoll 0-1.
Scorers for Clare: M O’Shea 0-4; D Tubridy (2 frees), R Donnelly 0-3 each; G Brennan 0-2, G Kelly 0-1.
Subs for Cork: D Goulding for Murphy (51); D O’Sullivan for Kissane (55); J Fitzpatrick for O’Connor (58); B O’Driscoll for Sheehan, M Collins for Goold (both 66).
Subs for Clare: G Kelly for Coughlan, N Browne for Quinlan (both h-t); D Russell for Clohessey (59); S McNeilis for Duggan (68); C Talty for Brennan (71).
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois).
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