Fortresses overthrown and fortresses restored. Yesterday in Ennis was Bloomsday, of course, but was there a whiff of Tolkien to the proceedings, with the hills and hosts and stone fastnesses, waiting to be cast down or held in the face of assault?
Clare rode through the storm in Cusack Park yesterday - on and off the field - to slip Cork, 2-23 to 2-18. The 16,856 saw the home side go out on their shields as news came in from Thurles of Tipperary’s win, but it was too late to spoil a full-blooded championship game.
Clearly the memo came through on the entertainment quotient following Saturday night’s slashing encounters in Leinster.
With 20 seconds on the clock Shane O’Donnell rounded Niall O’Leary for a goal: Harvard versus UCC should be tasty in the Fitzgibbon next year.
A minute later someone offered Patrick Horgan a tap-in at the Clare end. You don’t offer Patrick Horgan a tap-in. Away we went.
Clare came to their home venue smarting after a week of recrimination and set out their stall early, but the game was level at 1-5 apiece when Clare joint-manager Gerry O’Connor was sent to the stands after an incident involving Daniel Kearney when a ball went out over the sideline.
Cork had a place in the Munster final to play for and Clare had survival in the championship as an incentive, so keen competitiveness was only to be expected.
Still, there was a bubble of spite to yesterday’s game, and in the plethora of yellow cards it was a little surprising, when the final whistle sounded, that each side still had 15 on the field.
Clare outscored the visitors 0-5 to 0-1 following O’Connor’s dismissal and with half-time looming, Peter Duggan - terrific all day - fielded a puck-out and dished the ball off to Tony Kelly, flying up on his inside.
The point was on but Kelly drove home a terrific goal, and Cork were glad of Horgan’s two late frees to make it 2-10 to 1-8 at half-time.
The visitors exploded out of the blocks in the second half, hitting four points in a row to cut Clare’s lead to one.
Duggan restored Clare’s fortunes as thunder and lightning exploded overhead and the rain sheeted down. Jack Lynch’s comment about the All-Ireland final of 1939 - the rain came down “like stair-rods” - was finally revealed to be flat description, and devoid of exaggeration.
Clare kept a three- or four-point cushion for much of the second half, but with five minutes left Horgan struck again for goal: level.
Clare accepted the challenge and outscored Cork, 0-5 to 0-1 in the final stages for a deserved victory, even as news filtered through of Tipperary’s win.
The cliche dictates bittersweet as the appropriate description of Clare emotions, but joint-manager Donal Moloney sounded a defiant note when asked if that Banner performance had been needed: “Absolutely, Cork didn’t know until coming down the home straight that they didn’t need to win, it was all there to play for, and that was very important for our team. If you’re not at your absolute best every day you’ll get turned over. That’s life. It’s very, very difficult to win four championship matches back to back, especially the way the games are set up.”
In the Cork corner manager John Meyler wasn’t hiding his unhappiness with defeat, though he acknowledged the advantage of playing at home: “Yeah, I was in Tralee yesterday for Kerry and Offaly, a key game. And this was a key game here today as was Dublin and Galway, you really don’t want to have a key game away from home.
“You want the fourth game at home. You can see the advantage Dublin had, you see the Clare advantage here but our performance wasn’t great.
“We just need to sit down, assess it and get back where we’re at. That’s it in a nutshell and we have that opportunity now.
“That’s the primary objective (making the top three), I’m delighted we’ve achieved that. I’m disappointed we’re not in the Munster final but based on that performance, we don’t deserve to be in the Munster final and that’s really it in a nutshell.
“We’re in the preliminary quarter-final against the losers of the Joe McDonagh Cup so that’s our next objective. We have to go back and assess the last few weeks and look at that.” Meyler’s assessment was on the money.
Cork are still searching for the consistency they showed in last year’s Munster championship, with Patrick Horgan’s performance a key indicator.
The Glen Rovers man hit two goals but also missed some chances that he’d expect to point. The Cork defence also struggled, with Meyler admitting that Eoin Cadogan had been replaced to avoid a second yellow, though Niall O’Leary got to the pace of proceedings - and of Shane O’Donnell - while the Marks Coleman and Ellis grew into the game as well.
For Clare a disappointing season at least ended on a high note, with the team giving their (soaked) supporters some cheer on their way back into Ennis.
The management team wouldn’t be drawn on their future with the team, so a summer and autumn of uncertainty beckons.
As for Cork, the summer opens up.
They’ll keep an eye on the Munster final and plot their own course, with the ultimate destination looming later this year in the east. And no, this is not to be taken as equating Dublin with Mordor.
Scorers for Clare:
P. Duggan (0-12)(8 frees); T. Kelly (1-2); S. O’Donnell (1-0); C. Galvin (0-3); D. Ryan, C. McInerney (0-2 each); J. Conlon, A. McCarthy (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork:
P. Horgan (2-9)(8 frees); A. Cadogan (0-4); D. Fitzgibbon (0-2); S. Harnedy, S. Kingston, D. Kearney (0-1 each).
D. Tuohy, P. O’Connor (c), D. McInerney, S. Morey, C. Malone, J. Browne, C. Cleary, J. McCarthy, C. Galvin, P. Duggan, T. Kelly, D. Ryan, S. O’Donnell, J. Conlon, A. McCarthy.
R. Taylor for A. McCarthy (HT); D. Fitzgerald for O’Connor (55); P. Collins for Conlon (blood 52-6); S. Golden for J. McCarthy (62); A. Shanagher for Conlon (66); C. McInerney for Ryan (69).
A. Nash, S. O’Donoghue, E. Cadogan, N. O’Leary, R. Downey, M. Ellis, M. Coleman, B. Cooper, D. Fitzgibbon, D. Kearney, S. Harnedy (c), L. Meade, A. Cadogan, P. Horgan, A. Walsh.
S. McDonnell for Downey, D. Cahalane for Cadogan (HT); S. Kingston for Kearney (47); C. Lehane for Walsh (52); D. Dalton for Meade (65).
P. O’Dwyer (Carlow).