Played in summer conditions before a fine crowd of 6,545, from first whistle to last, this was a game that swayed first one way, then the other.
Ultimately, the sending off in the 59th minute of Cork corner-back Darragh McSweeney proved costly, and the visitors outscored the All-Ireland champions in the run-in, four points to one.
Playing with a stiff breeze, Clare took an early three-point lead, and it was the sixth minute before Cork opened their account, a well-struck free by wing-forward Tom Kenny from over 60m. Kenny, standing in on this occasion as wing-forward and free-taker in the continued absence of injured Ben O’Connor, added two more shortly afterwards to tie the game for the first time.
From there to the interval, the two sides traded punches. Niall Gilligan, operating initially at top of the right, moved to right-half-forward after 20 minutes and did most of the damage for Clare with seven first-half points (four frees) while Cork’s scores came from a variety of players: centre-forward Ciaran McGann, newcomer Cathal Naughton (making his first League start), Conor Cusack in the corner (very impressive first half). The best point of all came from wing-back Cian O’Connor, after a fine pass from midfielder Sean Óg Ó hAilpín. Both sides were in experimental mode.
Clare manager Anthony Daly said: “We promised all the lads we’d give everyone, all 33, a start in the League.
“The only one we hadn’t given a start to was Derek Quinn, and he would have started today but for a twinge in the groin, so we left him off. Tony Griffin would probably have started, but he hurt his back in training on Thursday night.”
Cork manager John Allen was equally unapologetic.
“We were looking for a performance today, a win would have been a bonus. We got that performance from some players, didn’t from others. We said all the time that what we set out to do was to see players playing in competitive games, and you won’t get much more competitive than you had today.
“We had a fair few fringe players playing, we learned lessons about them, that’s what we were about today.”
The principal lesson was that this game will have no meaning when these two meet again in the Munster championship on May 28. It was entertaining but had none of the passion you would expect from either side.
Just a point behind at the change of ends, 0-9 to 0-8, having recovered well from their poor start, Cork looked to be in pole position for the win, and a point in the 39th minute from Naughton - who really caught the eye with his pace and accuracy - got them on their way.
Clare weren’t about to lie down, however; the introduction of Nugent at the break added height and strength to an already powerful forward sextet and kept the Cork defence under pressure. Nugent scored two points from the right corner and had the hitherto impressive McSweeney under all sorts of pressure, drawing the yellow cards that saw the Corkman’s sending off.
Still, there was nothing in it until the very end. On four occasions they were level in the first-half and that was bettered after the change, six more times: it was even beginning to look like it might end in a tie.
Daly said: “We didn’t target the semi-final, we just wanted to get through, get another game, whether next week or in two weeks time.
“We’d love to win the League, we make no bones about that. Maybe Waterford don’t want to win it, maybe Cork don’t, but we’d love it. We’ll see how it goes now.”
Allen was displeased, but only mildly so: “I’d like to have won, to be honest. It was a good game, generally; last year we played Galway in our last League game and we were insipid. I didn’t want this to be our last League game, but unfortunately it was.
We could have won it, we could have drawn it, a draw would have done it. Overall, I’m disappointed really, we could have done with another match. I’m sure Clare are delighted, but it means now we have no competitive match for seven weeks, a long time.”
: Clare: N. Gilligan 0-10 (0-6 frees, 0-1 peno); C. Lynch 0-2; B. Nugent 0-2; S. McMahon 0-2 (0-1 free 0-1 65); D. McMahon, G. Quinn, 0-1 each. Cork: T. Kenny 0-7 (0-5 frees); C. Naughton 0-3; J. Gardiner 0-2 (frees); C. McGann, C. Cusack, J. O’Connor, C. O’Connor, 0-1 each.
: P. Brennan; T. Holland, F. Lohan, G. O’Grady; P. Vaughan, S. McMahon, G. Quinn; C. Lynch, J. Clancy; D. McMahon, F. Lynch, J. McInerney; N. Gilligan, D. O’Rourke, D. O’Connell. Subs: B. Nugent (McInerney 35); T. Carmody (O’Rourke 57).
: Donal Og Cusack; P. Mulcahy (c), D. O’Sullivan, D. McSweeney; R. Curran, J. Gardiner, C. O’Connor; Sean Og O hAilpin, S. O’Neill; N. McCarthy, C. McGann, T. Kenny; C. Naughton, B. Corcoran, C. Cusack. Subs: R. Conway (N. McCarthy 30); K. Murphy (Sars, C. Cusack 48); J. O’Connor (Curran inj. 53); T. McCarthy (McGann 60); K. Hartnett (Conway 69).
: M. Haverty (Galway): not a championship performance from the ref either.